SeriesLIVE

Aida Levitan

Immigrant Archive Project
Aida Levitan, Ph.D is nationally recognized for her contributions to the U.S. Hispanic advertising and public relations industry as well as for her cultural philanthropy. In this interview, Aida Levitan discusses her childhood immigrant experience, the challenges of life in Miami in the 1960's and her ascent in the U.S. Hispanic advertising and public relations industry.
Show transcript
00:00
We had to teach culture and language to the police officers
00:04
who were all non Hispanics.
00:06
They knew nothing about the culture.
00:08
They were arresting some people simply because they were
00:11
talking like this and very hostile to each other when they
00:14
were only arguing about politics.
00:21
My name is Ida Thomas Levitan.
00:25
I was born in Havana, Cuba and I'm Cuban American.
00:29
I loved uh being with my family uh on the terrace, what they
00:35
called el Portal in Cuba uh with the smell of a jasmine uh plant
00:42
that was all over that uh terrace and the smell of jasmine is
00:47
something I have never forgotten.
00:49
And my mother and my aunt would tell me stories would sing songs
00:55
uh to me and uh my my brother when we were Children.
00:59
So it was a lovely memory.
01:01
That's one of the best memories I have of Cuba.
01:04
My mother was divorced when uh we were little Children.
01:08
So my father was not really a presence in our lives only occasionally
01:13
Uh my mother was sort of the head of household and my aunt also
01:18
lived with us.
01:20
Uh We also had a housekeeper who took care of us the poor woman
01:25
uh always went through hell with us because we were very naughty
01:29
Children.
01:30
Uh And we would always like to run around the Nuevo area, which
01:36
was very secure.
01:37
Uh We would have a whole bunch of kids that we could run around
01:41
uh and have a great time.
01:43
And uh she was always, you know, after us to take our bath to
01:48
eat our food, you know how Cuban parents are, they are very
01:52
focused on making sure that you eat well.
01:56
So we would come from Phillips school where we were going to
01:59
school uh during the lunch hour and during the lunch hour,
02:04
they would serve us this really full lunch that usually included
02:09
some kind of puree or soup, a main dish.
02:13
And then they would serve us a glass of milk with chocolate
02:18
and condensed milk.
02:19
Now tell me why I have a weight problem nowadays.
02:23
I mean, it was incredible and then at night, you would be expected
02:26
to eat again.
02:27
So it was incredible.
02:32
The Phillips school was uh founded by two people from Vermont
02:37
uh Mr and Mrs Sergeant.
02:40
And it was a really fantastic school, very advanced.
02:43
Uh for the time we're talking now about the 19 fifties.
02:47
Uh This school had classes in the morning in English and then
02:52
classes in the afternoon in Spanish.
02:55
Jane Powers was responsible in her youth for helping Children
03:00
from Germany escape the Nazis and come to England.
03:05
And then she went to Cuba and she was my seventh grade teacher
03:10
she taught me to outline, which was probably the most valuable
03:14
skill that I learned that year.
03:17
Because ever since whenever I've had to take notes that are
03:22
rather difficult in a class or in a conference, I outlined
03:27
them.
03:28
And because of that, many of my uh fellow students copied my
03:32
notes because they were so organized and she was very insistent
03:36
that we take notes in the, in the outline form.
03:39
Well, Miss Powers was recruited by um I believe the name was
03:45
James Baker of Roston Academy, a very similar school, also
03:49
bilingual.
03:50
He was an American who was working with uh Ramon Grau.
03:56
Uh and I believe polio and Monsignor Walsh in Miami to get 14,000
04:03
Children out of Cuba because we were about to be sent to the
04:07
camps to alphabetize the country.
04:11
People who did not know how to read and write.
04:14
My mother did not think it would be a very good thing for me to
04:19
be sent by the communist uh dictatorship.
04:22
It was already a dictatorship uh back in 61 uh to the countryside
04:28
at the age of 13, which is a rather delicate thing for, for a
04:33
young lady to be sent at that time.
04:36
Uh Jane Powers was instrumental in coordinating the effort
04:40
to get the kids out.
04:42
And I was one of those kids.
04:44
I did not uh have the privilege of coming to Miami with my mother
04:50
I had to come by myself under Pedro Pan Operation, Peter Pan
04:56
I was very lucky because one month later, my mother came with
05:01
my brother and um I get emotional because it was the most incredible
05:08
reunion.
05:09
It was just um a wonderful, wonderful thing.
05:14
Um I had um I had for a whole month, cried every night thinking
05:21
that perhaps we would never be reunited again.
05:24
I had spent a month uh yearning for my mother to come.
05:28
And uh I was very lucky that she was given permission to leave
05:32
Cuba.
05:33
And a month later, uh my brother and I were reunited with my
05:38
mother and we were placed by the refugee center in a home in
05:44
Little Havana.
05:46
It was really scary and we stayed in our room and we didn't venture
05:51
out of the room because it was just the weirdest place that
05:54
you can imagine.
05:55
So I, once my mother was with us, the security and confidence
06:01
that my mother always inspired because she was such an intelligent
06:05
organized person.
06:07
Uh It was there and that's all I needed that security, that
06:11
safety that my mother offered.
