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We Live Here Auténtico! | Suzanne Sierra| The Consummate Connector, Storyteller, Collaborator

Suzanne Sierra
Carol Lara
/
Suzanne Sierra

In this episode of We Live Here Auténtico!, get to know THE ultimate connector, storyteller and collaborator, Suzanne Sierra. Suzanne struggled to find her purpose. Now she helps people find their voice and tell their story.

[WLHA 010]: We Live Here Auténtico! | Suzanne Sierra| The Consummate Connector, Storyteller, Collaborator

Today’s guest, Suzanne Sierra is the consummate connector, storyteller and collaborator. Her evolving career path and search for purpose led her to the St. Louis Mosaic Project. She is Senior Program Manager and leads key programs with major stakeholders including corporations, universities, ethnic communities and multicultural innovation initiatives. Through her work, Suzanne goes all-out to promote regional prosperity and to transform St. Louis into the fastest growing metropolitan area for immigrants by the year 2025.

Suzanne’s personal immigration story fuels her passion to create change. She is the proud daughter of immigrants from Colombia, South America, and she is bilingual. Her parents moved to the U.S. so her father could practice medicine. Her dad landed a job at a clinic in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Suzanne and her siblings were born. Soon after, they moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin, a small town on the western edge of the state bordering Minnesota.

Her story is one that reveals an identity crisis. She grew up in what she likes to call a “lily white” community where she was immediately pegged as different. Though it pains her to share today, she was embarrassed of her parents as kids would make fun of their heavy accent. There was a meanness that prompted her not to speak Spanish, ironically her first language. When traveling to Columbia each year for the holidays, she felt out of place and self-conscious about speaking Spanish. She was the “gringa” and found it difficult to find where she fit in.

She can answer that much better now. She’d been through enough indiscreet interrogations leading with, “What are you?” then devolving to indiscriminate guessing games of calling out ethnicities in random succession, “Are you Hawaiian? Are you Asian? Mulatto?”.

Through an in-depth journey of personal discovery, growth and learning to understanding her identity, Suzanne began to evolve and experience new things. “Saint Louis and the work that I do here has really brought me back to my roots in a way that I'm so happy with”, she beams.

Suzanne brings compassion and empathy to her work in the community because she has the lived experience of being and feeling “other”. She understands the immigrant story and brings her experiences, language and knowledge to the table.

As the Hispanic community continues to grow in St. Louis and across the nation, Hispanic Marketing has changed from the early 90s when she first started. She says marketing to Hispanics is a little bit complicated because not everybody speaks Spanish and there are all kinds of Spanish, so there's still a lot of educating to do.

There are 21 different countries that state that their official language is Spanish so you can imagine that one word has many different translations, depending of the country that people are from.

While there is still much to be done in the region, there are also some successes. The Hispanic Chamber has become a relied upon and regularly turned to resource for businesses as well as the community.

What does living Autentico mean to you, Suzanne?

“Facing your fear. Working through your fear. Not being afraid to embrace who you are, to embrace your story and to share your story. Because I think a lot of us Live afraid.”

About Suzanne:

Suzanne served as Mosaic’s Latino Outreach Consultant for three years during which time she initiated and completed senior collaboration opportunities for Mosaic with Square and other regional organizations. She’s led Hispanic outreach projects including the development of Mosaic's bilingual, St. Louis loteria game and its distribution to dozens of organizations and schools throughout St. Louis. She worked with Mosaic partners to establish a special designation by the City of St. Louis to recognize Latino contributions along Cherokee Street, .

Prior to joining Mosaic, Suzanne operated her own public relations firm serving non-profits and companies like Verizon, Luxco, NAMI-St. Louis and North County, Inc.

Previously, Suzanne spent 15 years with Anheuser-Busch directing issue advertising, crisis communications, media training and outreach to the US Hispanic community. Prior to Anheuser-Busch, Suzanne worked at Fleishman-Hillard, a global PR firm, handling Hispanic publicity for Anheuser-Busch, Valvoline and other clients. She has served as City Council member for Olivette and is a former Board member of Laumeier Sculpture Park, NAMI-St. Louis and KDHX Radio.

Suzanne is on the boards of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and The Collective Thread.

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • Why there is a need for a grassroots approach and focus on language access in our community
  • How we lose people when they need services and don't know that they're available
  • The necessity of access to information
  • The importance of providing information to foreign born people in their native language

Mentioned in this episode:

Chattanooga, Tennessee a city in southeastern Tennessee, is set along the Tennessee River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

Colombia, South America officially the Republic of Colombia, is a country in South America with an insular region in North America. It is bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the north, Venezuela to the east, Brazil to the southeast, Ecuador and Peru to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west and Panama to the northwest.

Mexico country of southern North America and the third largest country in Latin America, after Brazil and Argentina.

