Latina to Latina

Political Power Player Cecilia Muñoz Reminds Us That We Are ‘More Than Ready’

Episode Notes

She jokingly calls herself “a professional Latina,” but the reality is that Cecilia Muñoz has spent decades advocating on our behalf—from providing immigration services in Chicago to leading the National Council of La Raza to advising President Obama at the White House. Along the way, she learned some hard lessons and gave herself permission to take risks, elbow her way in, and harness her own power. In her new memoir, More Than Ready, she shares the wisdom she has collected and encourages us to step up in big ways.

Follow Cecilia on Twitter @cecemunoz @WeAreUnidosUS and @NewAmerica. If you loved this episode, listen to host Alicia Menendez and Daniela Pierre Bravo for more on workplace advice. Show your love and become a Latina to Latina Patreon supporter!

Episode Transcription

Alicia Menendez:

We are coming up on a very special anniversary, our 100th episode, and so we want to hear from you. Send us a voice memo to telling us what the podcast has meant to you, when you’ve kept going, a time you’ve persevered. We want to hear it all.  

I first met Cecilia Muñoz more than a decade ago. At the time, she was known as a fearless advocate for immigrant rights. Cecilia went on to join the Obama White House, first as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, then as Director of the Domestic Policy Council. As the administration navigated immigration reform and ramped up enforcement efforts, Cecilia was called President Obama’s conscience on immigration, and simultaneously accused by activists of having turned her back on Latinos. Now, Cecilia is sharing these experiences and so much more in her new book, More Than Ready. 

Cecilia, you did it. You wrote the book. Congratulations! That’s the hardest part. 

Cecilia Muñoz: Thank you so much, and thanks for having me. 

Menendez: Are you excited?

Muñoz: I am. Little nervous, but yes. Excited. 

Menendez: The subtitle of More Than Ready is Be Strong and Be You … and Other Lessons for Women of Color on the Rise. Have you always been able to follow your own advice?

Muñoz: No, not at all. In fact, there’s several times in the books when I say, “You know, if I were talking to younger me now, here’s what I really wish she knew.” Because we have, lots of us have… I think of them as little voices that kind of sit on our shoulders and whisper in our ears. That we can’t. That we’re not enough. That we don’t really belong in the room that we’re in. And I have those voices, and they almost prevented me from writing the book. 

Menendez: Why?

Muñoz: Well, you know, so I… When I left government, I wasn’t thinking about writing a book, and a friend of mine, named Jen Palmieri, who wrote a beautiful book called Dear Madame President, I was congratulating her on her book, and telling her how excited I was because I really thought the women needed to get out there, and a lot of our male colleagues, people who I love, who are wonderful people, went out and wrote books, and started podcasts, and are doing great things, and I appreciate them, but their voice is a very broey voice, and their kind of understood to be speaking for all of us on Obama world, and their voice is not my voice. So, I was telling her all of these things by way of congratulating her for writing her book, and she said, “Aha, so, what’s the rest of the sentence? What are you gonna do about this?” And the little voice on my shoulder said, “No, no, no, no, no.” You know, “What do I have to say that anybody, that would be meaningful to anybody?” 

And I realized, well, this is what women do, particularly women of color, is we question whether we have something to say. And of course we have something to say. And when I thought about it, I thought well, actually I do a ton of public speaking, especially to young audiences, and invariably someone comes up afterwards, and invariably she’s a woman, and a woman of color who says something like, “Oh, thank God you said that thing, because I thought I was the only one.” So, once I gave myself permission to think that I had something to say, I knew exactly what I wanted to say, like I knew what all 10 chapters were gonna be. 

Menendez: Isn’t it funny how that works out? 

Muñoz: Yeah. 

Menendez: Cecilia, you write, “Those of us with immigrant heritage often carry echoes of the choices that led our families to leave their homes and strike out for a new place.” Where do those words echo in your own life right now?

