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Juana Bordas on Leadership for a Multicultural Age

In this episode, Juana Bordas talks about the power of leadership when each person, culture and community can contribute equally and show respect for all, and how leaders who embrace gratitude and forgiveness offer their communities hope for the future.  

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Episode transcript:

Host:
 

Welcome to Public Worship and the Christian Life, a podcast by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. In this series of conversations hosted by Calvin Institute of Christian Worship staff members, we invite you to explore connections between the public worship practices of congregations and the dynamics of Christian life and witness in a variety of cultural contexts, including places of work, education, community development, artistic and media engagement, and more. Our conversation partners represent many areas of expertise and a range of Christian traditions offering insights to challenge us as we discern the shape of faithful worship and witness in our own communities. We pray this podcast will nurture curiosity and provide indispensable countercultural wisdom for our life together in Christ. In this episode, Juana Bordas talks with Kathy Smith about the power of leadership when each person, culture, and community can contribute equally and show respect for all, and how leaders who embrace gratitude and forgiveness offer their communities hope for the future.

Kathy Smith: 

We are delighted today to welcome Juana Bordas to our podcast and eager to hear from her. Juana is the president of the Mestiza Leadership International. She has a long list of experiences and awards and writings related to leadership and organizational change and diversity. And we're so delighted that she's willing to be with us today. As an author, Juana has written a book called Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age, which we will be talking about soon. And then she's also written a book called The Power of Latino Leadership: Culture, Inclusion, and Contribution. We are excited to be able to hear from Juana today and to gain from her wisdom and experience as a leader and as an author. Juana, as we begin, is there anything else you would like to add by way of introduction?

Juana Bordas: 

I think it's important for people to know that I'm an elder in my community. Everybody gets old, but not everybody's an elder. An elder is someone who continues to work for the benefit of the community and has dedicated themselves to leaving a legacy and helping the next generation. And so when people hear of all the work I've done, it's because of my lifelong commitment to advancing not only people of color in my own community, Hispanics, but really bringing about a more humanistic and diverse and inclusive and equitable society. So I just want to say, "Okay, I'm 78!"

Kathy Smith: 

As I said, we're delighted to be able to gain from your experience here and for the long list of influence that you've had in so many different organizations. So we're grateful to have you here today. I'd like to begin with a general question based on the fact that you have been speaking and leading in many different contexts over the years. How would you summarize your overall philosophy of leadership?

Juana Bordas: 

I first want to say that I learned leadership from my immigrant parents. Immigrants today--my mother was in her forties and came to this country with a fifth-grade education and she dedicated her life so that I could be here with you today, so I could become an educated person, so I could have a better life. She had eight children, and she and my father lived their life so their children and their children's children could advance. And that's what leadership is about. It's about leaving a legacy for those that come after you and making the world a better place--better than when you came, which is an incredible philosophy, because that's not really happening today. So I learned leadership from them, and my mother always saw her contribution as service. If you were depressed or something, she'd say, "Get busy and do something for somebody else." So she was clear that what we're here is to help each other. So as I began to study leadership, I learned about Robert Greenleaf's work The Servant as Leader, and that's a very old philosophy of leadership in my work with communities of color. We describe leadership as service and social responsibility to our tribe, to our people, to our community, to our country. Leaders are people that serve the greater good. And the definition of leadership that I like the best is by LaDonna Harris, a Comanche, a great leader in the Native American community. And she says leadership is a communal responsibility. We all have a responsibility for leadership. . . . And what is it for? It's for the benefit of the people, the tribe, the community, like I described. And then she says that leadership is a shared process, and we all have to be responsible for leadership, and that leadership is focused on the greater good. So that's a very different definition of leadership than you find in the mainstream leadership, where in the past it's been about influence and power and authority and control and even dominance. And so it's a different kind of leadership. And in the Latino community, we work very hard to make sure that everybody is inclusive and involved in the leadership process.

