‘Estamos Aqui’ – During Latinx Heritage Month, Starbucks celebrates partners making a difference

When she was in middle school, Maricruz Palma turned in a paper about being an undocumented student. She described leaving Mexico City when she was 11 years old, and how her single mom brought Maricruz and her sister to the United States in search of a better life. Her teacher told her not to write about that subject anymore. 

Maricruz Palma
Maricruz Palma

When she was in high school, she remembers not having answers to questions. Will I be able to work? Can I go to college? What should I tell my friends who are wondering why I can’t travel outside the country during the summers? If I share too much information, will the police show up and take me and my family back to Mexico? 

“Scared and confused and unsure,” Palma recalls, describing some of her feelings growing up. “I always felt I had to keep a part of me a secret.”

Palma, 26, a Starbucks shift supervisor and a recent college graduate, is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows certain individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children to live and work in the U.S. 

For her, the last 15 years have been a journey towards “authenticity” and becoming her whole self. It’s meant learning how to speak up and be a role model for her younger sister and her community. It’s meant honoring the old traditions taught to her by her mother while creating new ones for herself. It’s meant fully embracing her story – and not being afraid.

During this year’s Latinx Heritage Month, Starbucks is proud to support and amplify the voices and stories of our Latinx partners. Hora del Café (HDC), Starbucks Latinx Partner Network, has chosen the theme “Estamos Aquí” – “We Are Here” – to celebrate the month. We are proud of how our Latinx partners are showing up – taking a stand on important issues, making a difference and working hard to strengthen all our communities. 

“For me, helping others, giving back to my community, I think that’s a tradition of my own,” Palma says. “I want to continue that, continue helping others, continue figuring out a path for the younger generations so they can go to college. I want to make sure that younger generations know that there’s not one way to be Latino. You can be your own kind of Latino. You come here and you become your own person.” 

Palma’s life changed in 2012 when DACA was initiated, which also granted recipients temporary work permits. DACA students may also be eligible for financial aid from some colleges too, which is what Palma used to help pay for her education.

It was an emotional moment, a relief, a sense of security. As she absorbed the news with her mother, who was crying, Palma remembers, “it took a weight off my shoulders.” 

"I want to make sure that younger generations know that there’s not one way to be Latino. You can be your own kind of Latino."

– Maricruz

A few years later, she started volunteering with a nonprofit focused on helping immigrants through education, employment and community organizing. She’d noticed the effect the organization had on her mother, who became increasingly confident while attending a weekly women’s empowerment group for domestic workers. 

Palma volunteered to help out with a posada, a traditional celebration in Mexico of the Christmas story. Then she filled in as a part-time receptionist, then helped organize the annual gala. She gained experience with fundraising, community outreach and public speaking, even going to Washington D.C. to talk to politicians and advocate for DACA recipients like herself. 

The nonprofit “changed my mom’s life. It changed my life,” Palma says. “I had an organization that could back me up. They would step in there with me, by my side.”

Back home, she worked on other issues: helping gain visibility for a bill that would provide house cleaners with basic working rights like sick hours; connecting Latinx families with early education opportunities; trying to find resources to address the psychological strain faced by Latino men who’d come to America alone to work, leaving their families behind. 

During the pandemic, her Starbucks store raised and donated thousands of dollars worth of household supplies to the organization.  

Starbucks continues to support DACA partners like Palma and all Dreamers. Starbucks reimburses employees for the biennial fees required to stay in the program and offers free immigration advice. Starbucks, which is advocating for Congress to find a permanent bi-partisan solution for Dreamers, signed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of DACA. 

Palma now has a business degree and hopes to run her own small business someday. Meanwhile, she’ll continue to speak out for the issues close to her heart. 

“You don’t have to feel afraid. You don’t have to feel like you’re not supported,” Palma says. “That’s the message I try to share with my sister and her friends.” 

‘Estamos aquí, we’re here standing up for what we believe in’ 

The options seemed limited for Anthony Rodriguez when he graduated from high school. He hadn’t been too interested and he’d just kind of squeaked by. His grandparents raised him, and though supportive and well-meaning, they couldn’t offer him much guidance on what was supposed to happen next. 

Maybe train to be a mechanic. Maybe go to junior college and enroll in HVAC technician classes. Maybe join the military. 

One thing that eventually got his full attention. Gang life. 

Anthony Rodriguez
Anthony Rodriguez

He’d been surrounded by it as a kid. Some of his uncles were part of the East L.A. gang culture, and many weekends were spent visiting them in jail. Six years of marriage kept him away from that lifestyle, but after he got divorced, in 1999, he jumped right in. 

“The lifestyle is enticing. You feel like you’re part of something,” recalls Rodriguez, 47, now a Starbucks district manager in Whittier, Calif. “Until you go to jail. When you get to jail, everything you think is important no longer holds the same value. You lose your possessions and are surrounded by a completely different culture. It changes you and you start to wonder if this is the right way.” 

Rodriguez was sentenced to six years in the California state prison system, for distributing and transporting a controlled substance, and was paroled in late 2008, about halfway through his term. In prison, he had worked on an inmate fire crew, battling wildfires all over the state. The fire captains “treated me in a way where I was not judged,” Rodriguez recalls. That, combined with the disappointment he felt when his two sons visited him in prison, “inspired me to leave it all behind.” 

