Roberto German 00:01
Welcome to Our Classroom. In this space, we talk about education, which is inclusive of, but not limited to what happens in schools. Education is taking place whenever and wherever we are willing to learn. I am your host, Roberto German, and Our Classroom is officially in session. In today's episode of Our Classroom, I am joined by Sergio C. Muñoz, who is going to be talking to me about Latino-Latina prosperity. Sergio's a Mexican banker living in Floral Park, California. He is the owner of Interlatin LLC. His work has been published on PBS and ReVista-the Harvard Review of Latin America, Studio 360 and Mexico [inaudible 00:00:56]. With us today, Sergio C. Muñoz. Hey, my people. I am happy to be here with you today, and I am joined by Sergio Muñoz. And for those of you who have trouble saying it that way, just like you have trouble saying my name. My name is Roberto and yes you do gotta roll the Rs. But for those of you who have trouble, a lot of folks call him "Sergio." All right? So Sergio, Sergio is going to be interchangeable. Nonetheless, Sergio Muñoz is here with me today and I am glad that he's here 'cause we're gonna be talking about Latina-Latino prosperity. Digging into this a bit, he has great insight to share with us. Hey folks, tune in, listen closely 'cause he is bringing a wealth of knowledge, wealth of experience. And this is gonna be a little bit different because Sergio is not in the classroom, right? We're gonna connect this to the broader topic of education. But Sergio is coming from a banking finance background. And I love talking to banking and finance people because there's a lot that I did not learn or know when I was younger. It was never taught to me in schools. And so tapping into the expertise of individuals who are in that industry has certainly helped me to be discerning in terms of the moves that I make that not only benefit me and my family but benefit my community. All right? 'Cause, we shouldn't just be thinking about building ourselves up. We should be thinking about how it is that we could serve, impact, love, and support others. So, Sergio, thank you for being here today.
Sergio Muñoz 02:42
Thank you. What's happening, brother?
Roberto German 02:43
Hey man, I'm good. I'm good here in Tampa. I know you're on the West coast of California. I was just there a couple weeks ago, a few weeks ago for NCTE. Sorry, we didn't get a chance to meet up in person. It was quite busy. But hopefully next time, we're in Cali, we can go and grab some tacos.
Sergio Muñoz 03:00
All right, my brother.
Roberto German 03:01
Hey, man. I'm curious to learn about your educational journey. And you have a fascinating background. I've had a chance to read up on some of the things that you've done in the past, some of the things that you're doing currently. You are a man of many talents. And so, let me pause and give you the platform so you could tell us a bit about your educational journey.
Sergio Muñoz 03:26
Well, brother, like I'm a Mexican, right? I was born in Mexico. I came over to the United States at the age of three. And for some reason, that escapes me because it didn't hit my parents in the same way. Like I came out real, real [inaudible 00:03:45]. And it hasn't helped me much in the United States. And so, I was really turned off of what I was learning in-- after elementary school, like elementary school was cool but by the time I got to middle school and to high school, I really noticed white supremacy and it bothered me a lot. And so I probably ended up with like a 2.3 GPA when I was ready to finish out high school. So pretty bad. But I had connections and I was able to get accepted to UC, Santa Barbara. Not by my choice but I was directed to go on to college. And so after I graduated from UC, Santa Barbara, I did some postgraduate studies at Dartmouth and at UC, Irvine. And most recently I've been hitting a lot of MOOCs, learning a lot of stuff about financial technology that I don't even think the academia even has, you know, outside of Stanford or Harvard.
Roberto German 05:07
You know, it's interesting to listen you talk about the fact that you get to around middle school and middle school and high school, there's a drop off in interest and motivation in terms of what's happening in the learning environment. And there's actually a common trend there. You know, we see a common trend there, especially with black and brown boys. And so we gotta question, what's happening in schools, right? What's happening in schools that we're losing the interest of some of our young people.
Sergio Muñoz 05:36
So I can tell you what happened in my case. You wanted to know, right?