Kathy Smith: 

That's a great definition and great references as well, and very much resonates with our approach to leadership at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship--leadership as service, as you said, but also leadership for the greater good and leadership to equip people to be those active servants. That leads us into the reflection on this book that has been so effective that I have used in classes here at Calvin University with my students, and they've really appreciated it. The book is Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age. This book uses three main metaphors for leadership. And I wonder if you could talk about those approaches to leadership, how those metaphors are important in those various cultures and communities, and what they offer for us all.

Juana Bordas: 

I want to give a little context: I basically have spent a lot of my life building and running organizations because I believe that's where the power for change is, whether it's Calvin, what you're doing as a university, or whether it's what we do in our nonprofit groups, or what we do in order to make our government more responsible. So when I was around 50, I was offered the opportunity to go work at the Center for Creative Leadership, and that was the first time I left the Hispanic community to go work in a mainstream organization. And one of the reasons I did that is I wanted to start studying leadership. And what happened when I wanted to learn leadership, because I realized at that point that if we really were to create the good and compassionate society, it was going to be about having the kind of leaders that had that dedication and the ability to be able to do that. So when I started studying leadership, I realized that there were no books written about how people of color lead. My Power of Latino Leadership is the first book on Latino leadership. And yet, if we look historically, we have had these communities in the United States that through discrimination, slavery, colonization, racism--they have continued to advance forward and to bring their values, their spiritual traditions and their communities forward. So that's how I got into writing.

The first thing I wanted to do was to look at how the three major communities of color in this country lead. So the title of the book is Salsa, Soul, and Spirit. If we look at Latinos, Latinos I think have "salsa." We are a very energetic group. We're a hybrid. You know, we're a mixture of all these different races, particularly the Spanish and the Indians that were in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Latinos have this joy of living, If you want to call it that. And salsa is a great metaphor for diversity because Latinos are diverse. You never have a batch of salsa that's the same, and there's hundreds of different kinds of salsa. Salsa is also a dance, and to have salsa in your life means that you have passion for what you do. So the way I look at diversity and also leadership is that each group has something to contribute. And then if we open up and be more inclusive, we're going to have a much better and more relevant form of leadership.

Soul is also very important, because as we look at the African American community and what is happening today, we have to remember that African Americans were brought here in chains. So they actually transformed slavery into being this dynamic force that they are today. Culturally they're really vibrant. And when Martin Luther King was with us, he said, . . . "We've come to save the soul of America." In other words, we can't have an America if we have discrimination. The soul of America is equity; it's inclusion; it's community, it's justice; it's civil rights. It's very different if you look at our founding values. They came to make that contribution, but also the fact that they were able to transform their situation into where they are today, because leadership is about transformation. It's about going to a higher state. And so African Americans really teach us that. They also teach us the idea that unity and identity is so important, because they have such a strong sense of unity, especially in our country today with a lot of divisions that we have. That idea of unity is paramount if we're going to move into the future together.

And then Native Americans, they believe that spirit is everywhere. That's really a Christian tradition. We say that God is omnipresent, but do we really believe that? Because Native Americans saw the spirit in trees and in flowers and in the four-legged, and in the winged animals, everywhere. They had such a respect for the life that imbued this incredible creation that God has made. And so they leave us this idea of "spirit" being something that is everywhere in the air, in the water, and that we are good stewards of the earth. And the other thing I think we can get from "spirit" is the whole idea of vision. And so with Native Americans, when you're young, you go on a vision quest to ask the question "Who am I?" because God never makes anything twice; everyone's unique. What is my purpose? What is my contribution? What is my essence? That idea in leadership is really central. Who are you? What are you here to do? What are your gifts? Why were you born in this time in history, into this family, and to really understand the power of your uniqueness. So I think each culture--and that's my message--is that each culture has gifts to give humanity, but it is only by weaving together this tapestry of many colors that we will be able to reach that higher state.

Kathy Smith: 

Thank you. And a follow-up question to what you've just said is, do you believe it's more important for people in these various cultures to understand their own approaches and gifts for leadership or for others to recognize them and draw them in and accentuate those different gifts that could be adopted by other cultures as well?

