Volume 77 | Issue 3
May 2009

2009 Annual Conference: Juana Bordas keynote

Juana Bordas has and continues to receive many accolades in her professional career. She is president of Mestiza Leadership International, vice president of the board of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, and founder of Mi Casa Women’s Center, among others. Bordas is also the author of “Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age,” the book on which her presentation was based.

Bordas began her keynote speech by telling the audience: “I was the first person in my family to receive a college degree. I went toBordas2009 University of Florida, and I never met another Latino while there.”

But in college she did begin her career as an activist.

“I was a junior in college,” she said. “I saw my political science professor walking across campus with a group toward the administration building. I stopped him to ask where he was going, and he replied, ‘We’re marching to integrate the University of Florida.’”

Bordas followed him and got in line.

“We have to take pride in what universities have done to bring about the changes in our culture,” Bordas said. “We live now in the multicultural millennium.”

Three cultures make up this era: Latino, African American, and American Indian, Bordas said, referring to them as “salsa, soul, and spirit.”

Latino culture as salsa

“Salsa is a way of life,” Bordas said. “It is having passion, gusto. It is loving your family, your life, your community, and your work. Latinos are reinvigorating America—bringing salsa.” 

Latino is not a race; it is a cultural identity, she said. There are many types of Latinos from many different backgrounds. As a close-knit culture, Latinos are a great example for all Americans.

“If we can all get together at our dinner table, then Latinos are a model,” Bordas said. “… Latinos love to extend their families. They don’t have boundaries. We need to re-establish this sense in America. Faith and family are the two most important things to Latinos.”

But this is not the only way Bordas believes Latinos are leading by example. It is also a culture that teaches work-life balance.

“Latinos have the highest participation of any group in the labor market. Work is dignified,” she said. “But they also invented the word ‘fiesta’—the idea of getting together to celebrate.”

The soul of the African-American culture

Showing a picture of James Brown, Bordas moved to her next subject—soul—representing African Americans.

“In the days of slavery, it was decided that African Americans only had two-thirds of a soul,” Bordas said. “Despite this, they took the word ‘soul’ and made it the essence of their community.”

Bordas believes the African-American community can stand as a model for resiliency. Also, the African-American community embraces the idea of family—a family that goes beyond just those related by blood.

“African Americans did not always know who their parents were during times of slavery. So, they adopted the idea that ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’” Bordas said. “It was believed that we are all brothers and sisters.”

Finally, Bordas pointed out the idea of reconciliation that exists for African Americans. When writing her book, Bordas spoke with several whose parents or other family members had been slaves; now these men and women could work side by side with members of the family who had enslaved their ancestors.

“It is the essence of community,” Bordas said.

The spirit of American Indians

Bordas considers the third component of multiculturalism today to be American Indians, which she sees as embodying “spirit.”

“American Indians see all things as having spirit,” she said.

This culture provides two ideas that should be practiced by all, Bordas said. First, American Indians have a strong sense of identity.

“They know who they are,” Bordas said. “And this gives a sense of identity. Identity is power.”

Also, the American Indians see everything as interconnected, much like those who view the world as multicultural.

“Hopi elders have said, ‘It is time now for a universal tribe that will come forth and heal the damage left by other generations.’ We will build a new nation. We are the ones we have been waiting for,” Bordas said.

Becoming multicultural

To be multicultural, according to Bordas, individuals must respect their own heritage.

“To honor the culture of others, you first have to honor your own culture,” she said. “It may take time. You may have to talk with your family and do some research.”

This idea has not always been encouraged in America, she said.

“In the old days, there was the idea of assimilation,” Bordas said. “You were asked to forget tradition and become part of the melting pot. But can you really forget who you are?”

Today, Bordas believes that assimilation has fallen by the wayside and acculturation is emerging—the idea of borrowing culture among diverse communities, resulting in new and blended patterns.

“It is up to all of us to have these people teach us about the differences,” she said. “Becoming multicultural is a proactive thing,”

Being a multicultural leader

Once you have embraced multiculturalism, you can become a multicultural leader, according to Bordas.

To illustrate the idea of a multicultural leader, Bordas explained Sankofa, an idea that went with the conference theme, “Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow.” Sankofa means to honor and learn from the past. It is represented by a bird that stands with its feet facing forward, but its head is turned back.

“As leaders, we have to be looking toward the future, but also have to look back to see what the past can teach us,” Bordas said.
To be a leader in a multicultural community, Bordas said people must embrace equality, guard public values, and serve the collective.

“Participation and inclusion is a theme that runs through all of these ideas,” Bordas said. She believes we must have a collective identity.

“The idea of the individualist leader is giving way to the collective, democratic leader,” she said. “Even at universities, where there are still presidents, leadership is transforming and taking place on a cooperative basis.”

Bordas believes a good place to start forming American culture’s collective identity is on campus, with those professionals who touch students’ lives each day.

“Our job as leaders is to build a sense of community,” she said. “We are connected.”