Roberto German 05:40
Please, please share it.
Sergio Muñoz 05:42
So it all whittles down to what I'll call culture, right? But culture as represented by literature. So in seventh grade, I was given Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, and I was like, what is this racist nonsense? In eighth grade, I was given Huckleberry Finn again. In ninth grade, I was given Charles Dickens' Great Expectations and A Red Badge of Courage and All Quiet on the Western Front. And I was like, what? I don't have any interest in any of these things that I'm being asked to read. And so like, it was-- like I gave them a good, like, five opportunities to hit me with something that could have maybe like, been in my perspective and they just weren't ever going to do it. And so that's when I dropped off.
Roberto German 06:49
It's wild. It's wild to hear you say that, right? And that's going back to when you were in school. And yet in this day and age, we're fighting to be able to incorporate culture and literature and getting so much pushback. But obviously, we see the importance. We see that there's a reason that folks are asking for all students to be reflected in the curriculum so that we don't lose them, and we could affirm and reinforce their identities. Thank you for sharing a little bit of your story. Now, you recently wrote an essay about the changing Face of America and Latina-Latino prosperity. Tell me more about this topic and why it is important to you.
Sergio Muñoz 07:36
Well, so I started out with this, you know, really vague thesis on Latino leadership. And across industries, you could see it in every single industry. That's, you know, here in the United States, I'll just talk about the United States for a second. There's a common refrain that is that the Latino or the Latina in question that is being put forward as a leader is not good enough. Like there's something wrong with that individual. I see it a lot as a Mexican when dealing with Chicanos, when dealing with [inaudible 00:08:18], when dealing with Cubans in Florida. Like, good lord. Like, there's so many beefs in the Americas here in the United States. Like, with this person doesn't represent me. That person doesn't represent me. Like, how am I being represented by Edward James almost in Hollywood? Or how am I being represented Eva Longoria? Like, it's just everybody has their own beef against every single person that's ever come up. And so brother, do you have a sort of experience of who Javier Palomarez is and his leadership in the community?
Roberto German 09:04
The first time I became familiar with Javier Palomarez' name was through your essay.
Sergio Muñoz 09:09
Oh, okay. So for 10 years, he was the leader for our community. So when people in power needed to know what Latinos think, they would run to Javier Palomarez at the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Typically, this is dealing with business matters, right? And they would say, "Javier, you know, what's going on in the Latino community?" And he was doing an incredible job of rebuilding the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, of putting Latinos in positions of power. And that's my opinion, right? And then somebody had a beef with him, and he was gone, right? Like it was over. And this has happened to Henry Cisneros before him. This has happened to Bill Richardson before him. Like, we could do a long list of people that this has happened to. And so when I started interviewing him, I was really trying to figure out, you know, why is it that Latino leaders have-- or why is it that Latinos have beef or so much beef with their leaders? And he started saying things to me like the first part of my essay, which is that he says, "It's clear to me that the changing face of America is best illustrated by the Latino community. I think we are gonna be transformational for this nation. However, it's up to us to change the narrative that has for too long described our community and to make our interest known. As a community, we have not been able to articulate our needs." And so I just dissected that quote. So this was from a two hour interview brother, and I just said, I don't even need the rest of the interview. All I need is that quote. And I said, within that quote, he's saying that there is a face of America that Latinos are transformational for this country, that there is a current Latino narrative, that there are Latino interests, and that the Latino community has the ability to communicate or articulate their needs. And that, to me, was enough to get me inspired to produce this first essay.
Roberto German 11:59
No, that's a mouthful right there. In that quote, he gave you a lot. A lot to work with. That's awesome. Thanks for sharing. An excerpt from your essay states the following; when we talk about the golden rule, it's usually meant the one who has the most gold rules. And due to our lack of wealth, we don't have the most gold. The solution to our problems isn't getting the right education on building wealth without being manipulated by certain financial institutions or organizations that sometimes do a small harm than help Latinos over the long run. Can you elaborate on this excerpt?