06:14
And my mother sent me to Ada Mary junior high school, uh which
06:19
was a good high sa a junior high school, but a rather dangerous
06:25
place uh where a kid at the age of 14 was killed in a gang war.
06:31
Um I also remember a very funny guy by the name of Johnny Gonzalez
06:36
who came from New York, he was Puerto Rican and he would take
06:40
me to school every day to protect me against the gangs.
06:44
And it was really interesting in this junior high school,
06:48
Raul Martinez who later became mayor of Hialeah, and my friend
06:53
from Phillips, George Hopgood, who later became the head
06:57
of the DEA in Texas were the two biggest kids in the junior high
07:02
school and they always had to separate all the kids who were
07:06
constantly fighting.
07:07
So to me, it was really wonderful.
07:10
Um I really didn't feel traumatized.
07:14
Um I had no money, of course, so it was difficult.
07:19
Uh What is interesting also is that I won an award uh in ninth
07:25
grade, which was an amazing thing for me.
07:28
I had no idea that I was doing so well.
07:30
And in one of the school auditorium uh meetings, they called
07:35
me to the stage to give me this award.
07:37
So that was the beginning of my feeling even secure in a school
07:42
situation.
07:46
The period of 1961 I would say to 1965 my mother moved us to Miami
07:53
Beach.
07:54
Miami Beach was a very safe place full of elderly people who
07:57
had retired there.
07:59
And my mother started working at the Jefferson Hotel in the
08:02
Art Deco District.
08:03
We were at 13 34 Collins Avenue, right smack in the Art Deco
08:08
District.
08:08
The elderly people who were usually uh from, from Europe and
08:14
many of them had escaped uh miraculously, they even had some
08:19
of them had the numbers of the camps uh inscribed or tattooed
08:24
on their wrist.
08:26
I think they were kind of shocked to see all these kids who were
08:30
speaking another language even though they were speaking
08:32
Yiddish, which was kind of funny.
08:34
I used to wake up in the morning and hear Yiddish.
08:37
Um And they got upset with us once in a while And I remember one
08:41
of the elderly persons when my brother and I were sitting sitting
08:44
in the back of the stairs of this building where we lived calling
08:49
us the N word because we were very dark from the sun because
08:53
we were always on the beach.
08:55
Uh and calling us speaks.
08:58
So that was my first contact with prejudice.
09:01
And I told my mother what this man had called us.
09:05
And my mother said, you know, people who do those things are
09:08
very ignorant.
09:09
People don't mind that, you know who you are.
09:12
Uh don't worry about it and take it in your stride.
09:15
In, in Cuban culture, you have to have tab means taking it in
09:21
your stride.
09:22
And you know, we weren't traumatized by that either.
09:25
But when we got to school uh to beach high, we were, there was
09:29
a very small contingent of Cuban kids.
09:33
The school was probably 99% Jewish.
09:37
Uh There were Cuban Jewish kids with us and Cuban Catholic
09:42
kids, very small group whenever there was a Jewish holiday
09:45
The school was empty and we were the only kids there.
09:48
Um, and there were some kids who made fun of us.
09:51
Uh, they asked us things like, did you live in the trees in Cuba
09:56
Among the monkeys?
09:58
You know, things like that.
10:00
And they basically ignored us.
10:01
I think we were basically invisible to those kids.
10:05
They were very wealthy.
10:07
They rode to school in incredible cars.
10:10
They wore the most amazing clothes.
10:12
Um So we did feel a little bit frustrated with that.
10:17
But I would say again, I found a group of very fun kids.
10:22
I was the only one who learned how to drive at the age of 16.
10:27
So I would pick them all up and we would go to parties in Miami
10:31
Beach and Coral Gables.
10:33
And I had a blast, even though we had no money, we would get dressed
10:37
up in clothes that my mother made for, uh for me.
10:40
Um, the kids wore jackets and ties because they came from the
10:45
tradition of the 19 fifties night life.
10:49
We would go to Los Violin with the chaperone and to be with the
10:54
chaperon and it was lots of fun.
10:56
So I can't say that I was traumatized by, by that period of exile
11:00
However, I must say that one of the most frustrating things
11:04
was to be undervalued, um which is something that I've had
11:09
to face in my life many times.
11:12
And the first time, first time I faced it was when I told my counselor
11:18
Mr Jack Ruby, I never forgot his name that I wanted to go to
11:23
the university.
11:24
And he said, well, why don't you become a secretary?
11:28
You're so good in typing and shorthand.
11:30
Uh That'll be a lot easier.
11:32
And I told him Mr Ruby, I'm sorry, but find me a scholarship
11:35
because I'm going to the university.
11:37
I had almost straight ass.
11:39
So I knew that a scholarship was possible.
11:42
And he did find me a scholarship by Chase Bank.
11:45
Chase Bank gave me my first scholarship and I got a Cuban loan
11:50
program loan.
11:52
Uh and I went to the University of Miami, which was then for
11:56
me, almost an impossible dream.
11:59
So that was my first frustration of being told, even even my
12:04
mother and aunt wanted me to, you know, maybe become a stewardess
12:08
and that way you can travel the world free, free of charge.
