As publisher and chief revenue officer for the US arm of the global HOLA! brand—hired at age thirty-three, no less—Sylvia Banderas Coffinet is focused on refocusing the narrative as it applies to one of the largest and fastest-growing demographic groups in the country. She’s made it her mission, both on the clock and off, to recognize the greater accomplishments of the Latinx community and how important it will be in defining the future, our future, together.
Banderas Coffinet spoke with Hispanic Executive about how mainstream media is well behind the curve when it comes to the representation of the Latinx community and how her upbringing influenced her commitment to pursuing equality. Her efforts have not only earned her congressional recognition from California Congresswoman Linda T. Sánchez, but also a commendation from the County of Los Angeles.
Could you talk about your upbringing in Los Angeles and how you feel like it continues to inform the work you do, including your nonprofit work with Ella’s Foundation?
Growing up in East LA has played a tremendous role in shaping my cultural identity and pride. I had the privilege of learning about my culture firsthand in a way that is very unique because of how ubiquitous Mexican culture is represented in the rich mosaic of cultural diversity that makes up the city.
I grew up surrounded by mostly Spanish and Spanglish speakers in my neighborhood, listened to mariachi music, danced cumbias, watched local artists paint murals dedicated to La Virgen de Guadalupe, and learned about Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta before I was eight years old. I attended regular family carne asada backyard gatherings that to this day are my most cherished memories growing up. The food, the music, the customs, and celebrations were very culturally rooted and centered. No doubt my cultural pride was forged under truly rich circumstances and imparted to me the great gift of pride in my heritage.
Being of service to others has always been important to me. I worked with Ella’s Foundation until 2017 and focused on bringing awareness to the important mission of mentoring underprivileged Latina youth. Now, my energies are focused on mentoring young Latina professionals and helping them advance their personal and career development as a way to empower more Latinas to take on larger corporate roles and opportunities.
What has your leadership provided to HOLA! USA and what about the mission of the organization aligns with your own mission and values?
I am a purpose-driven individual and expressly took on the role of leading HOLA! USA platforms because I believe deeply that our values were aligned in terms of authentic representation in the media for the Latinx community. HELLO! & HOLA! Media Inc. launched in the US to focus on the US Latinx population, and I wanted to lead a media brand that was for us by us.
HOLA! USA is dedicated to changing the narratives that propagate negative stereotypes about our community, which impacts how we see ourselves and how others see and treat us.
For example, a media study in 2019 (USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative) revealed that only 3 percent of all lead roles in film and TV were of Latinos and, of that number, 25 percent were actually criminal portrayals. Given that we represent nearly 20 percent of the population, this is a dismal and awfully disproportionate reflection of the reality of audiences in America. We deserve so much better. American Latinos take pride in being American. They work hard and contribute to the economy, nurture and care for their family near and far, live colorful lives bursting with culture, preserve their roots and honor their heritage, and see themselves as 100 percent Latinx and 100 percent American.
“I wanted to lead a media brand that was for us by us.”
Could you talk about the interaction of mainstream media and Latinx culture and where you think more representation efforts can be implemented?
Given the immense scale (one in five adults in the US are Latinx), economic power (buying power is projected to surpass $1.7 trillion), and growth rate (one in four children in the US are Latinx)—according to analysis from both Nielsen and Pew on the Latinx audience—it is a mystery that more mainstream media companies are not leading with multicultural programming and content. Ideally, content should reflect the reality of the audience that it serves. Alas, that is just not the case as instead we are seeing metrics of somewhere between 2 and 4 percent of total representation in the media.
The truth is that multicultural is the new mainstream and that multicultural done well is mainstream done right.
That said, we have a long way to go, but I believe one way to implement representation is for media companies to focus on diversity hiring, specifically in leadership roles that make programming and content decisions in film, broadcast, and media. There certainly isn’t enough Latinx representation in senior level positions in the world of media and publishing, for example, and that is a shame because there is plenty of research that indicates that a more diverse workforce leads to significant advantages in creativity, increased productivity, and higher competitive advantages for companies.
What voice do you feel you bring to your organization? What are the challenges of trying to relay the Latinx identity to a wider population?
Because of my personal story and experience growing up undocumented, I care deeply about Latinx representation and social equity. I know what it means to be invisible and not have a voice, or worse be pigeonholed into a narrative that has nothing to do with my reality or can even go as far as criminalizing an entire group of people.
We are rapidly becoming the most influential demographic of this country. We have the power to affect the way this country looks, eats, dances, thinks, and even votes! Our differences are not greater than what binds us: heritage, values, work ethic, family, and our positive aspirations for ourselves and our nation.
“I know what it means to be invisible and not have a voice, or worse be pigeonholed into a narrative that has nothing to do with my reality or can even go as far as criminalizing an entire group of people.”
Are there any points of pride in your work for HOLA! USA that you look to when you need inspiration or motivation?
My greatest inspiration and motivation is my team. I work with a group of highly talented and dedicated content creators, editors, writers, marketers, sales people, analysts, and audience acquisition experts that give it their all every single day.
Ours is a steady upward climb, but we make it to the top together and deliver a high value proposition to savvy brands that care about how they are engaging with Latinx consumers. Speaking of brands, we’re anchoring our marketing success much to the benefit of our significant client base, including Estée Lauder Companies, Ulta Beauty, Sephora, MARS, Unilever, Target, Toyota, Porcelanosa, and Childrensalon. For a brand that is under five years old, we’ve already worked with over seventy-five accounts and counting—which gives us great pride and validates the work we are committed to.