Reaching Out to Hispanics: Sherri Vasquez

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Producer/host Sherri Vasquez strives to make Latin View balanced and timely. Sherri Vasquez is a classic Latina beauty proud of her heritage and the producer and host of Latin View, a PBS program that airs on over 40 stations with national distribution. The show examines relevant social, political, financial and educational issues that affect the U.S. Hispanic community. A Colorado native, she was raised between two distinctly different cultures — Spanish (her mother, Shay) and Mexican (her father, Simon). When she was growing up in Westminster, she describes it as “still being very rural.” Few minorities lived in her neighborhood, and though they weren’t prevalent, occasional taunts by other children were reminders that racial tension still existed. “There were kids who would call you names, which I thought was odd because we always had new cars and nice furniture … It was just a couple of people, but I have to say that definitely stays with you,” she says. Vasquez’s parents divorced when she was only 3 years old; she was raised by her mother, a hairdresser and entrepreneur. She credits her mother, her first mentor, for her work ethic and for teaching her the values that have helped her to become successful, recalling, “She was very strong and hardworking. She was very entrepreneurial; she worked as a hairstylist for many years in her own salon. I think my persistence and my stubbornness come from her.”

Always a good student, Vasquez began her journalism career as a reporter for the school paper and editor for the literary magazine at Westminster High School. While earning her undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Colorado, Boulder, she was a reporter for the Campus Press, a member of Chi Omega sorority and in her junior year participated in the Study Abroad Program at the University of Seville in Spain. After graduation, she returned to Europe, where she held positions with Spain’s official wire service, La Agencia EFE, and The New York Times bureau in Madrid. At the age of 25, she became the editor-in-chief of La Voz, a weekly bilingual newspaper. “Traveling around and living in Europe kept me out of touch,” she remarks. “Becoming editor of La Voz was a great reintroduction to Hispanic issues. When I was working for this paper, I realized the inequities. It really hit home for me when I saw a lot of the disparities, economic and educational.” Vasquez’s early career also included working for The Coloradoan, a daily paper in Ft. Collins. Ken Salazar (current Secretary of the Interior) was among those who recommended her as a candidate for press secretary for Gov. Roy Romer’s successful 1990 re-election campaign. “It was fun, a lot of energy. I learned a lot about political campaigns,” she says. After the election, she returned to her first love, journalism, and spent the next seven years at the Rocky Mountain News as a reporter, editor and columnist. During her tenure at the News, she won the 1992 Positive Images Award and the 1993 Positive Images Award for Editorial Excellence, both from the Colorado Hispanic Media Association.

profile3Among the many honors and awards she has received, the Woman of Distinction from the Girl Scouts of America stands out for her because “I was a Girl Scout, and I learned valuable lessons about teamwork, new skills, gaining confidence and becoming a well-rounded person.” When Vasquez decided it was time to finish her master’s degree (applied communication from the University of Denver), she went to work for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as its vice president of marketing and public relations. An article about her new position with the Chamber ran in La Voz, and Channel 12 saw it when Latin View was in the planning stages. The station liked her journalism background and training, and she was excited at the prospect of having a vehicle to reach civic-minded Hispanics who were already involved in their communities, aware of the issues, and who wanted to learn more. “One of the goals of the program is to present different views from Hispanics — because we don’t all think alike,” she explains. “We don’t all come from the same economic background or even the same cultural background. We have some things in common, but not everything. I really try to balance the program; that’s why it’s called Latin View. It’s really a great chance to bring some Hispanic continuity across the country. We try to cover the serious issues on the show — education and business ownership — but we also try to have fun. The culture is so colorful and rich, and we do try to bring out the history and contributions that Hispanics have made to this country, continue to make and will make in the future. There are so many more opportunities now, and we have to leverage our growth and opportunities.”