12:12
And I, I told them, oh, no, I wanna go to the university.
12:15
I was very sure what I wanted to do.
12:19
My mother was an extraordinary person she had and I think it
12:23
came from my grandfather, my grandfather who had been a uh
12:28
uh trained and educated pharmacist and had his own pharmacy
12:32
in and come away, became a congressman and then a senator and
12:37
then became a businessman, he had uh sugar uh mills in Cuba
12:40
This was back in 1925.
12:43
I'm talking about.
12:44
And my grandfather was so advanced that he sent my mother to
12:48
a bilingual school in Cuba in the 19 twenties, the cathedral
12:51
school, which is fascinating to me.
12:54
And later he sent her to finishing school in Geneva in Switzerland
12:59
And I think back to that time when Cuban women were not supposed
13:04
to be really educated.
13:05
And yet my grandfather believed in that and my mother believed
13:09
in education as well.
13:10
So she sent me to the best school she could afford in Cuba.
13:14
And she also moved me to Miami Beach so I could go to the best
13:18
school we could go to.
13:20
Because Miami Beach High School at that time was a fantastic
13:23
school.
13:24
It was the equivalent of what ransom Everglades would be.
13:26
Now, uh my mother was very funny because she hated cooking
13:32
and didn't know a thing about cooking.
13:34
But she learned in some classes that the refugee center gave
13:38
for these ladies who have never had to cook in Cuba.
13:42
And she learned how to make, for example, with powder, um mashed
13:48
potatoes, she would make mashed potatoes with spinach.
13:52
Uh She would make uh she would put cheese on top, which we loved
13:56
She would serve us the spam which was atrocious, but we thought
13:59
it was great and she would learn all these recipes so that we
14:03
could feel that we were taken care of and that we were well fed
14:07
and that's the way she handled everything she was incredibly
14:10
organized.
14:11
She never owed anything to anyone.
14:14
She got a wonderful job um that demanded a lot from her.
14:18
She became the manager of a hotel in uh the art Deco district
14:23
uh the Jefferson Hotel and they were not easy bosses.
14:28
These two this couple, they demanded a lot from her, but she
14:33
managed it just fine.
14:35
And then she retired early and she enjoyed life because she
14:38
traveled all over the world with my aunt and they had a blast
14:42
So it was really an interesting thing that she was able to adapt
14:46
after losing the house that she had worked so hard to buy in
14:52
Cuba.
14:53
And, and to her, that was a big blow.
14:56
And here she was with no money and yet she was able to survive
14:59
very well.
15:02
They were the foundation of the success of the exile community
15:07
If Cuban women who had brought some really can do attitudes
15:14
to, to the exile experience if they haven't done what they
15:18
did, many of the men who later became millionaires and leaders
15:23
of industry and leaders in government would not have been
15:26
able to do what they did.
15:28
And many of these women became business women and also opened
15:32
up their own companies, something that maybe they wouldn't
15:34
have done in Cuba or they became political leaders or they
15:39
became community leaders.
15:40
I think of someone like Lourdes Aguila, Lourdes Aguila was
15:46
the person who created the League against cancer.
15:49
La Liga contract cancer, which for many years and still today
15:54
was one of the most admired charities in the State of Florida
15:59
And Lourdes Aguila would do all of her organization and work
16:04
at La Liga and would then go home to cook for her husband who
16:09
was a physician.
16:10
I don't know how she managed that one.
16:13
And uh this is the kind of person that created a New Miami.
16:18
I think that there are many women that I that served as a model
16:23
One of them was Marlena to Marlena did a conference in 1976
16:29
called the Emerging Latin woman with Alicia Casanova, who
16:34
was then also a very prominent Republican.
16:37
And uh this was remember 1976 we were still at the beginning
16:43
of the Exile experience and they did this conference that
16:47
300 women showed up for.
16:49
And Marlena later became the owner of her own business and
16:53
she became the only Cuban American woman to serve in three
16:57
presidential administrations.
17:00
So to me, she was definitely a role model.
17:02
Alicia was two Alicia Barros who is a Puerto Rican woman who
17:06
was a friend of theirs.
17:07
So the three women were dynamos.
17:10
Uh there was another woman Maria Hernandez who was a chase
17:14
banker uh Ivo Santa Maria, who was also a very successful uh
17:19
business woman later re di who became uh you know, the leader
17:25
of a very important bottling company.
17:28
Uh Lilian Machado, I mean, there's all kinds of stories of
17:33
women who people did not expect them to succeed.
17:37
And yet they were able to do the transitioning from being a
17:42
housekeeper and the wife off and becoming major business
17:46
leaders.
17:47
And then of course, in terms of government, Iana Rosen who
17:52
became a congresswoman and is now one of the people who we most
17:57
admire.
17:58
Uh And of course, people don't think of Gloria Stefan as a business
18:01
woman, but she is a business woman as well as a, a major artist
18:05
Uh So there's all kinds of women's stories.
18:08
Now, Carmen Reinhart, who is uh the the most admired economists
18:14
probably in the world today, chief economist, I believe of
18:17
the World Bank, Cuban American.
18:19
Very few people know that uh all kinds of people that uh that
18:24
really deserve recognition.
