En español | Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez, AARP Executive Vice President of Multicultural Markets and Engagement, says her appointment confirms that the organization is responding to recent U.S. census results in the best possible way. While not making sweeping promises, she expresses confidence that her new job will further enrich the tradition and opportunities AARP has created for people over 50 throughout its history.
Cortés-Vázquez has a great sense of humor and 30 years of experience in the public, nonprofit and corporate sectors. She is certain, she says, that her professional background and deep understanding of minority issues will guide her as she continues to expand the large family that, to her, is AARP.
Born and bred in Manhattan’s El Barrio, Cortés-Vázquez graduated from Hunter College, and has a master’s degree from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. She also holds certificates from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and Columbia University’s Institute for Not-for-Profit Management.
Married, with a son and two grandchildren, Cortés-Vázquez was the first Hispanic to serve as New York’s secretary of state, a job she left to join AARP. She has also served as president of the Hispanic Federation, executive director of ASPIRA of New York, vice president of Government and Public Affairs at Cablevision Systems Corporation and chief of the Bureau of Program and Resource Development at the New York City Department for the Aging.
What challenges do you expect to face in your new job?
AARP has done a great job increasing the quantity and quality of the products and programs it offers to the various communities, be they Latino, African American or Asian. The challenge now is to focus on the advantages that each community has to offer, build on them and see how you can further reach out to each of them.
What do you wish to accomplish?
My primary goal is to address each community’s specific needs in order to build closer, increasingly successful and lasting relationships. AARP recognizes its solid membership base as a cultural mosaic. Through our publications, programs and products, we will be able to educate every community much more effectively.
Why were you drawn to the job of Executive Vice President of Multicultural Markets and Engagement?
I want to continue my role as a public servant at another level, contributing to emerging communities nationally, beyond the regional level in which I’ve always worked. AARP offers me a great opportunity to do that.
What do you think are the top problems facing seniors?
The number one problem is financial. We are experiencing the worst financial crisis in the last 45 years. We have seen our savings cut by half. Fifteen years ago, everyone said we should invest in 401(k) accounts only to see half of those investments lost.
Another problem is unemployment. Retirement at age 62 is not an option for many people. We want to be productive longer. That is why holding a job is more of a concern than it was two generations ago.
What values should AARP stress when serving a multicultural community?
AARP is involved in family issues and home-based care. These are important issues for the Latino, Asian and African American communities. AARP shares a commitment to community support and family values within the communities it serves. It has always done so, and now it’s a matter of doing it better.
What values would you like to bring into play based on your life experience?
I’ve lived my entire life according to three principles: First, to leave everything better than you found it. Second, to keep your word. My grandmother used to say, “You have two things: your word and your name, and you must honor both.” Third, to do everything with integrity, with a commitment to passion and excellence. Those principles make me a better person, and that is what I would like to bring to AARP.
What is the most important contribution AARP could offer the Hispanic community in terms of community services?
We should start documenting and demonstrating the volunteer efforts the Latino community currently carries out in private. We look at volunteering in a different way, and we have a “Latino approach” toward it. AARP should spotlight that approach, which has not yet been understood, as one of the unique ways we have of living out our sense of community.
Could you tell us a little more about Lorraine the woman — where she is in her life and where she’s going?
I consider myself very young at 59. I just accepted a new job in Washington, a city that’s foreign to me as a born and raised New Yorker, and in an organization that’s very different from the ones I’ve worked for before. You do that when you’re 29, not 59. The good thing is that now I know precisely who I am and what I can contribute. I have confidence in myself, and my eyes are wide open. And I have a great sense of humor — a lot of humor.