Sergio Muñoz 12:43
So that's a quote from Louis Barajas, who is a certified financial planner. And he's currently starring in a PBS show that's called Opportunity Knocks. And so that's his quote, brother. And so, you know, I have an opinion on it but, you know, my opinion goes towards, you know, corporate manipulation and it goes towards what I think are the evils of capitalism and how they represent themselves in our community.
Roberto German 13:19
No, I'm open to hearing your opinion on that if you don't mind sharing a little more.
Sergio Muñoz 13:27
I just think from what I see in the marketplace, you know, and so this is coming from the perspective of California specifically, you know, Los Angeles and Orange County, where I have homes, and you just have-- you know, what essentially is a binational message. So just to try to like make it simple, when you walk into Target, you will see everything in Target in English and in Spanish. Everything. When you begin to dissect their board of directors, their investors, their CEOs, you will not see Latinos typically in the same place or given the same amount of power. And so there's this sort of fact in the United States of the Latino buying power, right? Like, we buy so much stuff from the producers of that stuff, like-- and without them, like, they would be lost. Like, there's a reason why they have everything in Spanish in their store.
Roberto German 14:49
Sergio Muñoz 14:51
And so again, being very simplistic with it, but where was Target when the Dreamers needed stabilization? Where was Walmart when the Dreamers needed stabilization? Like, it still hasn't happened. And this is-- I'm not gonna quote the right number, but this is going on close to 15 years, I wanna say, that the Dream Act has not been able to pass. And it's not able to pass because it doesn't have the support of leaders who really need Latino buying power. And so that's like my question as to why is that happening in this country? Similarly too in the school system, you know, why am I given Mark Twain year after year after year?
Roberto German 15:47
Hmm. Good questions, good questions for us to wrestle with. I appreciate the honesty. An economist working at a major bank in the Fortune 500 told you there seems to be a short ceiling to Latino-Latina wealth accumulation strategies that the financial industry is working hard to crack. What are the seven steps the Latinos-Latinas can take to work towards financial freedom?
Sergio Muñoz 16:17
Oh, brother, I could not possibly give you seven. I can try and give you one, right? And it's actually pretty complicated. It's worked for me in a certain respect. But the reason why I have financial freedom is because I married well, right? Like I, I married the right person with the right mentality as, at least, you know, as far as we're both concerned, right? Like we have this same perspective on life.
Roberto German 16:54
Yeah, you're aligned.
Sergio Muñoz 16:56
And we said together so this was in 2010 when we were married, that we would create a rule that said that we would only spend 40% of what we earn as a joint income family. And so the remaining 60% of our earnings, they go towards saving cash reserves. They go towards numismatics, they go towards compound accounts. And so, you know, that's sort of the one thing that I would sort of impress upon your audience is to spend less than you earn. But I would also just be super critical of this concept of financial freedom because it, you know, if I stopped earning, you know, I wouldn't have financial freedom for very long. Like, I would probably be able to last two or three years, and then I would be in a lot of trouble.
Roberto German 18:00
Yeah, no, I appreciate that. I appreciate that. And when I talk about financial freedom, I'm always talking about it, not in terms of just being financially free to stop working, but more so having the freedom to be able to do some different things, right? To support more family members, for example. Like, it's hard for you to truly, you know, support people who are struggling more than you if you're struggling equally, right? And so, you know, thinking about-- and I'll just keep it in my context, right? I think about my family in República Dominican. And I think about what I see when I'm there, or even just what I know not being there in terms of their struggles. For some of them, no matter how educated they are, the continuous struggle, because they might have the education piece down, they might have the skills, but they might not be connected to the right people that are in power. And I know that's not restricted to República Dominicana. I'm sure you see that in Mexico and in a lot of other countries, right? And so I just wonder, given the many opportunities that we have here in the United States, like the things that we can make into a habit, right? The people in our community can turn into the habit that will help them, but also help others, right? Even when I was hearing you talk about the whole Target thing. I'm like, yeah, that's true. That is absolutely true. And we can do a better job of saying, you know what? We gonna put our dollars into our communities, into our businesses, run by our people. You know, we're not just gonna give our money to Target and Walmart. No. You know, I'm gonna support Doña Rosa, Don Jose', you know, in their respective stores. Now, you know, maybe in certain communities you can't find everything you're looking for and, you know, you gotta utilize some of these other big super chains such as Target or Walmart or whatnot. But I think there are a lot of things that we can find in our communities and support the small growing business owners in our respective communities.
