Growing up poor, I am no stranger to hard work, as I began working at the tender age of 11. My mother, her sisters and my aunts were my role models and they offered encouragement and instilled in me the value of having persistence, commitment and enthusiasm. That is why when I see the egregious claims that companies like Herbalife make about “gaining riches and reaching the pinnacle of your financial dreams,” it infuriates me and other Latino leaders who see this as a blatant ploy to prey on the values many Latinos and communities of color grew up with.
Don’t misunderstand. I am the first to applaud and champion companies that legitimately help those same communities create their own businesses and livelihoods so they can best raise their families and give their children even more opportunities. The sad truth is that Herbalife is not one of those companies. I know from personal experience.
My tía wholeheartedly bought Herbalife’s clever promotional materials promising an exciting “business opportunity” and truly thought it was a genuine way to earn a little extra cash on the side to better support herself in her senior years. During the years before her passing, I personally watched my proud tía as she enthusiastically promoted the products and thoroughly invested her time and energy in Herbalife’s many nutritional and weight-loss supplements as a distributor for the company, pouring her heart and soul into her business efforts.
Sometime later, I noticed her excitement slowly begin to dissipate, as many boxes and bottles of Herbalife inventory filled her home. She felt dismayed, disappointed and expressed deep disillusionment with the entire situation and herself. It was an unfamiliar sight to see the woman I grew up admiring and regarding as unshakable so down on herself. She gave it her all but yet it wasn’t enough. The worst part was seeing her lose faith in herself.
Serving as chief executive of Mana – A Latina Organization, I can bear witness to our community’s desire to seek out reliable, alternative ways to supplement our household incomes, particularly in this fragile economic recovery. As the past national executive director of Federally Employed Women Inc., a non-profit working to improve the status of women employed by the federal government, I thoroughly understand how Latinas continue to lag behind in employment and am well aware of the punishing wage gap that many face on a daily basis. It’s a wage gap that, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families, can make a very big difference when it comes to comfortably meeting their families’ day-to-day needs and providing for the future.