18:26
But I don't think these women were very used to the idea of mentoring
18:31
other women.
18:32
And I don't feel that I had the benefit of mentors.
18:37
Um I did get some advice occasionally from them but not the
18:42
relationship that I have seen among men where you really have
18:46
some very good and continued mentoring going on between an
18:51
older man and a younger man.
18:53
I feel that that was a problem that many of us, not only Cuban
18:57
American women, but also Hispanic women have faced in general
19:01
in the Hispanic culture.
19:03
I think it was just simply lack of awareness on the part of the
19:06
older women and even of the older men because you could have
19:09
an older man mentor you um to give you that kind of counseling
19:15
and advice.
19:16
I wish I had had that because I made many mistakes in my life
19:20
and had I had that kind of person that I could go to for advice
19:24
on a regular basis.
19:25
Maybe I could have avoided some of them.
19:28
I intended originally to become a college professor.
19:33
So I got a scholarship to go to Mru University after finishing
19:37
my bachelor's degrees uh at the University of Miami.
19:41
And I studied Spanish literature from Spain, not Latin Americas
19:46
from Spain, especially baroque literature.
19:49
And I obtained a, a phd, a doctorate in philosophy from Emory
19:54
University.
19:55
But I found that there were no jobs for phd S in Spanish literature
20:03
The only thing I could get was a job teaching English as a second
20:07
language at Miami Dade College.
20:11
Um I was also a teacher of police officers at the Miami Police
20:16
Department to prepare them for the University of Chicago
20:20
test, which was such a block to minorities who wanted to enter
20:24
the police department.
20:26
And he was led by Eduardo Suarez Viva Viva.
20:31
And I was the second in command and we had to teach culture and
20:36
language some basic language to the police officers who were
20:40
all non Hispanics.
20:42
So they did not speak Spanish.
20:44
They knew nothing about the culture of the Cuban community
20:48
They were arresting some people simply because they were
20:50
talking like this and very hostile to each other when they
20:54
were only arguing about politics.
20:56
You know, this is a very, very old story as the African American
21:00
and, and many of the Latino communities, uh they know about
21:05
this.
21:05
Uh but they've known about this for decades and let me tell
21:09
you about that period in the city of Miami.
21:13
This was the early seventies and there was a lot of prejudice
21:18
in that city Police Department, a lot of prejudice and they
21:23
did not want these minorities African Americans and Cubans
21:27
who were applying to the police department to enter.
21:31
So there was a movement within the police department on the
21:34
part of some Cuban officers and they brought the Department
21:38
of Justice down and the Department of Justice had a consent
21:44
decree that forced the police department to integrate Maurice
21:49
f became the mayor of Miami.
21:52
And of course, he insisted that this be done as quickly as possible
21:58
And this is where you started seeing Cuban officers and African
22:03
American officers become police officers.
22:07
So to me, this story was an illustration of what happens when
22:11
people are in the police department are not trained to deal
22:16
with hostility or to deal with difficult situations instead
22:22
of resorting to terrible violence.
22:25
And I think we need a lot more training.
22:27
I respect the police officers and the risks that they run every
22:31
single day.
22:32
But I am very much in favor of training and creating better
22:37
community policing that will enhance understanding between
22:41
the police officers and the community.
22:47
I finally became an Assistant Dean for Latin Affairs under
22:51
the leadership of Antonio Jorge, who was Provost of Bisque
22:55
College, what is now Saint Thomas University?
22:59
And then I saw an opportunity, there was a very widely publicized
23:04
uh search for a Director of Latin Affairs, an office that was
23:09
very recognizable because there was a bilingual bicultural
23:14
ordinance on the books in metro government.
23:19
And this person had to be the bridge between the Cuban Exile
23:23
community and the Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics.
23:27
There were very few other Hispanics at the time and the government
23:30
the metro date, what is now Miami?
23:32
Dade county government, 250 people applied for the position
23:37
and I studied everything I could get my hands on from the league
23:42
of women voters about Dade County government.
23:45
I also moved every influence that I could move.
23:49
And I got to the finals and the finals was a round table of leaders
23:55
from the government and from the community asking you questions
23:59
And what happened is I found out later that some people had
24:03
already chosen a candidate, but the county manager and a couple
24:08
of others were so impressed with my interview that they insisted
24:13
that I become the Director of Land Affairs.
24:15
And that was my first experience with public information
24:18
which later became another public information experience
24:24
at the city of Miami as director of information and visitors
24:27
And that led to my career in public relations, well as a director
24:32
of very uh recognizable departments in Metro date and later
24:37
in the city of Miami with Mayor Maurice, who, as you know, was
24:40
a very charismatic mayor, like the one we have.
24:43
Now I had the opportunity to be very recognized by the media
24:49
and by the community.
24:51
So I leveraged that opportunity.
24:54
Uh And I told Maurice, you know, I could continue doing the
25:00
journalist tours that I've been doing to combat the terrible
25:04
image that Miami has as a result of the 1980 Mariel influx and
25:10
the disturbances that and the drug problems.
25:13
Um I could do this as a private citizen instead of as the director
25:18
of the office, it would save you a lot of money.