Juana Bordas: 

Actually it's both, because having been left out of the history books. This is Hispanic Heritage Month, and the reason it's Hispanic Heritage Month is because our history was left out of the story of America; same thing with American Indians and especially African Americans. And so it's important for us to know our own history because history is power, and also to have an identity because identity is also power. It's all about integration, about bringing all these different things together. And that's one of our tasks as humans on the earth is to integrate all the things that we are and to understand our essence. So people of color have to study their own history, but people that are not the dominant culture--especially people that are . . . I guess we would say white or other cultures, they have to understand the contributions as well, because the history that's in the history books is not the history. It's been whitewashed. So how are we going to build a multicultural nation? And we will be a multicultural nation in this century, right? There will not be a majority culture after 2050. How do we build this multicultural nation if we don't understand the history, the identity, the contributions of all the people that have made this country great, particularly when you look at the contributions that African Americans and Latinos are making today, that American Indians give us because this was their land. It's a very spiritual thing as well to have gratitude for all the people that have made our country great.

Kathy Smith: 

Thank you. That's so helpful. And that leads to my next question. There's so much in this book that is wonderful. And we can't talk about it all today, but you have a key chapter in this book called "Gracias: Gratitude, Hope, and Forgiveness." Could you say a bit about what those concepts and practices mean for leaders and how spirituality that is inherent in those concepts can bring the kind of unity and responsibility that leaders need to focus on?

Juana Bordas: 

I'm glad you brought that up. . . I started school not being able to speak English. And I saw the trauma that my mother went through being an immigrant here. . . . It's a little bit of a spiritual story because my mother was so religious and I come from an incredible spiritual tradition. She went to the priest and said," I can cook. I can clean. I can take care of children. Give me a job. I came here for my children's lives to be better." And so humbly, cooking and cleaning, she made it so that I could go to Catholic school and get a good education. So her belief in God just couldn't be shaken. She believed that God guided her. In the Latino tradition, we say "gracias a Dios" when something good happens--"thanks to God." And we also say "estamos en los manos de Dios"--we're in the hands of God. So that whole idea of gratitude--because if you look at my mother's life, if you look at the African Americans, even going on today with Black Lives Matter, when you look at Indians being on reservations and not having the resources that they used to have, how did we make it through 500 years with our culture and our communities and our spiritual foundation intact? We did it because we were grateful. We did it because we saw the glass as half-full. And some of my African American friends when I interviewed them for the book, they said in the past days, it was just, "Thank God we are safe. Thank God we made it through another day." A very basic thank-you for life. And so gratitude has been totally imbued in these cultures. My teacher, an American Indian, she says you get up every morning and you say, "Thank you, God, for another day," and in the evening, you thank God again for having lived that day.

Gratitude has been key to keeping people moving on. And I think a lot of times people don't understand that gratitude is actually a strategic tactic to keep you moving forward, because otherwise you give up. Otherwise the slaves would've given up. Otherwise the Mexicans that were colonized in Texas would have given up. We don't give up. And so the other attribute is esperanza, or hope. And so you had to have that hope for the future. And I think also that's one of the reasons our leadership is so focused on the future and on the next generation, because you have to realize that these leaders did not, they would not see the fruits of their labor. They would not be part of the harvest. They had to work hard. Believing that someday I would exist, right? Someone like me, with an education and a nice house, they had to keep dreaming and have hope for that future. There's statistics that show that Latinos, they're optimistic. 75% of Latinos believe their life's going to get better. And that's only 56% true for people that are Anglos. Because we believe we have hope that we are going to--like the African Americans would say, or Martin Luther King would say--we will reach the promised land. He says, "I won't be there with you, but we will get there." And then American Indians having that hope that they would not be extinguished, that they would keep--we have 500 registered Native American tribes in this country who have kept their culture. But think about that hope, that faith, that belief that we would get there. And I think the key thing, especially when you go through oppression, is the idea of forgiving your oppressor. Now that doesn't mean you say, Oh, everything's hunky-dory, but it means I forgive you. I have the blood of the conquistadors in my vein, even though they abused my grandmother and so forth. They're part of my culture. They're part of who I am. And so that sense of forgiveness of what has happened I think is the salve, the spiritual salve that heals the wounds. And that does not mean we don't work to change it, but you have to have that space in your heart to forgive the oppressor.