Sergio Muñoz 20:30
You know what's really symbolic of this country, brother, is what you just said, has been the message of Minister Farrakhan in the Nation of Islam, you know, for a long time. But there's so much else wrapped around it that it scares people for, you know, a variety of reasons, whether that's legitimate or not, right? But yeah, like it's spending your dollar in the appropriate places and knowing, you know, what it is that Amazon does to mom and pop businesses, knowing what Target and Walmart and all the big, big, big box retailers do to mom and pop businesses on what they call Main Street, right? Like, it's really problematic
Roberto German 21:27
And it's hard to compete with.
Sergio Muñoz 21:29
Impossible. Impossible to compete.
Roberto German 21:34
So in your essay, you mentioned Miguel A. Cardona, the US Secretary of Education. What are some initiatives you would like to see him try to implement in our public schools? And I'm always interested to hear perspectives of folks. I talk to a lot of folks who are in schools and that certainly is useful and informs us. And I should continue to talk to folks in school, but it's also important for me to hear from individuals who are not necessarily school teachers or school leaders who are outside of the school realm.
Sergio Muñoz 22:05
Brother, I'm gonna start at someplace positive, right? Like my child who's five years old just started kindergarten in the public school system in, it must have been September or August, like one of those months, right? And so I've sort of been getting a crash course in the public school system from the perspective of a five-year-old for the last three or four months. And the positive thing that I have noticed is that every day that my boy shows up to school, there are people with smiles on their faces ready to greet him to start his day. I love that. Love it. Like, it makes me feel good. And that is like the best feeling is to know that my child is being supported with positivity at the place that he's going to. For me, the biggest problem that I have, which I don't know if it's a big problem, like in the greater scheme of things, is just the way that the school schedules. And so, you know, they have the craziest schedules where, you know, they're either not working, they're having half days, there's like all this stuff going on that forces me as his parent to have to change my routines to suit his. That wasn't the case when I was in elementary school. Like, I showed up early in the morning and I came home at like, around 4 or 5 O'clock in the afternoon. That's not happening with my child. And so I haven't been able to go to the bank where I work, you know, since he started the public school system. I'm his personal Uber that's taking him from here to there and oh, he has to stay home with me for the next two weeks because the school decided that they're not working, right? So that would be a solution that I would be very welcoming of, because then I could go back to focusing on my work and not having to sort of multitask in ways that I'm really uncomfortable multitasking on. But, you know, I think, you know, no questions asked the biggest problem in the United States is the safety and wellbeing of children in public schools against armed attackers. So I would drop everything else and say, we need to find a solution to this problem. And it most likely, it's not really something that the Department of Education is on top of, but it's just the regulation of firearms in this country and doing something about it.
Roberto German 25:14
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, kids can't learn if they don't feel safe. And obviously, you know, it's tough for teachers to show up if they don't feel safe also. Thank you for naming that. It is a huge crisis in our country, even though folks want to dismiss it. So if you, this is one of the fun questions I get to ask when I interview folks. If you had the opportunity to have lunch with anyone dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Sergio Muñoz 25:50
So I'll start with the place where I'd wanna have lunch, right? So Las Mañanitas in Cuernavaca Morelos, Mexico that would be where I would wanna have it. And with whom, you know, my grandmother passed away, and so she didn't get a chance to meet my son. And so what I would do, brother, is I would have a lunch with my grandmother, my mother, my wife and my son.
