Celebrating Latino Leaders: Raquel Santiago-Martinez
“If you live by a certain set of values and people respect you for those values, 90 percent of your success is achieved.”
Director of Business Administration, Community Renewal Team
Hometown: Bloomfield, CT
Santiago-Martinez is a founding member of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs and the Connecticut chapter. She has volunteered on numerous nonprofit boards of directors and was the PTO President of Wintergreen Interdistrict Magnet School, a Hamden Inland Wetlands Commissioner, and a member of the Town of Hamden’s mayoral transition team. She currently serves on the boards of the New Haven Scholarship Fund, Liberty Community Services, Fellowship Place and the Progreso Latino Fund.
Professionally, Santiago-Martinez has held leadership positions in economic development, finance and project management, and she has taught at Quinnipiac University's undergraduate Lender School of Business.
Led to Community Service by Family and Faith
Santiago-Martinez’s father was one of, if not the first, Spanish-speaking Pentecostal ministers in Connecticut. It was at his Hartford church where the Santiago family learned from members of the congregation that the migrant workers in nearby Windsor Locks were in need.
“I recall my mom. . . every Saturday, she would pack these big, what they call calderos, pots of rice and beans and some kind meat, usually chicken. We used to take all that food over to the tobacco fields where the migrant workers lived in large dormitory-style housing.
I remember my sister and me as little kids giving them plates as my mom would dole out the food. There were always lines that formed. That was our ritual every Saturday.”
Santiago-Martinez also watched her father organize voter registration drives at the church and encourage the congregation to vote in order to be heard.
“My father was a big believer in citizenry and in making sure that we do the right thing and exert our rights. And my mom was the indefatigable force who every Sunday would walk the streets convincing parents to let their children attend Sunday school, while keeping an eye out for families in need. That was the beginning of my interest in community service and community work.”
Growing up in Bloomfield
With the benefits he received as a Korean War veteran, Santiago-Martinez’s father moved the family from Hartford’s Stowe Village housing project to a ranch house in Bloomfield. The town was becoming known as an inclusive community that was open to change.
“I had the best of all worlds. My sister and I were the only Latinas in the school. And yet, growing up in Bloomfield helped me to become the person I am today. Living there, I learned to understand other people. We were in the minority. But we exchanged ideas, and I learned about their lives and they learned about mine. Bloomfield was a place where people were okay with differences.”
A Special Teacher
Even though Santiago-Martinez was on the academic track in high school, it was in a typing and stenography class where she learned some of her most important lessons.
“Alice Rogers, I still remember her to this day. She was Jamaican. She was very hard on us. There were seven young ladies in that class. She would say you have to be twice as good, three times as good to get to where you need to be. She was all about excellence. She was all about doing well. She set an example with her value system.
To this day, that credo drives me because quality matters. If I do a job or give you a product, I have to make sure it’s done well and all the questions are answered.”
Another profound influence on Santiago-Martinez was her involvement with Aspira, the Latino youth leadership organization founded by Antonia Pantoja. She had met Pantoja in 1979 in Washington, D.C. as a fellow with Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Institute and was deeply moved by Pantoja’s movement.
“Antonia was the person I hoped to be. I’ve read all of her pieces on economic development and just about everything she has written.”
A Different Time
As a teenager, Santiago-Martinez was connected by the Neighborhood Youth Corps to a summer and after-school job at the local agricultural extension center.
“I think back at all these opportunities we had accessible to us and it gives me sadness that the same are not available to young people today -- jobs after school and connections with people that can mentor you.
There was a different tenor in our community. I think that people really tried hard to make sure that young people were ready. When they graduated from that high school, even if they weren’t going to college, it was made sure that they had some sort of skill set to go and get a job and make a living.”
On Being a Successful Latina
After serving for eight years as director of lending for the Greater New Haven Community Loan Fund, Santiago-Martinez joined the Community Renewal Team, the Hartford-based Community Action Agency, in 2010 to direct the business operations.
“What has helped me to grow and learn is, first, respecting people wherever they are. Respect is a big deal for me. If you live by a certain set of values and people respect you for those values, 90 percent of your success is achieved.
The second is having passion for what you do and what you believe. If you influence people and bring them along to join you in that passion, success is sustained.”