Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) concluded its celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month with a roundtable discussion hosted by its Racial Equity Advisory Council (REAC). The discussion highlighted Hispanic contributions in the business, aviation, finance, and healthcare fields.
Moderated by the Assistant to the Chief Executive, Zoraida Antonetty and Deputy Chief Revenue Officer Adam Mitchell, the conversation included panelists:
- Edgar Antistenes Vesga-Arias, MPR, CMI – PHL Director of Air Service Development and Cargo Services
- Javier Suarez – Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
- Gonzalo A. de la Melena Jr., founder of Emerging Airport Ventures (EAV) LLC an Airport Concession Disadvantage Business Enterprise (ACDBE) operating company with food, beverage, and retail holdings.
According to the Pew Research Center, the Hispanic population in the United States reached 62.5 million in 2021. The panelists vocalized their support for a growing Hispanic population that is ready to participate in different sectors of the economy.
The son of immigrants from Colombia, Suarez is a proud Philadelphian and focuses on rediscovering the city and reflecting on his impact. Suarez believes representation is the key to breaking barriers that keep opportunities away. “I feel like I would lose a big part of my identity if I were to leave,” said Suarez. “I greatly enjoy my lifestyle and living in this urban environment.”
“The majority of Hispanic business owners are not small business owners,” said Suarez. “They run microbusinesses – often isolated, segregated from resources and opportunities. They lack a lot of social capital. Our chamber focuses on those businesses that need a lot of support, social capital and experts.”
Although Melena does not live in Philadelphia, he is a part of the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC). Melena initially started out with a small taco shop almost 10 years ago – since then the ACDBE operator has built over 20 locations. He identifies as Peruvian-Mexican and credits the wealth of knowledge he gained early on in his career from working in both Central and South America.
He previously served as the President of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Arizona for 10 years spending most of those years building a strong coalition of minority business enterprises with Native American, Asian American and African American Chambers of Commerce in Arizona.
“I’ve created a model of reciprocity,” said Melena. “On a recent bid we won, I brought in eight new, small women owned and minority owned firms into the coffee shop.”
Each speaker spoke about pride in their community’s and the contributions Hispanic communities bring into the workplace. “We bring a multi-cultural perspective,” said Melena. “In many cases a multi-lingual perspective. A global mindset brings a unique point of view and understanding that I think can add value to teams.”
The panel recognized the importance of mentorship in creating businesses and future leaders. Melena offered, “I speak Spanish, we are raising our kids to be bilingual.” “We have to be proud of where we come from,” said Vesga. “We have to mentor people and share our differences to educate people. Philadelphia has so much to offer for the diversity it brings to the table. I’m honored to have this opportunity to join the airport.”