The Southwest Airlines Community Affairs & Grassroots Team works tirelessly to build strong, mutually beneficial, and strategic relationships. By fostering these true partnerships in diverse communities, we are committed to creating a positive impact. The Latino community faces many barriers with regards to education, health, and economic opportunities. Organizations such as MANA de San Diego are giving a voice to Mexican American women by developing, nurturing, and empowering Latina leaders through education, leadership development, advocacy, and community service. At Southwest Airlines we support the Hispanic community because we are the Hispanic community. To highlight the amazing work of our partners, we are pleased and proud to introduce the new MANA de San Diego Executive Director, Inez Gonzalez.
As the new Executive Director of MANA de San Diego, I am thrilled to be back home in San Diego. It took me thirteen years to find my way back. Life is like a jigsaw puzzle; you need to be patient to find that missing piece. In the time I was away I had two jobs that made a big impact on my life, earned two degrees, and participated in several leadership programs. I have gone through so many leadership programs that my former boss would joke I was the most well-trained Latina he knew. Some of the impactful programs for me include LEAD San Diego, Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE), Rockwood Leadership Institute, and the National Hispana (NHLI) Executive Leadership Program.
While working at the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), I moved to Washington D.C. for a couple of years to open our office there. A couple of years after earning my Master’s in public administration at Harvard, I was hired at the largest CSU campus in the state, Cal State Fullerton (CSUF) to turn an idea into something tangible. CSUF graduates the most Latinos in communications in the state. The College of Communications wanted to create a culturally responsive initiative for its Latinx students. That idea is now the Latino Communications Institute (LCI), it has served hundreds of students mostly first-generation college students to help them find a pathway to a successful career. What I learned at CSUF is that a bachelor’s degree is not enough to have a successful career, social capital is essential. I taught students the importance of being part of a resourceful community that relies on trust and reciprocity, in other words how to build social capital. I am so proud of the LCI results. Peer mentorship grew organically and is one of the most valuable components of the LCI. Once you teach first-generation college students the importance of building social capital, they run with it and succeed. While at CSUF I earned my doctorate degree in education leadership. I was already a strong mentor and manager before I arrived at CSUF, but through the doctorate program, I became an educator.
MANA de San Diego is a strong community that helps its members build social capital. Now I want MANA de San Diego to reach out to Latinas that are not yet connected to the organization but have the most need to build social capital. I am very aware that I am starting the last chapter of my career. I do not say this in a fatalistic way, but in one that motivates me to be intentional. I am a change agent and want to make sure that MANA de San Diego’s programs result in social upward mobility for its members and constituents.
On a personal level and as a proud cross-border citizen I, am thrilled to be living in the Tijuana/San Diego region. I love being able to cross the border in just a few minutes and enjoy all that Tijuana and the Baja region has to offer. I am one of many who grew up going back and forth between Tijuana and San Diego. Now that I am older, I realize what a unique gift that is. I hope to be a bridge that allows for more interaction between these two neighbors. Not sure how that is going to look like, but I am putting it out there.
Southwest Airlines (SWA) has been an important part of my journey personally and professionally. SWA, a leader in community investment, has supported many organizations that I value. My journey with SWA started over twenty years ago when I was on the MANA de San Diego Board and met Lidia S. Martinez. Lidia is now a recognized national leader, I am proud to have her as a great friend, mentor and supporter. I am the leader that I am, in part thanks to Lidia and SWA’s support. SWA is my preferred airline not just because “bags fly free,” but because of its commitment to the community it serves.