25:20
Uh You could actually get the office, uh you know, at a lower
25:25
level of expenditure.
25:27
Uh And I could continue doing public relations for the city
25:31
of Miami and he believed in me and he gave me my first contract
25:35
and the second contract came from Mayor Steve Clark again
25:39
because of my experience with Metro.
25:41
He gave me the contract of coordinating and publicizing the
25:45
Sister Cities program.
25:47
Then I met Fausto Sanchez and Andy Garcia and Mario who came
25:53
here to make a movie.
25:55
And I love the idea of the project and I worked free of charge
25:59
for them and I helped them in every way.
26:02
And then one day said, you know, you have this pr agency.
26:06
Why don't we join forces?
26:08
I've been doing advertising and production in Los Angeles
26:13
I have a film degree and I could do very well with you and your
26:18
pr knowledge in creating an advertising agency.
26:21
And in 1986 we incorporated Sanchez and Leviton.
26:27
Well, the Florida Lottery was sort of our signature um client
26:33
because it allowed us to do very creative work.
26:36
At the time, the Florida Lottery had um a very enlightened
26:41
director and Bob Gallo allowed us to do a lot of the advertising
26:49
that was original.
26:51
Instead of just translating what the general market agency
26:55
had done.
26:56
We actually convince uh Governor Childs who was very, very
27:02
in favor of the Hispanic community to allow us also to plan
27:07
and place the media, you know, in the Hispanic advertising
27:11
business that is very difficult to do so that gave us a lot of
27:14
power and a lot of clout with media then, uh was instrumental
27:20
in helping us get the Bell South account.
27:23
And uh the Bell South account was an incredible account which
27:27
again allowed us to grow tremendously because they measured
27:32
the result of each and every TV spot, each and every radio spot
27:37
each and every print out.
27:39
So every time they saw that the performance had given them
27:43
results, we got more of a budget and we had a wonderful client
27:49
there that allowed us to grow as an agency Fausto was able to
27:53
win national awards.
27:56
We won the first uh beverage world ethnic advertising award
28:01
with the Chivas Regal and Crown Royal campaigns.
28:04
We won um the Radio Mercury Award, the first one ever given
28:09
for Hispanic Radio.
28:11
And I believe we were the only agency that had a full service
28:15
public relations division, the only agency here in Miami
28:18
that offered that kind of very ample public relations uh resource
28:25
uh to our clients.
28:26
She was Regal was a fantastic client.
28:29
We were able to be very creative with them, not only in terms
28:32
of advertising nationally, but also in terms of event marketing
28:37
And many of our clients got involved in our crazy ideas.
28:41
For example, Absolute Vodka became the title sponsor of the
28:45
Absolute Seville in Miami, which attracted 10,000 people
28:49
who bought tickets to get into this imitation of the Seville
28:53
in Spain.
28:54
And then later on, the Fair of Spain attracted 40,000 people
28:59
and we were able to involve clients like Marshalls and Chivas
29:04
and so on the Andy Garcia concerts.
29:10
Um I got Jesse a from Anheuser Busch to become the the presenting
29:15
sponsor to uh this wonderful series that won the PR S A Multicultural
29:21
Excellence Award and was able to get um the cameraman and so
29:27
on.
29:28
And Jose can gave us the money to film the concert which later
29:32
became uh there is nothing like its rhythm.
29:35
So we did incredible things and got our clients involved and
29:39
it was a lot of fun at the same time, incredible amount of work
29:43
But uh I felt it was a very creative agency.
29:46
It was, it was kind of a golden age because, you know, the original
29:51
agencies, uh which I have documented the history of, of how
29:56
Cuban Americans contributed to the creation of the Hispanic
30:00
advertising agency business.
30:02
I documented this in Cubans, the Epic journey chapter 40 32
30:07
So everybody read it.
30:08
And this original group of Cubans who came from Cuba in the
30:13
19 sixties.
30:14
I'm talking about Rafael.
30:17
I'm talking about Diaz Albertini.
30:20
I'm talking about Castor Fernandez.
30:22
I mean, these were incredible people who were, who had the
30:26
hood spot.
30:26
I cannot say anything else to create a Hispanic market when
30:31
it was tiny at the time.
30:33
And Eduardo Caval who, you know, created a national network
30:39
of, of, of radio representatives for the Hispanic market
30:43
for the Hispanic radio stations.
30:45
Um you know, and what he did with the Hispanic Radio, Herb Levi
30:52
and what he did with uh quean corporation with the radio stations
30:56
like UB A here in Miami.
30:58
These were pioneers, they hired to do the hard work that of
31:04
actually convincing all these major companies that there
31:07
was a Hispanic market and then can strategy research corporation
31:11
and Dick Tobin.
31:12
And he did amazing things to try to document the existence
31:19
and the characteristics of the Hispanic market.
31:22
And that's the period that I lived with Teresa, which is the
31:27
period of using strategy research and very little census
31:31
data because there wasn't that much to show the corporations
31:36
that what had been done in the sixties had been successful
31:40
And that now in the eighties, sixties and seventies now in
31:44
the eighties, they should be doing even more and investing
31:47
more in the market.