Kathy Smith: 

Thank you. Those are profound concepts that we can all learn from. In terms of spirituality, you've studied religion, you've practiced meditation for many years. I'm wondering what spiritual insights have you gained from these practices and how can they help bring people together? How can they heal some of the divisions that we see between the races? How can they embrace the diversity and the uniqueness that we find in the Spirit together? Can you talk about that?

Juana Bordas: 

That's an important question because if you look at some of the conflict we have even in our country today, it's people having one spiritual belief and believing everybody should have the same spiritual belief, you know? And I have a personal relationship, I think, with spirit, and God made everybody different. And also God made many paths. It's in the Bible, there are many mansions, many ways to get to God or to get to spirit, which is really inside yourself. So it's that sense of self, that I'm part of this creation. And so I'm very concerned about that today. My spiritual path . . . embraces all the different religions in a sense, right?

I was raised Catholic; one time--and this would be a great practice in order to expand my understanding--one year I went to every church I could go to in Denver. I went to the Buddhist. I went to the Baptist. I went to the Greek Orthodox. I went to all the different churches so I could understand how different people worship the Spirit. But I think that the biggest thing for me, as far as spirituality, is to bring the spiritual into the everyday life, whether it's the way you treat your neighbor, or it's the way you dedicate yourself to studying at Calvin University, right? I am dedicating myself to learn more so that I could be of greater service. I really believe that you have to live your faith, and that it connects to leadership that is about loving others and serving others and making the world a better place.

But I also think that it's important to bring different spiritual practices into your own. I was going to give a couple of examples when I thought about this question, because when I was in the Catholic church--and I'm thankful for everything I studied---they said that a sacrament was an outward sign of a spiritual reality. So if you have communion, that's an outward sign of the ability of Christ to take matter and transform it into spirit, which is I think what we're always doing. We're trying to bring the spirit into matter, into the earth, into people. So I would encourage people to study other religions and see what they could borrow from them. Meditation wasn't something I learned as a Catholic, but it's a core thing. They say you can't experience God if you don't at least be quiet and listen--too much going on up here, right? I'll give you some examples. There's the Sabbath candles: on Friday I light the Sabbath candles, Jewish tradition. What are you doing? You're thanking God for the week. You're putting down your plow or your pencil or whatever you're doing so you can have at least some time during the weekend to recuperate, to rejoice. So you're saying thank you for the week, and you're saying I'm now going to prepare myself to have--because the Sabbath for the Jews, of course, is their holy day. Fasting is another one that a lot of religions do, so that you take time to not only have your body rest, but to understand how important food and nourishment is that God gives us every day. The Cherokees, for example, forgiveness--at the beginning of the year, they all go down to the stream as a group, and they whirl water above their head from the stream, letting go of the past and letting go of any resentments--same thing you do in confession for the Catholics, same thing you do with the Jewish tradition where the year's over and you want to get rid of stuff. Part of spirituality is incorporating what our brothers and sisters, how do they see God? With the Indian, I love to burn sage to purify your home. So I would encourage people to say, you know, God is infinite. There are many paths. And in order for me to really understand my brothers and sisters, I have to embrace that. And so part of my spiritual tradition is about that. I've even done Sufi dancing, the Sufis in order to experience the spirit they dance, right? And so I encourage people to dance. The Baptist, they sing. Hallelujah. And so let's see if we can't really expand our understanding because God is infinite and there are many paths.

Kathy Smith: 

Thank you. That's so helpful. And I love the emphasis on learning from other people and learning from different practices and being able to enrich our own spiritual lives accordingly,

Host: 

You are listening to Public Worship and the Christian Life: Conversations for the Journey, a podcast produced by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Check out our website at worship.calvin.edu for resources related to this topic and many other aspects of public worship.

