Interview: Ambassador Ricardo Santana Velázquez, the new head of the Mexican consulate in Oxnard
The Mexican diaspora in the U.S. is a vibrant and diverse community, encompassing both immigrants and their descendants, each facing unique financial challenges and opportunities. In this exclusive interview, Ambassador Ricardo Santana Velázquez, the new head of the Mexican consulate in Oxnard, shares insights into the current landscape of financial inclusion, the role of credit unions in this endeavor, and his vision for the future. Join us as we delve into the complexities of financial empowerment within the Mexican American community and explore the initiatives that are transforming lives and fostering economic growth.
Could you provide an overview of the current situation of financial inclusion for Mexican citizens in the United States? What are some of the main challenges they face in accessing financial services and products?
To provide an overview, it's important to understand more about the demographic aspects of Mexicans and their needs in the United States. We can discuss not only Mexicans but also 'Mexican Americans.' These are individuals with significant Mexican heritage but have a better understanding of the advanced financial system because they were born in the United States. There is also another segment of legally resident Mexicans who are familiar with the North American financial system but may not take advantage of opportunities for various reasons. Lastly, there are undocumented Mexicans.
It is essential to consider the characteristics of each market segment for education. In general, 50% of undocumented Mexicans or legal Mexican residents have faced difficulty in navigating and benefiting from the financial systems. The other 50% consists of Mexican Americans who know what it's like to have good credit, how to access credit to buy a car or a house, where they can open a bank account, how to obtain a credit card, and how payment systems work.
This is very important, but at the same time, it represents a significant challenge to ensure that the information doesn't stay within this segment but spreads to other sectors. Information is needed to reach hardworking and productive individuals who do not have access to credit, especially those working in agriculture.
How have credit unions played a role in promoting financial inclusion among Mexican citizens in the United States? Could you highlight specific initiatives or programs that have been successful in improving their access to banking and credit services?
It has been very positive for us to have local allies. In our consular programs, we have developed the Financial Advisory Window service, through which we can partner with local credit specialists via a memorandum of understanding. Many of them are associations, credit unions, schools, and other types of services.
Having allies has been important because we are not experts in the field, but we can work with other experts to achieve greater penetration in the Mexican community and the sectors that interest us. For the community, the city's economy, and the country's economy, it is important for workers and their families to integrate into the financial system because they also generate wealth.
It is important that responsible financial institutions work with the consulate because we are a safe zone where Mexicans come because they trust the information we provide and believe that many of their financial problems will be solved. With this information, they also avoid falling victim to individuals or institutions that deceive them with loan services or remittance services. The consulate has been a key factor in making these types of services more effective.
Almost a year ago, the consulate you lead signed an agreement with a group of credit unions in Los Angeles to support the vital function of the Financial Advisory Window. What has been your experience? Would you recommend other consulates and cooperatives to enter into such agreements?
It has been very positive and fruitful. It has been a community need, and if there is high demand, we will try to respond through professionals. It is crucial to emphasize that in memorandums of understanding, the responsibilities of each party must be clear.
Our allied agencies have been able to help us through workshops, clinics, conversations, and field visits to guide people on how to buy a house, how to open a bank account, or how to navigate new financial opportunities. This has been one of the strategies of the Financial Advisory Window, which means educating, not just informing, and distributing information but understanding the unique characteristics of each community. For example, we have a segment of agricultural workers from different states in Mexico or indigenous communities who do not speak English or Spanish; they only speak their native languages. However, they are an important segment with economic influence and financial needs that require us to adapt. Also, this includes providing identity documents that are valid in the United States.
It's important to go beyond just understanding the financial system and focusing on savings; we should advance in investment programs, training, and entrepreneurship, programs that allow the community to develop financial confidence. Confidence that is spread through word of mouth. It should not be a 15- or 20-minute lesson but rather a continuous system that responds to the needs of each community.
In your opinion, what are the possible future developments or innovations in financial inclusion that could further benefit Mexican citizens in the United States?
We must work according to the characteristics of Mexican Americans, legal residents, and undocumented individuals. Without a doubt, we are talking about updating financial systems to global, national, county, and city needs. Also, discussing financial technology (Fintech) is essential and the Fintech solutions that could be developed to address the needs of communities with a certain level of education.
For women, continuing to advance in developing their skills to empower them so that they can become micro-business entrepreneurs and manage family budgets.
Certainly, continuing to work on access to credit and budget management. In financial education, entrepreneurship, and innovation among the new generations of young Mexicans. This new generation can use financial technology, learn to save, use credit wisely, and invest.