Latino leader gives talk on economics, leadership in the Midwest

It’s not always about you.

That’s what a national speaker who formerly oversaw civil right programs for the U.S. Department of Labor had to say Wednesday night about economic development, immigration and leadership challenges in the Midwest.

When Roberto Carmona thinks about how far he has come, he remembers that his father didn’t sweat for the steel mill for 30 years so he could throw it all away.

“Get the message out. Focus on serving,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where you start. It’s where you finish.”

Carmona gave the talk to a group of about 40 people at Mexico Antiguo, 25 W. Main St. For nearly 20 years, Carmon, a Harvard graduate, has provided business development, client management and executive coaching for non-profits, higher education and Fortune 500 businesses.

Immigrant Allies hosted the event as a sort of kickoff to a conference it is looking to host in the fall.

Carmona said Latinos face the same challenge as the Irish and Italians did more than a century ago. The key, he said, is communication.

“Jobs are changing. Communities are changing. The first reaction is usually negative,” he said. “If we are going to live in a community together, let’s see how we can make the best schools, the safest communities.”

Failure is inevitable, he said, but learning from that failure is what makes a person successful.

Hector Salamanca and Tess Boylan, both 19, of Des Moines, said they made the trip to Marshalltown just to hear Carmona speak. They called it inspirational.

“It’s great to see a Latino leader who is engaged,” Salamanca said. “Hopefully, we (in Des Moines) can build a successful model like Marshalltown has.”

Boylan said Carmona’s message of perseverance resonated with her. Knowing that if a person doesn’t begin from a position of advantage they can still turn it around gave her hope, she said.

Being successful has a lot to do with building relationships, Carmona said. Parents and older people would do well to monitor social networking to be aware of what youth are learning and what is influencing them. People build networks in their 20s, and how they use those networks during adulthood makes a big difference.

Networks and education are invaluable tools to success, Carmona said. Every grade matters, he said, because it contributes to an overarching tapestry that paints a picture for potential employers. But, more important than academic standards, is a person actually learning about the things that matter them, he added.

“People want to know what you bring beyond the services,” he said. “There was always this assumption that there is a piece of paper, but we don’t ask people what they know. I study to learn. That’s my competitive advantage.”

During his tenure at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Carmona helped start HUD’s Office of Rural Housing and Economic Development.

Ultimately, he said focusing only on oneself is short sighted because it does nothing to honor one’s family legacy or improve the community in which they live. Being a good communicator is paramount. Otherwise, the decisions as to what happens to a person’s environment will be left to others.

“If you want to have a community invest in schools as oppose to prisons, if that person who wants to bring prisons speaks a lot better than you, has better relationships than you, you are hurting yourself,” he said.

For more information about the upcoming conference focusing on economics and immigration in the Midwest, call Nancy Earney at 641-752-1889 or email