Kathy Smith: 

I'd like to ask a question about this other book that you wrote, The Power of Latino Leadership which we've already touched on, and then one of these three metaphors in the prior book. From your own experience and from the experience of writing that book, what particular gifts do Latino leaders bring to the leadership conversation, and how do you see that impacting culture in North America today and beyond?

Juana Bordas: 

Latinos are going to have an incredible impact on the culture not just because of our numbers, which are growing, but because we still are connected to countries across the world, and we are the bridge in the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere and the Central Hemisphere. There's Latinos across the Western Hemisphere, and the culture is very dynamic. When you look at Latino leaders, I'm going to give you three concepts because they'll be easy to remember, and they are based again on servant leadership.

That's how we were able to advance. It was always a collective form of leadership, but it was also an activist form of leadership. We have to understand that for people of color to come to where we are today, it took civil rights, right? For women to come to where we are today, it took the women's movement. The Latino movement was the Chicano movement and the movement with Cesar Chavez, who was both a spiritual leader and a leader of people. And so one of the things that's very important about Latino leadership, and I referred to it, I call it "the leader as equal." So in the past, when you had this hierarchical leadership, mainly white males, again, leadership was privilege, and also being able to tell people what to do. We turn that upside down. We say the leader's there to serve the people, but also that every single person should be treated with respect and dignity regardless if you're cleaning the floors or you're the CEO, that there's a basic respect for the human being that needs to be shown by the leader. And when you do that, when you have a concept that everybody has something to contribute, you level the playing field so that everybody can contribute. Whether it is the person that keeps the university beautiful and clean or takes care of the plants, or cooks the food, we're all here together to help promote the education of children, or young people in your case. So that's important. The leader is equal. A real leader treats everyone with that kind of respect. And actually by doing that pulls the potential of that person, makes that person believe or helps that person believe I can do something. I can make a contribution.

If you do that, then you have a second concept, which is called "leadership by the many," which is what we need. Every single student at Calvin needs to think of themselves as a leader, but also collectively what can we do? So the leadership by the many is what we need today in America: civic engagement, working in our nonprofits, helping the people. There's 50,000 homeless in Los Angeles. My family lives there. How can we live in a society with 50,000 homeless on the streets. In Denver--we're having the same problem all across the country--over half our people not having a minimum living wage. How can we live in a place like that and believe that this is a Christian nation, right? So everybody has to be involved in this transformation of . . . bringing our country back to our values of equity and justice and mercy. And so leadership by the many is a very important concept in the Latino community because it's critical mass social change leadership. And young people today--I was just reading about Generation Z--61% of them have been involved in some sort of movement. Young people are going to inherit this earth, and we have to today start a whole new thing of how do we protect Mother Nature, which is you know, it's a spiritual thing. So leadership by the many is another one.

The third one that I'd like to bring forward, which is so important, is that Latinos enjoy life. There's no way people could have made it through 500 years without the singing and the beautiful arts that the African Americans have today. You know, even in slave times they were singing. They spent all of Sunday in church because that was their day off. And they became a very spiritual community with incredible music and dance and theater. So it's called "gozar de la vida," or "enjoy life." Latinos spend more money--they over - index, is what it's called in business--on music, on cell phones so they can talk to each other, on going out to eat. We invented the word " fiesta." You never go to a Hispanic thing without food, without the colors that we have, the fusion music, which is so dynamic. And part of what Latinos are contributing to leadership is you have to enjoy the process. And in some ways--I've studied leadership and work--we don't have that in the United States today. That sense of celebration, that we have to celebrate who we are in order to really do the hard work of transforming our society. Latinos offer that to you. They offer a little salsa, a little music, more than that. All three communities and women everywhere belong to what are called "we" cultures, collective cultures, not an individualistic culture. So again, how do we together celebrate life, work together, and move forward.