Junior Lara In 2018, Junior and Gabriela started “Auténtico Podcast”, now in its partnership form with St. Louis Public Radio as what you now enjoy as “We Live Here Auténtico!”

University of Wisconsin a public land-grant university and major research institution.

Olivette is a suburban community in the center of St. Louis County, Missouri.

Cherokee Street, cared for by the Cherokee Street Community Improvement District, is a center of commerce, culture and creativity in St. Louis, with galleries and antiques, music, food, festivals and events.

Verizon offers voice, data and video services and solutions.

Luxco national beverage alcohol company.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-St. Louis) is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children and adults with mental illnesses and their families in the St. Louis region.

KDHX Radio a non-profit media organization and public service broadcaster at 88.1 FM and KDHX.org.

Laumeier Sculpture Park is an internationally recognized, nonprofit arts organization and 105-acre park located in the heart of St. Louis County that is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and operates in partnership with St. Louis County Parks. Free and open daily, Laumeier serves 300,000 visitors of all ages each year through sculpture conservation, education programs, temporary exhibitions and public events.

North County, Incorporated Inc. (NCI) was founded in 1977 and represents the 45 municipalities and unincorporated area in North St. Louis County. As an economic and community development advocacy organization serving North County, they focus on economic development, education, healthcare, infrastructure and transportation.

Fleishman Hillard is a global PR agency developing creative and strategic communications across nearly 80 offices in 30+ countries.

Anheuser Busch/ InBev multinational drink and brewing company based in Leuven, Belgium.

Valvoline Established in 1866, worldwide marketer and supplier of lubricants and automotive services.

Betsy Cohen Executive Director of the STL Mosaic Project, was recently honored in the ‘A World of Difference’ category of St. Louis Magazine’s 100+ people shaping St. Louis.

Hispanic Chamber
The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is a private non-profit corporation founded in 1982 by a group of Hispanic businesspersons interested in increasing opportunities for Hispanic & Latino business owners.

St. Louis Economic Development Partnership
The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership is a comprehensive economic development organization for St. Louis City and County, which attracts, retains, and facilitates growth of businesses and works collaboratively with public and private sector regional partners. The organization provides economic development opportunities including site selection, financial incentives, and opportunity zones through our Business Development department, lending programs through Business Finance department, entrepreneurial services, and targeted initiatives.

World Trade Center St. Louis
World Trade Center St. Louis’ (WTC) operating license is granted by the World Trade Centers Association (WTCA) in New York and established the WTC as a regional entity serving not only the St. Louis metropolitan region, but also the entire Missouri and Southern Illinois markets, excluding the Kansas City region. Part of an extensive global association of over 300 World Trade Centers, with overall goals to enhance international trade, promote local economic development, and ultimately foster peace and stability through trade. Established in 1993, their mission is to develop a comprehensive international agenda for the region by bringing together the human expertise and the government resources for international business growth.

Steve Tobocman
Former Michigan State Representative from Michigan's 12th State House District in Detroit and former Founding Executive Director of Global Detroit – a regional economic and community development organization advancing immigrant-inclusive strategies to drive growth, revitalization and broadly shared prosperity of Detroit and Southeast Michigan.

Congresswoman Rashida Talib is Michigan’s 13th Congressional District (includes city of Detroit and many surrounding communities).

ProsperUS Detroit supports entrepreneurs with opportunities and capital needed to build businesses, generational wealth, and vibrant neighborhoods.

Pew Research Center’s National Survey of Latinos

International Spouses Group is a group for international women spouses interested in getting to know people from different cultures, helping them to settle down and break though culture barriers. Their mission is to ease the adaptation process, to embrace and to promote the integration of international spouses in the local community.

Music in this Episode
Gente De Zona Bailamos
Enrique Iglesias - Bailando ft. Descemer Bueno, Gente De Zona (Español)
Juanes - A Dios Le Pido

Connections:
Connect with Suzanne Sierra
Website:  Sierrapublicrelations.com a small, St. Louis-based PR Firm delivering boutique communication services, in English and Spanish.

Linkedin @suzannesierrasewell
Twitter: @sierrapr

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of “We Live Here Autentico”. If you haven’t done so already, please take a minute and leave a quick rating and review of the show on Apple Podcasts by clicking on the link below. It will help us to keep delivering more ways to “WE” for you each week!

Before creating the We Live Here Auténtico Podcast, Gabriela worked as an educator, diplomat, community advocate, business counselor, restaurant owner, marathon runner, author, co-founder and small business owner.
Alejandro Santiago Ortega is a foreign attorney and community advocate. He also volunteers for several organizations in the St. Louis region, looking to create meaningful change in the community. Alejandro is committed to improving the quality of life for all in the region.
Jade Harrell has been part of the programming team since October 2018 as an announcer on weeknights and weekends. She is now Director of On-Demand & Content Partnerships and a member of the Executive Leadership Team.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.