Empowering Latinas

In the late ‘80s, a group of women got together to advance women’s interests in regions impacted by the Cold War, including Latin America. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the group continued its work, eventually becoming the nonprofit organization Dialogue on Diversity.

Today, the Washington, D.C.-based group claims more than 3,000 members nationwide. Though Dialogue has a Latina focus, it invites women of all ethnicities to participate, said Christina Caballero, Dialogue on Diversity’s founder, president and chief executive officer. Through public policy forums, symposiums, award ceremonies and other events, the organization furthers its goal of empowering minority women.

Accomplishing that task can take many forms. The group takes on a wide variety of issues to help women achieve full economic viability, become successful entrepreneurs and improve their civic status.

“Dialogue is about opening up opportunities to discuss economic, political and social empowerment for minority women, specifically Hispanic women,” Caballero said. “It’s about women, Latinas, and encouraging them to be a part of where they live and where they function and where they love.”

The organization’s public policy forum early March in Washington, D.C., exemplified its mission with seminars on information technology, immigration, education and the economic slowdown. About 175 people attended. “I think it was probably the very best public policy forum we’ve had,” Caballero said. “The topics were key topics in the minds of the minority community.”

The forum brought together a diverse array of interests, including speakers from the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Association of Hispanic Realtors, the Center for Democracy and Technology and MANA, A National Latina Organization.

Dialogue also hosted a health care symposium in May with free hypertension and diabetes testing, a panel on preventative care and discussions on medical costs and health care reform. The event helped inform “Latina women on what they need to do to take care of themselves as businesswomen,” Caballero said. “When you’re in business, you forget about yourself.”

On Oct. 14, Dialogue will host its annual awards ceremony, its most popular event. This year, it will recognize women entrepreneurs at the Hall of the Americas in D.C.

Caballero is responsible for organizing all of Dialogue’s events, including consulting with advisers and board members to select topics and soliciting corporate sponsorships. Geico, Citibank, Kaiser Permanente and the Fannie Mae Foundation are among Dialogue’s supporters, according to its website. Caballero has led the group since 1989, when she founded it as a forty-something mother teaching in Washington, D.C.

She was born in Barcelona in 1939 and moved to the U.S. with her parents at the age of 12. She started her career teaching elementary and high school students in Kentucky and Indiana, and spent 12 years teaching typing, English, Spanish, economics and other subjects for schools in Indiana, Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., before retiring to focus on her work with Dialogue.

The 70-year-old wife and mother of two grown children now lives in Clifton, Va., and spends most of her time working for the nonprofit. “It’s a full-time job, almost,” she said.

After nearly 20 years with the group, she got to see it reach a major milestone March 11, when President Barack Obama signed an executive order creating a White House Commission on Women and Girls to promote women’s issues. Caballero attended the signing. She and other women’s activists have been pushing for the White House to create such a commission for the last 12 years, she said.

“President Obama is beginning to get involved with what the women’s groups are looking for,” Caballero said. “This time it looks like the president is taking that very seriously.”

She said she hopes the commission will help women achieve better access to health services, more equitable pay and greater educational opportunities.

“We hope it will be conscious about the needs of women and girls,” she said. “It means we are included at the bargaining table.”

Kathy Adams