Kathy Smith: 

Those are three wonderful concepts to remember. I especially like the emphasis, thinking of our students, on growing and leading in order to encourage the common good and get involved in important activities and community-building activities. The mission of our school or our purpose for our students includes that they become agents of renewal in the world. So that's a primary theme for us as well. This is so helpful. A large part of our constituency at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship is folks who are involved in worship--in Christian worship planning, leading worship services. And you mentioned your Catholic background. Our constituencies cover all the varieties of denominations and churches in North America and beyond; we have quite a global connection as well. But could you talk out of your experience again: what words of wisdom would you share with people who are involved in that sort of leadership, in planning and leading of worship services?

Juana Bordas: 

Some of the things I was talking about, the Cherokee cleansing ceremony or the Sabbath candles, that's one thing I would do. Interestingly, even when I was a young girl I used to do ecumenical services with young people. We would have these weekends and they were really about racial equity even back then, which was in the sixties. And so their job during the weekend was to work together to create an ecumenical service for Sunday where they would all bring their traditions and they would work together to create this new form, if you want to call it that. So I think that an important thing is to be very ecumenical, to have your arms open to how are the different ways that we can celebrate and learn about spirit. But I think one of the most essential things that has to happen today in order to create balance is the advent of the feminine into spiritual practice. If you look at the Asian tradition of yin and yang, of the female and the male, which is present in American Indian philosophy--the earth mother, the father, son--it's present in the Latino tradition because in the Latino tradition, if most people know who Our Lady of Guadalupe is, there's this whole thing about the feminine, the spiritual mother, and this imbalance is why we're not taking care of our earth today, because that part of the spirit is about nurturing, it's about creation, it's about those motherly aspects. It's about seeing us as a family, seeing ourselves as united. And so I think also the fact that many of our churches have--the Catholic church doesn't ordain women, right? They have not recognized the spirituality of women, and yet women are the ones that bring people to church, right? . . . My grandmother had an altar in her home, which is another Hispanic tradition, to have your altar. And when she arrived in the United States we would say the rosary every night, and the rosary is like a mantra to the mother of creation. So God is not a male in the sky. The spirit is both male and female. It works together to bring about the reality of where we live today. I think that one of the most important things is to bring balance. Now, the other thing is war, for example, and aggression. How are we going to mitigate that without having the other thing, which is looking at ourselves as one family and bringing that spiritual nurturing that the female aspect brings. So, I think that's a critical thing today. And I think young people, if you ask them what's their number one issue, it's climate change. And I believe climate change is correlated to the fact that we don't honor the feminine.

Kathy Smith: 

Thank you. And now, to push a little further on that idea of the feminine, you have been involved for many years as a leader in a variety of contexts. And you've done that obviously as a woman, and you've been a mentor to many women in leadership. So I'm wondering what particular advice do you have for women when they are in leadership roles, especially perhaps in contexts that aren't as accustomed to having women as leaders? What words of wisdom do you have for us?

Juana Bordas: 

I think that's one of the issues. If you look at women's leadership because of the fact--first of all, women have been the ones who not only have taken care of the family, but they've built community, they've run the nonprofits, they've been the educators, . . . the ones who have been the anchors of spiritual practice. So they have been leaders. It's just that when they talk about women's "her story"--her story as opposed to history, his story--"her story" is much more about working together and taking care of the family and the community. So there weren't these individual "great leaders." And some of the times we did have great leaders, but we don't even know about them for women. We have to understand that historically--and that's why we have Women's History Month again--that women weren't recognized as leaders, or weren't able to exercise and learn and grow their leadership capacity. I think first of all, women have to deal with that internally, to really understand that we do have the power, that we are leaders, that we have been the weavers of community and of society, and now it's time to take that forward.