Roberto German 26:28
Yes. Yes. That would be beautiful. Yes. My father passed away several months ago in February, and he didn't get to meet my youngest, my two-year-old. Well, he met her via FaceTime phone and whatnot, didn't get to meet her in person and hold her and whatnot. So I think I'd do the same.
Sergio Muñoz 26:52
Yeah. I'm sorry for your loss, brother.
Roberto German 26:54
No, I appreciate it. So, to those that are listening, what is a message of encouragement that you'd like to offer them?
Sergio Muñoz 27:05
When I started my company probably going on 23 years ago, 1996, whatever that number is, one of the things that I aimed to do, regardless of whether it was profitable or not, was to highlight the positivity of Latin America or what I'll call the Americas. I think you could actually be a great person to ask, like, when people hear about the Dominican Republic and it has no association with baseball, like, it's probably pretty bad news. Don't even get me started on Haiti, right? Like, the news from Haiti is just awful. Cuba, Puerto Rico, like all of 'em, when we hear about them, it's because there's something wrong with that place. And so what I would tell people is that the United States has a lot of toxicity in a lot of different ways, and people have beautiful lives in other parts of the Americas. And so I think we're sort of trained to think that the United States, or in my case, you know, Hollywood or Disneyland, is sort of the center of the universe. And I would let you know that it's not. I would let you know that I have lived in bliss in Veracruz, in [inaudible 00:28:38] most recently in [inaudible 00:28:41] in [inaudible 00:28:44]. There's this beach that's called [inaudible 00:28:47] that is unreal in its beauty. And so, you know, there's so many different places that you could turn to in the Americas that has less toxicity than the United States. So I would encourage folks to go out and discover the beauty of the Americas and know that it's possible. You know, they say that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. I believe that you can make it there as well.
Roberto German 29:20
That's great. And there's so much to explore in the America. So much to explore, so much culture, so much diversity, so much richness. Yes. Thank you for that encouragement. You know, we definitely should all get out and get connected and learn beyond what we see in the news.
Sergio Muñoz 29:41
I wanted to finish up with one thing, brother that I hadn't mentioned which was the most pivotal moment in my educational journey. Could I?
Roberto German 29:53
Yeah, absolutely. It's part of what we're here for.
Sergio Muñoz 29:56
All right, brother. So around 2012, there's a publishing house in New York that's called the Verso Books, and they published the book that's called Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life. It's written by two sisters; Dr. Karen Fields, who was a professor at Duke, and Dr. Barbara Fields, who was a-- or is a professor at Columbia. This book, for me, was one of those moments where you start to say, this was my life before Racecraft, and this is now my life after Racecraft. So if I can make one recommendation to your listeners or to your viewers, it's to pick up a copy of Racecraft and take some time with it. Take some time to understand how it is that the sisters Fields will explain to you the concept of racecraft.
Roberto German 31:01
Thanks for the recommendation. We got a lot of avid readers that follow us here at Our Classroom, so sure, they're gonna appreciate it. Brother, if folks want to follow you, they wanna connect with you, they want to learn more about your work, and we didn't even get into the music part. Hey, this is a man of many talents people. But if folks wanna learn more about you and follow your work, where can they go?
Sergio Muñoz 31:29
So the only social media that I use is LinkedIn. And so it's run through my company name, which is Intelatin, I-N-T-E-L-A-T-I-N. So you just put Intelatin into LinkedIn, and it would take you to my profile.
Roberto German 31:47
Great. Great. Thank you. Hey, folks, there you have it. Make sure you check that out Intelatin. Look up Sergio C. Muñoz on LinkedIn. A great person to tap into for his expertise in many different areas. Many publications that you could check out and you could also explore his music. Sergio, thank you for being here. Thank you for sharing of yourself. Thank you for allowing us to journey with you through what you've navigated and certainly for the book recommendation and the Racecraft. Look forward to checking that out. As always, your engagement in Our Classroom is greatly appreciated. Be sure to subscribe, rate the show and write a review. Finally, for resources to help you understand the intersection of race bias, education, and society, go to multiculturalclassroom.com. Peace and love from your host, Roberto German.