Latin View has completed 113 shows in the past six seasons and is ready to begin production of season seven. Some planned topics include shows on the environment, the juvenile justice system, financial planning for college and Latina entrepreneurs. The program offers discussion between various experts about solutions to challenges in the Hispanic community plus resources and services to help. It also highlights Hispanic contributions to the U.S. economy, the political landscape and the business sector. The program’s success is exemplified by the caliber of guests it attracts, including former Denver Mayor and U.S. Secretary of Energy Federico Peña, actor and activist Edward James Olmos and entertainer José′ Feliciano. “Family, youth and education are the shows that touch people the most. To get a better education and have a better life than their parents had. These are my favorite shows. We talk about some of the obstacles and how to overcome them. We try to focus on the resources and services out there — how we can work together as a community,” says Vasquez. She recalls one program in particular about financial literacy: “I brought together a panel of different Hispanic experts in the financial profession. Two of my guests were Mark Martinez and James Perez-Foster; they had never met, but both were interested in starting a Hispanic bank.” Eventually, they collaborated to establish Solera National Bank, located in Metro Denver. “I’m proud of bringing people together on the show and making something happen,” she says.

Vasquez is also proud of the fact that Latin View provides young Hispanics with positive images and hope for a brighter future. She believes in the power of education and likes to work with young people and speak to youth when she has the opportunity. She comments, “I try to do as much as I can in speaking to students and talking about journalism as a profession and the realities. A lot of people think it’s glamorous; they think you make a lot of money and that it’s so exciting to be on TV. They don’t understand the other side of it, the long hours and the research. I’m only on air for half an hour per episode, but it takes about two weeks to put the research together.” Latin View also provides her with great opportunities for community involvement. She recently participated in the Tortilla Roll for Clinica Tepeya, a fund-raiser for low-income health care. “I’m always pitching in to help the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Somehow they talked me into [their version] of Dancing with the Stars. That was so much work! We trained for six weeks with an instructor,” she says. At this fund-raiser for the Hispanic Education Foundation, Vasquez and her fellow dancers performed in front of 1,200 people at the Colorado Convention Center.

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When Vasquez was at the News, she was invited to speak to Westminster High School’s journalism class. A decade before, when she attended as a student, only about 10 percent of the student population was from an ethnic minority. When she went back, it was evident the racial balance had reversed itself. “It was a real eye-opener because [it] had changed so much ethnically,” she says. Reflecting on how this country has changed in the intervening years, she says, “I think we truly stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. I was very lucky that the civil rights and Hispanic movements happened when they did. I had a lot of opportunities in the ‘70s and ‘80s to attend college and enter a profession that didn’t have a lot of Hispanics or Hispanic role models.”
For the last 12 or 13 years, her husband, Sal Gomez, has been her mentor and her favorite topic. “Sal is my greatest inspiration … he has a brilliant mind and razor-sharp humor. He can crack me up in both English and Spanish!” she exclaims. With obvious love and great admiration, she refers to him as a serial entrepreneur (president and CEO of Source One Management, a national information management outsourcing company headquartered in Denver; a partner of GM Equestrian Enterprises, a horse farm in Northern Boulder County; and co-founder of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and two more businesses with his son). “He’s serious about business, but is tons of fun and loves to ride horses, Harleys, boats, trucks and tractors. He definitely takes me out of my comfort zone,” she says.

profile4Her passion for the Hispanic community and Gomez’s interest in business intersect with his most recent venture (highlighted earlier this summer during a press conference in New York City with Mayor Michael Bloomberg), the National Hispanic Business Information Clearinghouse (BIC). It’s a free, bilingual Web resource (www.nhbic.org) that provides critical business information to support the startup and growth of Hispanic-owned businesses. BIC is a tribute to Hispanics like Gomez’s father, an immigrant from Mexico who didn’t really have the information he needed to get started, and his own entrepreneurial background. “Sal has learned the ropes, and he wants to share that with the Hispanic people,” she says. Vasquez is very excited that the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is celebrating its 30th anniversary in Denver Sept. 16-19, which also happens to fall over Hispanic Heritage Month. She calls it “a tribute to the dynamic Hispanic business community in our city and region … and a Who’s Who of Hispanic business owners, corporate leaders, top entertainers and outstanding speakers discussing how Latino businesses can thrive and contribute.” Since Latin View is primarily a studio show, she is looking forward to some very high-profile interviews from the convention for the program.

Between the time Vasquez spends producing and hosting Latin View and her community involvement, she likes to spend time with Sal on the horse farm, their speed boat “Sol Mates” and “Easy Does It,” the houseboat on Lake Powell. She enjoys tracing the genealogy of both families, and they travel often in search of the perfect beach (Sal proposed in San Lucia, and they were married in Tahiti). Her final words: “Have persistence and passion for your plan, and follow through!”

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