That actually started in World War II with Rosie the Riveter: the women ran the economy during World War II while the men went off to fight the good fight, and then when they came back, women were told to go back into the house and go back into not being the leaders. But the story is, they said, "Our daughters will go to college," and it was the seeds of the women's movement in the sixties, seventies, and eighties. And so they call this the third wave of feminism. We've been at this a very long time. But I would encourage women to take a deep dive into not only the values that women bring--you know, I'm not sure we would have all these wars if we had women in leadership; I'm not sure that we would have the kind of society . . . The women's agenda includes education for our children. It includes medical health and healthy people. Women are much more focused on the fabric of society and how you create that whole society. We need women in leadership. So that whole idea that we can't do it now--when I ran Mi Casa Women's Center--I ran a women's center for 10 years in the seventies and eighties--every woman had to take an assertiveness course because we didn't learn how to be assertive a lot of times. I think it's changing with the new generation. But that whole idea of women finding their voice and feeling comfortable with their leadership and understanding that they're needed in the world today.

Kathy Smith: 

That's inspiring to hear you talk about all this. I'm so appreciative that you're willing to share with us today. Thinking about your books, your speaking, all the different things that you've done, your legacy, . . . I'm wondering as you've been involved over these years and brought these thoughts to different groups and peoples, what have you learned in that process? How has your teaching and your leading been received and what have you learned from that process of responses to your books and to your speaking?

Juana Bordas: 

I'd like to use this opportunity to talk to the younger generation about it because I think your preparation for leadership does start when you're young. And I also want them to know that Generation Z is the largest generation, and together the Millennials and Generation Z really are going to have the power to transform this century. And so, if I were a young person today, I would be thinking about what is it that I can contribute because they're the ones that are going to inherit the earth. I started learning leadership at a very young age. When I was 13, my mother took me across town to meet the Mother Superior at the Academy of Holy Names, which was I found out later because I didn't know--it's a school that really prepared me to become a leader, but it was an expensive school. My mother in her humble way and in her broken English asked the Mother Superior to give me a scholarship. And the Mother Superior took one look at me and said, "I'll give her half a scholarship, because she's got to work for it."

So here I am, 13 years old, and my mother gives me a job. She used to take care of the Catholic church's nursery during the Masses. She would get up at five in the morning, walk eight blocks because we didn't have a car, and take care of children until after the 12:15 Mass, like 1:15 or 1:30... And she made me her assistant. Those of you who are young know how terrible it was getting up every Sunday morning watching kids with her mother. I got $15 a month, which is about $150 a month now, and I paid it so that I could go to this school. So when I talk to young people, I say, don't think that your youth is not your preparation. Because when I went to high school, I joined the National Forensic League and learned how to speak. I wrote on the school paper. Now I'm an author, right? So your youth is important to preparing you.

Your college days are so important. When I was 19 years old, I went to University of Florida--first in my whole family and my lineage to go to college. I saw my political science professor walking with a group of people to the administration building. I ran up and said, "What are you doing?" He said, "We're marching to integrate the University of Florida." I went to a segregated university at 19 years old. I got in line. So your college years are so important to your leadership preparation. But I think as I started studying leadership, it's important to know your style. I have an entrepreneurial leadership style. I like to start things. I like to put things together. I like to bring people so that we can initiate something new. And that's why I've been successful at helping form Mi Casa and staying there for ten years. Mi Casa now is the largest Hispanic organization in the state of Colorado--40 years.

And another thing that I had to learn is that when I was in college it was during the Civil Rights [Movement], and so many people were involved, and then they all went back home. No! For young people, they need to understand that leadership is a lifelong commitment. And so I say, when I walked into Mi Casa in my early thirties, if somebody would have said you're going to stay ten years, that would have been a third of my life, I probably would have laughed because I didn't know. So now I know. I know that leadership--each one of us, and nobody has to do what I've done, you have your own calling, your own individual self, your own gifts you've been given. You're living in a different time in history. The new generations are much more collaborative than the generations in the past. But it is a lifelong commitment. So I'd like young people to know that.

