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These Are the Biggest Moments From TIME’s Latino Leaders Dinner

6 minute read

On Nov. 29 in Los Angeles, TIME hosted a dinner honoring its inaugural list of Latinos making an impact on the country.

Held at Soulmate in West Hollywood, the event convened honorees including actor and producer Eva Longoria, activist Dolores Huerta, and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, and featured a musical performance by country artist Frank Ray.

Read More: These Latino Leaders Are Reshaping Their Industries—and the Country

Here are some of the biggest moments from the evening’s toasts.

Eva Longoria on telling Latino stories

Longoria spoke about her work on numerous Latino causes and said she has realized that “nothing shifts culture more than media.” That led her to take on more work behind the camera, including directing the 2023 movie Flamin' Hot about a Mexican janitor at Frito Lay who came up with the idea for Flamin' Hot Cheetos. “I knew I wanted to have the opportunity to tell our stories from our perspective,” she said. “But not for us: for everybody. So it's not by us, for us; it's by us, for everybody. I wanted to create heroes for us that look like us on the small screen and on the big screen.”

“Hollywood defines what heroes look like,” she said. “And they never look like us.”

Longoria also told a story about meeting Huerta, another honoree in attendance, years ago, before Longoria was famous. She recalled Huerta telling her: “One day you're going to have a voice, and you better have something to say.”

She ended noting that Latinos are one of the fastest growing demographic groups in the U.S., but said: “Our demography is not our destiny. So don't sit back on that: just because we're a large group, doesn't mean we're a powerful group. Let's use that power at the voting booth, in corporate America, in Hollywood, at the box office.”

Dolores Huerta on combatting racism

Activist Huerta talked about how to end the enduring legacies of slavery and stop what she described as creeping fascism in the U.S. “One of the legacies of slavery is that some people have to work all of their lives to make other people rich,” Huerta said, and cited the U.S. lack of free college education, free health care, and free child care. “There is no reason that we should have people who are homeless and sleeping on sidewalks,” she said.

At the end of her toast, Huerta led the guests in a call and response: “Who's got the power?” she shouted. “We have the power!” the guests responded. “What kind of power?” Huerta prompted. “Latino power!” the audience called back. “Shout it out so all the haters can hear it!” Huerta said, before leading a chant of her signature rallying cry: “Sí, se puede.

Miguel Cardona on the power of identity

Education Secretary Cardona said that growing up in Connecticut, he was called Michael in school instead of Miguel until 7th grade, when he insisted his school call him by his name. He contrasted that with an experience more recently at the White House before a Cabinet meeting began, when he said he stood under a portrait of George Washington while he waited for President Joe Biden to arrive and started talking to three of his colleagues—Small Business Administration head Isabella Casillas Guzman, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra—in Spanish. “For the first time ever, three of my colleagues were Latinos, and we just started code switching naturally,” Cardona said of the moment that left a meaningful impression.

“Bilingualism and biculturalism is my superpower,” Cardona said, adding he wants to prioritize more multilingual education in the U.S.

“I'm as American as apple pie—and rice and beans,” he said.

Elizabeth Acevedo on building community

Author Acevedo spoke about how she needs, as a new mother, “to be proactive in maintaining relationships unlike ever before” and to be intentional about connecting her child to his ancestry and his community. “Fortifying bonds is hard work,” she said.

She looks to her own mother as a model for community building. “My mother, at a spry 73, knows how to put her hands and heart right into the thick of community and as if it were dough, she kneads something wonderful,” Acevedo said.

“In every stage of our lives, from the moment we are given to light, we long to belong, to know and be known,” she continued. “And I think the first lesson of any great leader is to show up. The second greatest lesson is to continue showing up.”

Cesar Conde on the vital role of journalists

Chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group Conde talked about the courage and power of journalists. “We have a divided nation,” he said. “We're seeing polarization at levels we haven't seen in a generation, and that division has not allowed us to find solutions or compromise to some of the most challenging issues that we face as a society.”

He referenced the wars in the Middle East and Europe, domestic divisions, and the upcoming 2024 presidential election, and praised “journalists who are unselfish professionals who are deeply committed to covering and shining a light on the issues that matter the most, and are going to impact us the most, and covering those issues without fear or favor.”

“I am an optimist,” Conde said. “I believe strongly in the capacity of our country and in the capacity of our Latino community to overcome absolutely any challenge.”

Carla Vernón on drawing inspiration from hip hop

The Honest Company CEO Vernón drew inspiration for her career—and her toast—from hip hop, the genre that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. “Growing up in the era of hip hop gave us permission to throw off the old rules and the old confines of tradition,” she said.

Her advice for future leaders? “It's important that sometimes you do something that no one knows what it means, but it's provocative,” she said. “Hip hop told us that disruption is key, and we need you to put your own unique spark on things to drive transformation, to drive innovation. So from the gospel according to Missy, for my next generation of game changers: I want you to, 'Work it. Put your thing down, flip it, and reverse it.'”

TIME Latino Leaders was presented by Nissan.

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Write to Tessa Berenson/Los Angeles at tessa.Rogers@time.com