Muñoz: Oh. So, my parents came from Bolivia. Kind of by accident they came, because my dad needed, had studied at the University of Michigan and went back to Bolivia needing one more credit. They confessed that later. They didn’t intend to come, and I grew up with their feeling of guilt, that things were hard in Bolivia. Things were hard for their family members. A lot of their family members came, actually, and I grew up with their feeling of remorse that they were so far away. And that influences how I relate to my parents, and my siblings, and my children, and it’s remarkable how this very strong feeling, which was their feeling, has been passed on to me. It’s a powerful thing. 

Menendez: You make several references in the book to therapy, but we’ll get back to that, because I can tell that is a person who has done some work to get to that point. 

Muñoz: Oh yes. 

Menendez: And Michigan, grew up around Detroit, not a lot of Latinos where you were growing up. 

Muñoz: No. 

Menendez: Then you go to University of Michigan. Not a lot of Latinos there. It’s really not until you go to grad school that you’re in an environment with lots of Latinos. 

Muñoz: Until I went to graduate school, most of the Latinos I knew, I was related to. Literally. Yeah, so then I get to California and suddenly there’s like street names in Spanish, and this whole huge community of Mexican Americans, and Mexicans, and Central Americans, and all kinds of other kinds of people, and with a history, a deep history. And I felt like part of it from day one, which was really interesting, I got interested in Chicano literature because it really resonated with me, and I was volunteering at a legal clinic that was providing services to immigrants, and one of my supervisors was this Chicano guy who… We used to have this long dialogue about how he thought I should consider myself a Chicana, because as far as he was concerned, I was. And I’m thinking, “I’m this Bolivian kid from Michigan. I’m not sure that I get to wear this mantle.” I felt very conscious of the fact that at some level, I’m kind of a professional Latina. I worked at the National Council of La Raza for 20 years. I’ve worked sort of in the movement my whole career. So, it’s part of my personal identity, but also my professional identity. 

I wanted to write a book that was really true to my own experience, but that my family would also recognize. And that people that I came up with through my work would also recognize, which is harder to do than you think. 

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Menendez: In More Than Ready, you offer some unusual advice. You say being open to discovering what you were meant to be accident can be a good thing. 

Muñoz: Yes. 

Menendez: Not exactly what everyone who has a kid graduating from college wants to hear, just accidents are okay. And yet, accidents happen. How did you stumble into advocacy? 

Muñoz: I was very sure that I was going into what I think of as direct service, like that was my thing. I was aiming towards it. I could picture myself in an office, like seeing clients of some sort and helping them with stuff. That’s where I volunteered, at the legal clinic when I was in graduate school. I found myself a job with the Archdiocese of Chicago right after graduate school. And I was just very sure that that was my path, and I ended up-

Menendez: Until literally God intervened. 

Muñoz: God actually kind of in a weird way intervened.

Menendez: Maybe. 

Muñoz: It’s a very strange story. So, I’m working as an organizer for… It’s called Parish Community Services in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and an immigration law passes, and because I have been working as a lowly volunteer in a legal clinic in graduate school, I knew a tiny bit about this law, and my boss’s boss was the guy responsible for building up the legalization operation to help undocumented people become legal residents. So, I was asking him questions, just because I was curious, about like how are you gonna do this, because there was a… The way that law worked, the application period started by law on May 5th. Congress decided to open it on Cinco de Mayo, for symbolic reasons. And so, they had to be ready to start on that date, whether the regulations were ready, whether the agency was ready. 

So, I had questions for him, and this poor man, he had the cardinal breathing down his neck saying, “We have to do this. Half of the Catholics in Chicago are Hispanic, and this is our moment to show our flock that we are with them.” So, he called me into his office and said, “The Lord sent me a dream, and I want you to lead this legalization effort.” I was 24. I was in my first job out of graduate school. 

Menendez: You do not have a legal background. 

Muñoz: No, no. I’ve been like a paralegal, way in the bowels of this little organization. 

Menendez: I’m very good at collating papers. 

