In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15), the Trust is featuring a series of conversations with Latinx philanthropists and leaders who are making a difference in the region.
With fond memories of her mother’s community activism and perseverance in overcoming discrimination, Virginia Oviedo’s commitment to giving back began at a young age. As a child, she learned the importance of finding her place to not just fit in but thrive. She believes it may have been a survival technique she used to overcome the prejudice she experienced in school.
As one of the first Latinos to open a McDonald’s restaurant in the Chicago area, she remains committed to uplifting her community through philanthropy.
Oviedo recently sat down with Nina Alcacio, director of public relations at the Trust, for a conversation about the power of coming together. Some questions and answers have been edited and condensed for clarity:
Nina Alcacio (NA):What does it mean to you to be a philanthropist?
Virginia Oviedo (VO): I don’t see myself as a philanthropist but rather a person who is concerned about others. I feel it’s my responsibility to help provide for my community. Within the Latino community, where there is a strong work ethic and a real commitment to wanting to move forward, I think there are so many obstacles that block some of that, and I believe some of it starts as early as childhood. And so that’s why I think it’s important to me: caring about my fellow man or woman, child, and just trying to do my part.
NA: Could you tell me a little about the influence your mom and upbringing had on inspiring your commitment to serving your community and giving back?
VO: My mother was a community activist in her own right. She was active in the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Through that, she became politically involved and was one of the first democratic precinct captains in South Shore. There was always that element that you need to do better and help people while you’re doing it because that’s how my mother always was. She would always help her family. As Latinos, we grow up experiencing that strong sense of family. As kids, my uncles and cousins would come live with us for a while as they would work and get started here. There was always this feeling of caring and taking care of people. That was the environment that I grew up in. It was just ingrained, this caring part, that I think is really what makes Latinos unique to me because we care about our families, whether they’re our cousins or our uncles, second cousins. It’s part of our culture.
NA: Is there a cause you choose to support, and could you talk about that?
VO: The number one for me is early childhood development because I think that from zero to five, the brain develops so much in a child. In those early stages, children’s language skills are growing. It’s like their whole nervous system is being developed at that moment, so whatever you put into it, good or bad, will shape them. I’ve always been committed to early childhood development because I think it impacts the world.
NA: Could you talk about your longstanding support of Nuestro Futuro and why it’s so important to you?
VO: Back in the ’90s, when Nuestro Futuro started, we saw a need to provide and support the growing Latino population by funding the smaller nonprofit organizations in our community. We believed, and I still do today, that we can be much more powerful if we bring our financial resources together to invest in our community. We must support agencies that don’t traditionally get the funding they need. I also admire our commitment to early childhood development and education. To me, that’s always been the most vital thing we can do: build our children’s strengths.
NA: What influence do you believe we as individuals have in advancing change through philanthropy?
VO: I think exactly what you’re doing. When you talk to individuals, and they tell their story, and it becomes more public, I think it interests individuals to pay more attention to philanthropy. My role and I hope others who give use their role to influence people to focus on the issues and what’s important to them and find others who share those same beliefs. You may not have millions of dollars to give, but even a little is a step, and if we put all our littles together, we have a much better chance of impacting our community.
NA: Is there a message you would send to someone who might be at the beginning of their philanthropic journey, maybe a young professional or someone who hasn’t been involved in philanthropy, to encourage them to give?
VO: Sure, I would tell them, number one, you can be a philanthropist. You can start by identifying causes that matter. It doesn’t matter the amount of money you may give. It’s just the feeling that you’re doing it and supporting an issue. The bottom line of philanthropy, I think, is to support the issues that impact other people’s lives.
NA: What do you hope to fulfill through your charitable giving?
VO: I hope that things will get better for people. I would love to see each person who has been provided help or service at some point in their life use that as a building block. I think that each person we can help together as a community makes us stronger, and our children are stronger, and it just continues. And so that’s my vision, is that we do have more giving, that we do have more resources for our community, and that in the future, we can be more competitive, we can be more successful, we can be more financially stable.