31:50
I think every company has to have a vision and the vision.
31:55
And I learned this from Hugh Cole who created Bank of America
32:00
And he told me, well, we were doing a media tour.
32:02
He told me that a person or a company has got to create a vision
32:10
and idea up here and that reality would catch up to that idea
32:16
And I thought, well, you know, I'm going to do the same thing
32:20
And in 1995 I told the agency that I intended for Sanchez and
32:24
Leviton to become the number one Hispanic agency in the US
32:28
And that was pretty absurd at the time because we were quite
32:31
small compared, for example, to Zubi or even I ac uh certainly
32:36
smaller than a lot of the agencies in L A and Texas.
32:41
Um But in the world today, especially now even more now, agility
32:47
is one of the qualities that will enable you to succeed if you
32:52
wait and wait and wait.
32:54
Oh no, because maybe in the near future it's gonna go to somebody
32:59
else.
32:59
And I remember in 1999 I read several articles and advertising
33:06
age about agencies that were being acquired by huge holding
33:11
companies, a American and foreign holding companies.
33:15
And I finally read an article about publicis acquiring an
33:20
African American agency.
33:22
And I saw that a gentleman by the name of Bob Bloom was involved
33:27
and that he was the chairman of public USA.
33:31
So I took the phone, I called Bob Bloom and I said, I think Sanchez
33:37
Leviton could be an excellent strategic partner for you to
33:41
target the Hispanic market and to give public clients a full
33:46
service Hispanic advertising agency.
33:49
The next day because Bob Bloom moved very quickly.
33:52
The next day, I had a man that was who was sent by Bob Bloom in
33:57
our agency to talk about it.
34:00
And a year later, we had signed the deal to have Sanchez and
34:03
Leviton sold to publicist, Maurice Levy who is the man who
34:12
had the vision to create the giant that public is today by acquiring
34:17
agencies all over the world.
34:19
He was an entrepreneur, he was not just an agency chairman
34:24
he had the entrepreneurial mindset.
34:27
And I think that helped us a lot that we could continue to be
34:30
entrepreneurial and try to get new business and take advantage
34:34
of the clients that they had to present our capabilities to
34:39
them.
34:39
But it was difficult because, you know, some of the clients
34:42
were a little bit hesitant about our agency.
34:46
Um You know, they were used to a different type of culture.
34:50
They de dealt more with Mexican Americans, for example, in
34:54
L A or Texas.
34:56
Um you know that Cuban Americans, we can sometimes be seen
35:01
as arrogant or a little bit too by people who are prejudiced
35:07
against Latinos.
35:09
And I did have a few encounters like that with, with some clients
35:13
that I do remember not fondly.
35:15
Um There were other opportunities that were magnificent
35:19
For example, with BMW, we became the national agency uh for
35:23
BMW, we became the national agency for 15 Nestle brands.
35:29
Uh We were able to do some work with the l'oreal Business and
35:34
Lancome.
35:34
Uh There were many opportunities for us to be much bigger,
35:38
not only in terms of national clients, but also bigger in terms
35:43
of our ability uh to work in various markets.
35:48
Because acquired C ONE A in Texas and Los Angeles.
35:53
And we became the leaders of a, an agency that had an L A office
35:59
a Texas Dallas office, a New York office which they opened
36:04
later for us and a Miami office.
36:07
So from going from 30 employees, we became the leaders of 100
36:13
employees and those were challenging times, you know, getting
36:16
used to that kind of size and complexity and also, you know
36:20
financial financially, we wanted to make sure that we were
36:25
profitable, which we were very much.
36:27
Uh So it was quite a challenge.
36:31
In 2003, I saw that had acquired another Hispanic agency.
36:39
They already had and Connell was their Toyota, you know, arm
36:46
for the Hispanic market.
36:48
And then they acquired Brumley.
36:51
And I thought to myself, well, you know, one of us is gonna go
36:56
and we're smaller and, uh, you know, we're number eight and
37:02
Bromley is number two.
37:04
So I think I better, I've already been with them for three years
37:09
My contract was going to end, uh, at the end of 2003, I believe
37:15
it was because I the, the, the purchase was over a period of
37:21
three years.
37:22
At that point, I thought it would be strategic on my part to
37:27
talk to Ernesto about a merger that would produce the number
37:31
one agency in the US, which was my vision.
37:36
So I went to Ernesto and uh I I proposed this to him.
37:40
He liked the idea.
37:42
Um he went to visit the chairman of, I think I should have gone
37:46
with him, but he went to visit them and they like the idea as
37:51
well.
37:52
And that's how we merged Pub Sanchez and Leviton into Bromley
37:57
Bromley because they were bigger became Bromley the the name
38:02
So we were sort of taken out of the picture except that I became
38:06
the president and vice chairman and Ernesto became the chairman
38:10
and that's how we brought to Miami, the number one Hispanic
38:14
advertising agency.
38:16
And that's how it happened.
38:18
2004 advertising age declared us the number one agency in
38:23
buildings when we created the Seville in Miami.
38:28
In 1995 we decided to do it through a nonprofit that would receive
38:34
free services from Sanchez.
38:38
At that time, it was called Hispanic Events.
