alexandra Oliver Davila with students

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Quien Soy Yo? The Role of Identity in the Workplace

Sociedad Latina supports the positive development of young people in Boston.  

This interview is part of a series highlighting 2016 Youth Opportunity Fund community partners. Led by the Citi Foundation and America’s Promise Alliance, the Fund – now in its second year – supports innovative, scalable programs that place low-income youth on a path to college and career success. To date, the Fund has provided $6 million to support 24 organizations, reaching more than 7,000 youth.

When asked what motivates Alexandra Oliver-Davila to continue her work in youth development, she doesn’t hesitate. “The young people. I love their hope, passion and belief that they can change the world.”

Oliver-Davila is the executive director of Sociedad Latina in Boston, a nonprofit that provides a variety of programs designed to empower Latino youth and their families.   

The organization recently received a 2016 Youth Opportunity Fund grant to enhance its Latino College & Career Access (LaCCA) Network, which will partner with the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development to help young Latinos gain the skills and experience they need to succeed in the 21st century workplace.

The LaCCA Network consists of four community-based organizations focused on Latino youth in Boston: the East Boston Ecumenical Community Council, Hyde Square Task Force, Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, and Sociedad Latina.

America’s Promise asked Oliver-Davila about her work in the field, what excites her and how identity plays a role in youth development. Check out her answers below.

Q: What work in your community are you most excited about right now?

A: I am excited about our work to build awareness regarding the need to create a culturally proficient, culturally responsive and sustaining public school district. We need more teachers that reflect the student body, professional development in culturally proficient practices and strategies, and to work with our higher education institutions to make sure teachers graduate with all the tools they need to work in diverse settings.

Our youth organizers have been working on this campaign for several years, and we are proud that because of their work, the district is looking at professional development in cultural proficiency and developing measurement tools. To learn more about our work on cultural proficiency, check out the video created by our Youth Community Organizing Team called, "Culture Matters."

Q: What successes in your community are you most proud of?

A: I am most proud of the number of young people we have supported to graduate from high school with clear next steps for college and employment.

Forty percent of the youth we work with have been in our programs since middle school. We follow them for two years after graduation, providing a mentor or college coach. I am proud to say that eighty-six percent of our youth continue in positive activities, including college and employment.

I am proud of the creation of our cultural identity curriculum, which supports youth in exploring their culture and background. As the saying goes, you cannot know where you're going unless you know where you've been. I'm proud that we provide a safe and supportive space for youth to celebrate their background, heritage, culture and language.

Alexandra Oliver-Davila with Students
Oliver-Davila with two students at Sociedad Latina’s Class Celebrations, which celebrate graduating seniors and eighth graders.

Q: Can you speak about the tie between identity and positive development?

A: Every day, our young people of color are bombarded with negative messages about their race, ethnicity and language through advertisement, TV shows and in the simple interactions of daily life. Faced with this burden, often times these young people internalize these messages and act in manners to affirm them.

They are asked to check their culture and identity at the door in school, at work and in life. They may sometimes deny their heritage. This is very dangerous for their psyche.

Q: How does the LaCCA Network incorporate questions of identity into its programming? 

A: At Sociedad Latina, our staff and programs allow young people to explore their cultural identity through our cultural curriculum, "Quien Soy Yo?" (Who am I?).

The curriculum integrates arts into activities about self-exploration of heritage, language, culture and identity. The majority of our staff is bilingual and bring their multicultural experience in their interactions with young people.

As a staff, we are constantly in conversation and evaluating all of our practices to ensure that young people of color feel safe and feel that their culture, race, ethnicity and language are assets. And we celebrate that. All of the LaCCA Network works to this end.

The Network is also working on broader issues of Latino under-representation in all sectors because we feel that it is important to have Latinos at all decision-making tables and that our young Latinos need to see such role models—to believe they too can be successful.

Sociedad Latina Mentor and Mentees
Sociedad Latina supports young people for two years after they graduate from the program, providing them with a mentor or college coach. In the photo above, a mentor works with his mentee.

Q: What excites you most about the partnership between the LaCCA Network and the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development?

A: This partnership will allow the LaCCA Network to tap into more resources for our young people, including teaming up to identify internships with world-renown companies, as well as in city hall, to further expand our ability to provide youth with diverse, hands-on experiences.

It will also help us garner further visibility as a network and bring a greater focus to the importance of and opportunity to work with Latino youth.

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The Youth Opportunity Fund is part of the Citi Foundation’s Pathways to Progress initiative focused on preparing young people to thrive in today’s economy. In 2014, the Citi Foundation made a three-year, $50 million commitment to boost the career readiness of 100,000 low-income youth in 10 cities across the United States.

For more stories about Youth Opportunity Fund grantees, visit our Medium page.

Originally Published: May 23, 2016
Updated November 3, 2016