Muñoz: Right? And I have no management experience at all, and I also don’t have mentors, so like an idiot, I take this job, because I cared about what was happening. I don’t believe the Lord spoke to Father Rubey. I think he was desperate. But I threw myself into it, and it was an amazing, challenging experience, and we crushed it. But I learned a lot about myself, a learned a lot about the Catholic church, some of which I wish I didn’t know, and I learned that I suck at direct service. I mean, my program did really well. There was a universe of people who qualified under the law, and a lot of people who didn’t qualify under the law, and the thing that I couldn’t do was let go of the people that we had to say no to, because they didn’t qualify. I lost sleep. I agonized. And I realized people who are good at this are able to live with the reality of what they can and can’t do, and they are able to dust themselves off and get up every morning and do it. And I wasn’t. 

So, this thing I thought I was supposed to be good at, that I believed in, I discovered I wasn’t good at it. I wasn’t cut out for it. I discovered also that I am meant to be at the top of the dam, plugging the holes. It turns out I’m an advocate and I’m a structural reformer, and I just didn’t know until I tried to do what I thought I was meant to do and failed. And I tell that story all the time, because I think it’s important for people to know it’s okay to try something and discover it’s not what you’re cut out for. That’s how you… One of the ways that you land where you’re supposed to land. 

Menendez: You have this realization. You also realize it requires you to move to Washington, D.C., to really do what you want to do. I love the fact that part of your resistance to moving to D.C. was just that you’re introverted and didn’t want to make new friends. 

Muñoz: Totally. 

Menendez: Could not be more sympathetic to that. 

Muñoz: Thank you. 

Menendez: But then you end up at NCLR for two decades.

Muñoz: Yeah. 

Menendez: When you first get there, the type of lobbying you were doing is very much defined by men. 

Muñoz: Totally. Yes. I was the only woman in the room all the time. 

Menendez: And so, how did you have to personally adapt to meet that moment? 

Muñoz: So, there’s a section of the book called Sharp Elbows and Other Tools, and it refers to the fact, I’m not actually a sharp elbows person. 

Menendez: You’re not. 

Muñoz: But there was literally a point at which the group of men that I was working with, that were sort of my coalition partners, we were at a congressional markup, where they literally markup a piece of legislation, and when it’s over, everybody stands up, and the guys stood in a circle. They formed a little huddle to compare notes, and do all the things you do afterwards, which are important, and I couldn’t get in the huddle. And I was frustrated, went back to my boss, and complained, and he, who is my height, said, “You just gotta just elbow your way in. It’s not personal.” He said, “They’re not… But you’re short. You’re a woman. You’re kind of new. So, elbow one of them and say, “Could you let me in here.” And it’ll be fine.” 

And I did. I had to do that the next time, and I only had to do it once. But that kind of stuff happened all the time. I was in a board meeting where I was 10 years younger than everybody. The only woman. The only Latina. And they’re making decisions about board officers, and the head of the organization pipes up and says, “Oh, secretary. Well, I guess Cecilia should do that job.” And my first thought was, “Oh, come on. Are you kidding me?” So, but what I remember about  those things from 30 years ago now is that I didn’t feel like I could. And now, I think, “Why did I feel like I couldn’t do that?” I thought the thought that somebody else said. 

If I were giving advice to my younger self now, it would be, “You can say it. Of course you can say it.” And to give yourself the confidence to recognize that. I didn’t have a voice in my head saying, “This is a group working on immigration and you are the only Hispanic person in this room. That gives you standing.” 

Menendez: You can either say, “I’m the only Latina and that gives me twice as much room to say what I need to say.” Or, “I’m the only one here, so I have no cover.” 

Muñoz: Yeah. 

Menendez: I think that’s what actually makes us nervous. 