38:40
And it was also used a nonprofit to organize the Fair of Spain
38:44
in 1997.
38:46
But when I left pub uh publicist in January of 2005, I decided
38:54
that I didn't have the 100 employees or the 30 employees to
38:58
help me, do you know, produce events at the level of Affair
39:03
of Spain.
39:04
And that I wanted to transition into a different direction
39:08
So I got advice from my son who is so creative and so wonderful
39:13
Alex.
39:14
And he told me, let's call it Miami.
39:17
And he started giving me some ideas on logos and so on.
39:21
And we decided that our direction was to sort of fill a hole
39:26
that had been created in Miami, where many foundations and
39:31
government were giving help to the major organizations like
39:36
the Florida Opera, like the Perez Art Museum, uh different
39:41
uh new World Symphony and so on.
39:44
There were many other smaller cultural organizations and
39:49
there were many Hispanic artists and writers, playwrights
39:52
directors of films that were not getting much help.
39:56
And we decided that our focus was going to be to try to help them
40:01
And then we had a secondary focus which was to also educate
40:08
the American public about the value of the Hispanic culture
40:12
And that took me to the Smithsonian when I was named to a commission
40:18
to create a Smithsonian Latino Museum where Art Miami also
40:22
became involved.
40:23
I'm sort of an informal counselor.
40:26
I was the originally on the commission to create the study
40:30
that has led eventually to congress approving the museum
40:34
this year.
40:36
And then I became a member of the friends of the National Museum
40:40
of the American Latino and or on their board.
40:43
And finally, I became the vice chairman of the Smithsonian
40:46
Latino Center.
40:48
I served on that in that capacity for a few years.
40:52
And now uh since I didn't want to travel that much, I decided
40:57
to resign but serve as an informal fundraiser counselor to
41:03
Eduardo Diaz, the director who I respect very much.
41:06
And for example, last week, we were advising him on the Spanish
41:12
American League against discrimination, which was an organization
41:17
created in the 19 seventies by many who are now very respected
41:23
leaders in the Cuban American community to fight discrimination
41:27
People like Eduardo Padron man, who became Mayor Manie Medina
41:33
who became the creator of emerge Americas and a billionaire
41:36
ambassador Paul, who also became a billionaire um Maria Corbe
41:42
who became a judge uh Margarita, who became a judge.
41:48
It was an amazing group of people.
41:49
And the Smithsonian Latino Center will actually include
41:53
a section about Salad in one of their exhibitions that will
41:58
come to the Smithsonian Latino Gallery at the American History
42:02
Museum sometime hopefully in 2021 the reason we need a museum
42:09
about the contributions of American Latinos to the United
42:12
States is because we have seen a lack of knowledge that has
42:18
led to prejudice, misunderstandings, even hate crimes.
42:23
Um that is really terrible.
42:27
And this is something that can be solved by having Children
42:33
adults, visitors from other countries, be able to see the
42:38
many aspects of what us Latinos have contributed to the development
42:43
of American society and the defense of democracy.
42:47
Because let's not forget that many Hispanics have served
42:51
in the armed forces in wars to defend the United States.
42:57
And then we have, of course, all of the business people who
43:01
have created amazing things like Roberto, a Cuban exile who
43:07
became the chairman of Coca Cola International and took Coca
43:11
Cola to the next level, not set by me, recognized by business
43:15
people all over the world.
43:17
Uh We had people like Carlos Gutierrez who became Ceo of Kelloggs
43:22
Uh We have people in the arts uh major artists like the Cuban
43:27
American, Carlos Alfonso, who was the subject of a retrospective
43:32
at the Smithsonian Hirschhorn Museum.
43:34
And at the Perez Art Museum, you have people like Celia Cruz
43:39
who was probably the most beloved salsa artist in the world
43:44
Will Chino Emilia Stepan all in the arts.
43:48
You have filmmakers, you have novelists like Oscar who won
43:53
the Pulitzer Prize.
43:55
Uh So there's so much to show in that museum and the food, I mean
44:00
amazing food.
44:03
You know, when you have, when you think about what the cafeteria
44:06
of the museum can offer in terms of a variety of food.
44:11
Uh If you think that salsa is more popular than catch up nowadays
44:14
in the United States, the African American Museum has shown
44:20
that there is no more demand in any of the other Smithsonian
44:24
museums than at the African American Museum.
44:26
Hundreds of thousands of people go through it every month
44:32
Why not a Latino museum that will also bring that wealth and
44:37
and beauty of experience of the US Latinos to the United States
44:43
Well, I think one if not the greatest accomplishment of my
44:47
life has been my son.
44:49
Alex is a person with a good heart to me, that is the most important
44:55
thing.
44:55
He's a good, good man, but he's also incredibly talented and
45:01
funny.
45:02
I don't have much of a sense of humor, but he really compensates
45:06
for everything I don't have.
45:08
My son is a producer in Hollywood.
45:11
He produced much, much more the legend of Walter Mercado,
45:15
which is now in Netflix.
45:17
I'm very proud of that film.
45:19
It's a documentary film of the best type directed by Karim
45:24
touch and Cristina Constantini, who are incredible people
45:28
of different backgrounds.