After his release, he enrolled in a sober living program, distanced himself from his old life and started working at Starbucks as a barista. A few years later, his managers encouraged him to apply for an assistant store manager role, which he thought might not be attainable because of his past. He wrote an appeal letter to the company, taking responsibility for what he’d done and explaining what he’d learned since. 

“The adversities I have had to face in order to prove myself not only as a valuable partner, but a valuable and honest person have been considerable,” he wrote. “Through these challenges I have learned the importance of hard work and integrity. Although most people are familiar with these words, I have a firsthand understanding of how life can be without them.” 

His district manager, Jessica Picard, and the store managers he’d worked under for four years, supported him as well. Picard wrote a letter of her own. He was nervous waiting for the reply. But it came: simple and to the point. He’d been accepted into management. “It was surreal,” he says.   

Recognizing the importance of “second chance” hiring, Starbucks is one of the few companies that has advocated publicly for expansion of ban the box legislation. The company provides individuals the opportunity to be evaluated as a whole person, regardless of criminal history.  

Rodriguez has invested in the youth in the communities where he’s worked, volunteering at local schools and sharing his story with kids from similar backgrounds. “It will help me push myself to be more where I want to be. I want to be able to stand up and say this is who I was, this is where I was and this is who I am today,” Rodriguez says. “My leaders have taught me you do not need to let your past define you.” 

As he preached the value of education, he started to pursue his own, through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which offers 100 percent tuition coverage through Arizona State University’s online program. He started school the same year as his son, and he’s taking classes focused on social justice and human rights so he can continue to learn how best to support his community. He plans to graduate in 2023. 

Recently, he took another big step, starting a relationship with College Track, a nonprofit organization supported in part by The Starbucks Foundation, that aims to mentor youth for 10 years, from 9th grade through college completion, in underserved communities like Watts, Crenshaw and Boyle Heights. The majority of the kids in the program from those neighborhoods identify as Latinx.  

Anthony Rodriguez

"I want to be able to stand up and say this is who I was, this is where I was and this is who I am today."

– Anthony

He led an in-person mentorship project in January, convening Starbucks partners who were interested in volunteering and kids in the College Track program. The topics involved resume building, professional and workplace etiquette and interview skills. He’s brainstorming ways to continue the relationships virtually. 

“The kids were so amazing, so engaged,” Rodriguez says. “We were super inspired. We were really blown away. I saw the hunger in them. These are the next generation of leaders. They need the guidance and resources to achieve their dreams.” 

The month’s theme of “Estamos Aquí” – “we are here” – resonates with Rodriguez, who’s on the board of the HDC Los Angeles-Central California chapter. 

Estamos aquí means more than just, we are here. We have always been here. To me, it means our time is now, to be seen, heard and valued,” he says. “This year especially, with everything that’s going on, we’re here standing up for what we believe in. We’re going to make our voices heard and we’re going to make a difference.” 

A community resource hub 

Carlos Lopez, the manager at the Starbucks Prince George’s County community store in Maryland, is determined to transform the stores he works at into community resource hubs, especially for the high concentration of Central Americans who live there. A third of his staff are Latinx. 

Carlos Lopez
Carlos Lopez

He’s working with the Maryland Department of Planning to create bilingual engagement resources for his partners and customers around census awareness, trying to address concerns and misinformation about participating in the census. Starbucks recently announced a company-wide civic engagement initiative. He’s partnered with the local nonprofit organization Casa de Maryland on a monthly mingle between the local Latinx community and police, trying to create healthy and productive dialogue. He’s hired several baristas directly from the local Police Explorers mentorship program. 

He and his partners made personal donations to a microloan program to support coffee farmers in Guatemala. He’s supporting coffee ground composting and education at local schools. And he’s teamed up with the city of Bladensburg and two local churches to assist at food distribution events. 

When more people can gather in person, he’s hoping to revive a popular program he ran at his previous store, in Bowie, Md.: Noches de Cultura, a night of culture, where the public and his store partners study Hispanic painters or an important issue, like the Amazon rainforest wildfires, and then respond by painting. 

Lopez, 27, immigrated to Washington D.C. from El Salvador in 1999, when he was 7 years old. There was abuse in his family, and he left home when he was 15, couch surfing with friends while working odd jobs. Once he got to Starbucks, a manager mentored him and encouraged him to try leadership. 

“One of the biggest things for me is to try and encompass all the different aspects of the community.”

– Carlos

“One of the biggest things for me is to try and encompass all the different aspects of the community,” Lopez says. “From my upbringing, all the issues we had as a kid, it’s my way of paying it forward. It’s trying to give back in a sense for all those people that helped me.” 

One of his guiding leadership philosophies is to get to know people as people. 

“In all honesty, when I was first looking to apply at Starbucks, I was a hot mess,” Lopez says. “I couldn’t afford a nice haircut. I couldn’t afford nice clothes. But my store manager saw me as a person. I want to see my partners and customers and peers as human beings.” 

thumbnail for Starbucks Hot Java Cool Jazz is a testament to the value of the arts

Starbucks Hot Java Cool Jazz is a testament to the value of the arts