Muñoz: Exactly, and over and over again, from that point all the way through my time at the White House, it’s not just the, “I might not have cover.” It’s also the, “And I don’t want to be the gadfly that is always pushing everybody so much that the next time I open my mouth they’re all gonna just roll their eyes and no listen.” That’s the other thing that I feel like my radar is always going for, because the whole point of being in those rooms is to be effective. And so, I also feel like I was aware of not overstating my case, so as not to get to the place where nobody hears you anymore, because they’ve tuned you out. 

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Menendez: When you look at AOC, or Jessica Cisneros, whose primarying a Democrat in Texas, it feels like we are in a moment where there are more Latinas saying, “I’m ready.” 

Muñoz: Yep. 

Menendez: “I deserve to be a part of this conversation, and I’m not going to apologize for attempting to take my seat at the table.” What do you make of that?

Muñoz: I have this combination of great pride and a little bit of fear for them, and a little bit of worry, especially in the case of AOC, that the spotlight is so shining on her, and she’s… I mean, I think she’s amazing, but I think it is hard to live your life in that spotlight, especially when you’re so young. So, I have this combination of super-duper proud of these women, and I feel like I know a little bit about what might be coming for them, and I have confidence in their ability to endure it, but there’s the… I guess the mom part of me feels like, “There’s gonna be some challenges ahead. Maybe some pain.” 

Menendez: Any envy?

Muñoz: No. No. Gratitude. 

Menendez: Can you imagine, though, if you would have… The point you’re at now, if you could have been at that point in your mid-twenties? Can you imagine if you knew that you were more than ready in your mid-twenties? 

Muñoz: Yes, and in some ways, that’s why I’ve written the book, is because I want all of us to know that, and to not have to go through a few decades of self doubt before they feel like they come into their own. That’s the whole reason I wrote the book. 

Menendez: 2008. President Obama’s elected. You’re offered a job on his senior team, and you hesitate. Why? 

Muñoz: I said no. I did more than hesitate, I turned it down. Really, couple reasons. One is my mom had recently died. She died in April of 2008, and my daughters were teenagers at the time. I have two wonderful daughters, and I was very focused on being the best mom I could be, and everybody I knew who had ever worked in the White House just had turned themselves over, body and soul, to their jobs, and I wasn’t ready to do that because of my girls. So, I turned the job down. 

Menendez: And your mom passing, it made it clear to you that time was precious? Where did that factor into the decision? 

Muñoz: Some of it was time was precious, but also my mom was more traditional mom than I am, in the sense that she worked outside the home, but it was the kind of work that was super flexible, so she could drive me to flute lessons and all of the things. So, I was already worried that I was not up to standard, even though my mother would never say that. But I wondered. So, I had that going on already, and then I lose my mother, who I was super close to, and I have this huge sense of loss, which I kind of pour into my girls. And the thing I most want them to know is that they’re the most important thing, and I worry that a White House job will take over. 

Menendez: Before you even took that job, they would call you Our Lady of the Conference Call? 

Muñoz: Yes. Yeah. That was… One of them said at one point in a moment of frustration, “Mom, if you were a saint, you would be Our Lady of the Conference Call.” Yeah. Although, they also… You know, they both, their voices are both in this book. They both wrote a little section, and they don’t understand what I was agonizing about. It’s so interesting to me, and I think it’s a sign of progress, they don’t understand the question. My older daughter found a book on the basement shelves called My Mother Worked and I Still Turned Out Okay, which was a Mother’s Day present when they were babies that my husband bought for me. And she thought it was a joke. She thought it was hilarious. 

And that’s when it sort of hit me. They don’t even… They don’t understand what I was agonizing about. 

Menendez: This is the part of the book that I was sitting at home, at my kitchen table, pumping and crying about. If you could start for me at, “I have since come to terms.” 

Muñoz: Yeah. I have since come to terms with the fact that my house will never be as beautiful as my mother’s, nor will my garden, or the meals that I make. It took years, and to be honest, some therapy, to recognize that my daydreams of all the things I would accomplish were out of sync with reality. I chuckle now to think that we bought a house with a substantial yard because I had visions of myself being a gardener like my mother. My friends threw a wedding shower for me that was focused on gardening tools, some of which I hardly ever used. 

