Victoria Nunes doesn’t have to look far to see how nurturing the Columbus business climate can be to immigrants.
Her family’s success depended on it.
The Venezuelan native spent many of her formative years near Philadelphia before returning to her home country for high school. When it came time to go to college, she was drawn to Columbus, where her aunts and uncles, also Venezuelan immigrants, had established the popular El Arepazo Latin Grill on Pearl Street in downtown Columbus.
Nunes cut her business teeth working every summer for their Festival Latino food booth, parlaying her desire to market and communicate for businesses into a degree from Franklin University. But it was only after joining Fifth Third Bank as a community-affairs marketing specialist that she truly discovered her calling: helping other professionals of Hispanic descent find success in the capital city.
“Ever since I came to Columbus, I have been fascinated by the city and its diversity,” says Nunes, who in January left Fifth Third to become an account manager at PMM Agency, an advertising and marketing firm. “The fact that the city would open its doors to an immigrant family and let them share their culture with the city by being vendors—right there, that says this city is welcoming and empowering and inviting.
“It has the feel of a big city, but great people make it feel like a small town. Columbus is a place where you can be part of a lot of different things to help and be more involved in your community.”
Nunes says she sees a city that continues to welcome the new among the old, blending resources from across communities to make a powerful whole.
“Diversity in Columbus has been about the private and public sector coming together to embrace the changing community and make young professionals feel part of this town, even with them not having been born or raised here,” she says. “Diversity means working together to grow and learn new things, and challenge each other. It transcends anything you can touch or feel. It’s a state of mind, a part of all of us.”
Following in the lead of such trailblazers as Guadalupe Velasquez, coordinator of Columbus’s Community Relations Commission-New American Initiative, Nunes has immersed herself in the community. She serves as a Spanish interpreter for her church, works with the Latino Empowerment Outreach Network and the Center for Latin Hope and also has served with the YWCA of Central Ohio and the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs.
Her work with the Hispanic Chamber of Columbus has led to the Latina Mentoring Academy, the first area leadership program of its kind. “We have developed a 14-week program for Latina women to develop professional and personal skill sets to, hopefully, make them successful entrepreneurs and successful as community leaders,” Nunes says.
Nunes says she hopes area business leaders will incorporate more mentoring of diverse individuals into their philosophies, to provide the tools these people need to be successful in the private and public sectors. “There are many ‘unwritten rules,’ especially in the world of business, in order to be successful,” she says. “We should be sharing these trade secrets to include more diverse and young individuals, and seasoned veterans should be held personally accountable for pulling them up through the ranks.”
Nunes, who splits her time between her Hilliard condominium and Cleveland, where fiancé Pedro Calderon is finishing medical school, says her commitment to Columbus comes in large part from the way it approaches diversity. “Diversity in Columbus is not an afterthought; it’s a way of life,” she says. “And it’s who I am. It’s embedded in everything I do and think about.”
Nicole Kraft is a freelance writer.
Reprinted from the September 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.