45:29
Karim is Cuban Lebanese and Christina is Argentinian American
45:34
and of course, Alex is Cuban American, although he was born
45:37
here, but he still considers himself a Cuban American.
45:40
And right now he has multiplicity of projects that he's working
45:44
on and I know some of those projects are going to be award winners
45:49
My son originally wrote uh with Marco Ramirez, another huge
45:55
talent in Hollywood also from Miami from Hi art Miami published
46:01
this book because we thought it was hilarious.
46:04
They took the Haiku form of Japan and they put in that Haiku
46:10
form, the Spanglish experience of living in Miami.
46:15
And the book has sold out several times.
46:18
I I'm already on the third edition.
46:21
Alex has been in the entertainment business since the age
46:24
of 2.5 when he did his first print out.
46:28
And Alex is really experienced when I hear him talking about
46:31
production.
46:33
I'm amazed at how smart he is, how much he knows.
46:37
He's a graduate of the NYU School of the Arts.
46:40
But I think it goes beyond his education.
46:43
He's just an incredibly well read person.
46:47
He's just an amazing person.
46:48
Married to a wonderful uh American lady by the name of Lizzie
46:53
Redner, who's a nurse and used to be an actress.
46:56
I'm very proud of her as well, very accomplished and very smart
47:00
And uh what can I tell you?
47:02
This is the happiest period of my life.
47:03
I'm married to a fantastic man, Fernando Petit, who was an
47:08
architect in Argentina and came to work here in the United
47:10
States.
47:11
And uh I'm also very proud of the fact that we decided to help
47:16
poets, poets never get their books published in Spanish here
47:24
in Miami because nobody wants to sell poetry because it doesn't
47:27
sell well.
47:29
So they want to publish novels or essay type of books and so
47:33
on.
47:33
So we decided to create a division that would publish the poetry
47:38
of Hispanic poets based in Miami.
47:42
And we created several books.
47:44
One of the books is called The City of Possible Unity.
47:48
And we collected 100 and seven poems from more than 35 poets
47:54
locally from different nationalities.
47:56
But all live in Miami.
47:58
That book in particular, I thought was wonderful because
48:01
we did it in Spanish first.
48:03
And then we had it translated by professionals who specialized
48:07
in translating Spanish poetry into English.
48:11
And they translated it for us.
48:13
And we have the book in English.
48:16
And then we created another collection called which Luis
48:21
de La Paz edited.
48:22
And we have also published several poets as well.
48:25
I'm very proud of that.
48:27
Becoming the only Cuban American female to become or to be
48:32
named elected chairman of the board of a bank in Florida was
48:37
one of the biggest surprises of my life.
48:39
I became chairman of the board when one of the major investors
48:45
in the bank suggested that he wanted me to run for chairman
48:50
And I was so shocked because I didn't consider myself to be
48:55
an expert in banking.
48:56
I was an expert in management.
48:58
I was an expert in human resources.
49:00
I was an expert, of course, in, in all of the public relations
49:04
aspects that the bank needed.
49:06
But I'm not a finance expert, but he considered that my contributions
49:11
to the bank were so valuable.
49:13
My community contacts, my ability to uh see things that they
49:18
were not able to see because they're from outside um that he
49:22
wanted me to, to head the bank uh as a chairman.
49:26
And I brought in a CEO who is Luis De Aguilera, who has been in
49:32
the banking business for 35 years.
49:34
And he's brought in an unequal team of bankers.
49:38
I consider us bank right now to be the best commercial community
49:43
bank in Florida because of the depth of expertise of, of the
49:47
bankers.
49:48
And it has been an amazing experience.
49:52
I work with six men on the board.
49:56
I'm hoping in the future as the board becomes bigger that I
49:59
can bring other women and the men are tremendously smart.
50:05
Uh I, they bring in very valuable insights.
50:09
Uh and I hope that I do too.
50:11
These are people who bring in different points of view and
50:15
different experiences and it has enabled our bank to become
50:20
profitable every quarter for the last four years and to grow
50:24
to 1.5 billion in assets, we could not have envisioned how
50:28
successful the bank has become.
50:30
So it's been a tremendous experience for me and I've really
50:34
enjoyed it.
50:34
I am really enjoying it if I could speak directly to a young
50:41
immigrant girl arriving recently in the US is number one,
50:47
it gets better.
50:49
Don't get frustrated, don't get sad, it gets better and second
50:54
value education above everything else.
50:57
Don't let anybody tell you that you cannot go to a university
51:01
There are many scholarships out there.
51:04
Uh You will be able to get into college with scholarships and
51:08
be able to reach a level of knowledge and expertise that will
51:14
then transition you into a good job.
51:17
The other thing is to be very persistent, you will not achieve
51:22
your goals right away.
51:23
You have to be very patient and be very willing to work very
51:27
hard in order to reach the kind of dream that you want to reach
51:31
But more than anything else, don't forget your family, your
51:35
family is going to be always the center of your life because
51:40
when you get sick, when your career fails and it will sometimes
51:45
when you lose a job, it's your family that's out there supporting
51:49
you and encouraging you.
51:51
So I think uh those are basic things that I would say to a young
51:56
girl.