The way I learned my leadership style and so forth is I took a lot of assessment instruments. And those are great in leadership because they tell you, if you do the Myers-Briggs, are you an extrovert or an introvert? Well, obviously I'm an extrovert. So I have a job where I can talk. I'm not going to sit at a computer like an engineer and design these incredible things. But each of us has a gift, right? So the more you know about your own leadership style . . . There's a saying in leadership: lead others, but manage yourself. So my challenge is always listening to what other people have to say. So I think assessment instruments were very important. And I also think you need to be open to feedback and to letting people know that if you're doing--how can I be a better leader? Because you don't know that unless you ask other people. I think part of my leadership journey, and studying leadership, learning what other people have done and having some--I have some incredible mentors, but they're not all alive. There are people that I look up to and emulate. Susan B. Anthony is a mentor to me because she gave up so much so that we could have the right to vote. And so I respect that in her and the work that she did. And she also traveled all over the country, which is one of my commitments before COVID. I consider myself an itinerant preacher. I go everywhere. I've been everywhere in order to spread the message of creating the humanistic and multicultural society.

Kathy Smith: 

Thank you. Juana, this has been such a rich conversation. As we close out, I'd like to ask if there are any other key issues or themes that you would like to address in this interview as we've been talking about leadership.

Juana Bordas: 

We're living in a very important time in history, if you want to call it that. There are so many issues for us to address as a people and as a world. We know now that we're interconnected; certainly the coronavirus has shown us that. But we're also connected economically, and we're connected because--if you look at migration and immigration, the world is right here now, we are that way. I think it's so important today for all of us, and that's why I believe in intergenerational leadership, I learn so much from young people, and it keeps me hopeful because I know, like I said, they are getting engaged; they do have a vision for the future; they do understand that the earth is burning and drying up because we're not taking care of our mother. And I think that that's very hopeful to me.

But I do think this is a time for renewed activism. It is a time for renewed engagement. It is a time for us to really demand more of our leaders and to really make a commitment to integrate the leadership of the United States. We cannot have--and I'm not saying good or bad--but you can't have a Congress . . . it's supposed to be of, by, and for the people. And so I'd like to see young people leading this country; I'd like to see certainly women, and certainly people of color. We have to make that commitment today because it isn't working. The leadership we have today, the worldview we have today of using resources and continuing to use more than our share is not working. And if you believe in leadership, it's about legacy. What am I leaving? Just like my mother, I'm going to make my children's lives better. And I have to tell you, she even has a great-grandson with a PhD in nuclear physics. I can't tell you how successful my immigrant family is because of the vision of my parents and the sacrifice of my parents. And so I think that whole idea that we're here to make the world better, and certainly for all of us that are older, we have to do intergenerational leadership. We have to allow young people to take the helm of leadership and support them and help them learn what they need to do. I think it's an absolute crisis today that we begin to diversify the leadership of our country and of our world.

Kathy Smith: 

Thank you, Juana. Thank you so much for spending this time with us, for sharing your wisdom and your experience and giving us so many good nuggets to remember, and principles and concepts. I'm really delighted that you could participate in this. And we look forward to future conversations as well. And I want to wish you the best as you continue to learn and to lead.

Juana Bordas: 

I wanted to close, since we have a few minutes, with a Hispanic tradition which is called "bendiciones," or blessings. I want to send blessings particularly to all those that will be listening. And hopefully this will inspire you to understand that you have unique gifts and that you've been brought here and you have a calling and a vision for your own future. I'd like to bless all the students at the university and thank them for learning and growing and wanting to be part of this new transformation of humanity. I'd like to thank all the women who have mentored me and mentored others, our mothers, our grandmothers, those that came before us. I'd like to have a vision of hope for the future. And I believe, I believe that young people today will take the helm of leadership and that they will help create this new world. I bless them all. I thank them all, and I thank the Great Spirit for giving us this time to share and to learn together.

Kathy Smith: 

Thank you so much. Amen to all of that. And again, thank you for this time, and we bless you as well on your way as you continue to be a leader and a significant voice in our country. Thank you, Juana.

Juana Bordas: 

Thank you. It was my honor.

Host: 

Thanks for listening. We invite you to visit our website at worship.calvin.edu to learn more about the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, an interdisciplinary study and ministry center dedicated to the scholarly study of the theology, history, and practice of Christian worship and the renewal of worship in worshiping communities across North America and beyond.

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