Abel Perez has been helping local businesses connect with Hispanic residents for years.
Perez, 69, has run the Kansas Department of Commerce local office and has been executive director for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Now he and several colleagues have founded a nonprofit organization called the Multicultural Education and Communication Institute of Kansas. He will teach cultural awareness and sensitivity for interested companies. The group also will help workers learn English – or how to speak English with less of an accent – and soft skills needed to succeed in business.
Q. 1 What kind of barriers do businesses face in regard to the Hispanic community?
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A. How to build trust in the Latino community, how to connect better. That is what I did with the chamber a lot.
Q. 2 Who is the institute aimed at?
A. As an example, in the construction industry there are lot of minorities there and they have been with a company for 15 or 20 years, but because of their pronunciation of English or their lack of education, the company cannot promote them, even though it wants to. We go in and try to customize training for what the companies’ needs are.
Q. 3 What kind of things do you teach?
A. One of the myths is that an Hispanic, in an interview or talking with the boss, will not look straight into the eye. That doesn’t mean there is some shyness there or they’re holding back. That’s just the way they respect your position and remember what their parents taught them: You look a little bit down, you don’t look straight in eye because that’s a challenge.
Q. 4 What holds back the Hispanic community in Wichita?
A. My father and mother pushed us. My dad died when I was 14, but he said, “You don’t want to be working construction all your life. It’s not a good job. It’s hard; it’s hot. You need to finish school.” Today you don’t have that push, that drive. The parents who are coming here are younger and they don’t see the need to take their son or daughter and move them up. … We don’t have a lot of Hispanic leaders to take the bull by the horns.
Q. 5 So, is this your last venture?
A. This brings a lot of my experience and expertise together, and I don’t have to continue to do anything beyond this. I want this to take off. I want this to become a statewide program. With the employers I know here, they have a big interest in this. It’s needed. It would help them. And this would probably be it for me.