California billboards call attention to Latino media and investment disparities

Amid conservative campaigns to end diversity, equity and inclusion programs, a Latino group is vowing to hold accountable those who have promised to keep investing in and representing Hispanic people.

The recently formed nonprofit group Aquí: The Accountability Movement, launched mobile billboards Thursday in San Francisco and Los Angeles as part of its “Show the Receipts” campaign to draw attention to disparities between Latinos’ economic contributions and how the community is represented in turn.

The billboards are part of Aquí’s mission to be a watchdog on promises made to the Latino community, and to put pressure on those who make them to deliver, said Nathaly Arriola Maurice, a former Obama and Biden White House staffer who is now Aquí’s lead strategist.

“Every single Hispanic Heritage Month, someone comes out with something, a pledge, commitment, or even a statement … saying, ‘My company has X number of Latinos employed,’ or, ‘My company aims to have this amount of money spent on Latino talent in news or film.’ Who is actually following up with that?” Arriola Maurice said.

Courtesy Aquí

The San Francisco billboard calls attention to continued disparities in capital and investment in Latino startups. It displays an image of a store receipt highlighting the economic output of Latino consumers ($3.4 trillion) versus the amount invested in Latino startups ($1.3 billion).

A Latino Collaborative study released last year found that U.S. Latinos’ economic output would rank them fifth in the world were they their own country. And though there has been significant growth in Latino startups, the share of all business investments going to those companies is in the single digits.

In Los Angeles, the billboard calls out the lack of Latino representation in film despite the community’s high box office spending. A similar store receipt shows the stark contrast between ticket sales to Latinos (29%) and Latino movie leads (5%) and directors (3%).

This campaign comes after another in October that sent a message to corporate America through a digital ad. The ad, titled “Y Ahora Qué? (Now What?),” attacked companies that celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month but lacked Latino leadership and representation and invested little in Latino communities.

Arriola Maurice said calling for accountability on promises to the community is overdue considering that the Latino population — now more than 62 million — has been driving U.S. growth.

She added that Aquí’s founding follows decades of work by Latino civil rights groups to help make real their hard-fought gains. The group’s three areas of focus are: corporate representation, hate rhetoric against Latinos, and improving narratives about Latinos in media. The group plans to create a speakers bureau, through which it will train Latinos for media appearances and help get them booked on media outlets.

Courtesy Aquí

“Aquí is focused on shifting all the negative things that are said about who we are, elevating our voices and then positioning us in places of power to ensure that the focus is on us, whether that’s with media, whether that’s in the boardroom … calling those things out,” said Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, chair of Aquí’s board and outgoing CEO of Latino Community Foundation, a philanthropic group that invests in Latino organizations in California.

“Latinos are here. We are not going anywhere,” she added. “You can celebrate us 30 days out of the year, and that’s not right, it’s not enough.”

For more from NBC Latino, sign up for our weekly newsletter.