After nearly thirty years, I take great pleasure in looking out at our yard, which has been a disaster for most of our time in our house, and has only recently been tamed with the help of a garden service. I raised two girls with a wonderful partner, and have been doing my part to make my country a more equitable and just place. I have learned to think of myself as a gardener of things other than plant life. 

Menendez: I still am beating myself up over all of those things. 

Muñoz: Of course you are. Please stop. 

Menendez: No, I want a beautiful house, and I want kids who have their hair done in the morning. 

Muñoz: So, I so relate to that. First of all, I’ve seen you with at least your eldest, and I know what an awesome mother you are, and what you contribute to the world, it turns out, will matter to them. This is the thing. This is another reason I wrote the book, is my girls are old enough, I got to ask them, like, “How did that go? Because I really struggled.” And what they said was, “What? What are you talking about? Here’s what it looks like to us. You were doing good in the world, and then most days, we would have supper together and talk about it, and we knew we were the most important thing, because you told us all the time, and you lived it. So, we’re kind of proud of you being out in the world.” And it also formed their sense that they should be out in the world, too. 

So, I get it, and it’s really hard, because you feel like you’re doing everything half way, and you don’t feel like you’re enough, but you are, and what you are showing them, including showing them the struggle, is really important. Because some day, they will have children whose hair might be a little messy, and it’ll be okay. 

Menendez: If she would just let me brush it, it would be so much easier. Okay. You’re offered this job. You decline it. So, they just send in the big gun and they have President Obama call you directly. 

Muñoz: He did. My cell phone rang. This was just absolutely insane. And my cell phone rings, and it’s a 312 number, which means Chicago, and I think, “Uh oh.” I pull over and it’s Rahm Emanuel, the incoming Chief of Staff saying, “We’re gonna try to make it a family friendly White House, and I’m gonna make sure you’re in every immigration meeting.” And then he says, “Can you hold on for a minute?” And the next words I hear are, “This is Barack Obama.” 

And I remember everything he said. I don’t remember a thing that I responded, but he was completely over the top. He actually said, “Hillary couldn’t say no to me and neither can you.” Which is insane. And then he said, “Look, I know you’re worried about your family. I understand that. I’m worried about mine, too. But I want you to help me change the country, and I will call your husband, I’ll call your husband, I will come to your house. I will make this embarrassing for you. I’m not taking no for an answer.” And he actually said all of those things, and I called my husband, and my husband… I don’t know if you’ve met him. He’s a wonderful man. He’s also the guy who when the stampede is all going north, he’s the one who turns around and faces south and says, “Wait a minute, why are we stampeding? Let’s make sure we understand this and maybe we should be going the other way.” He’s that guy. 

So, he was not on the Obama bandwagon in that way, and I called him and said, “You’ll never believe who just called me.” And he burst into tears, and he said, “You’re not being offered a job. You’re being called.” And that’s kind of when I knew I had to do it. We had a family meeting, and I tried to convey to the children that this means you’re gonna be taking the bus more, and I won’t be driving the carpool, and you’re gonna need to be way more self reliant. And you know, how could they really comprehend what that was gonna mean? 

Menendez: Of course. 

Muñoz: But it was important that we made the decision as a family. 

Menendez: Walking into the White House, what did you think the opportunity was for immigration reform? 

Muñoz: We thought we were gonna pass a bill. That’s why he asked me to come. He made it very clear. We thought we had an opportunity to pass a major immigration reform bill that would legalize people, that would update the legal immigration system. It was gonna be hard to do it in the first two years, because of the economic downturn, but we were sure that we were gonna get to it, and we did get to it, but we passed a bill in 2013. We nearly passed the DREAM Act in 2010. We fell short five votes, and at the time, there were 11 Republicans in the senate who had voted for it previously. Some of them had been the original sponsors of the DREAM Act. We didn’t need all of them, but we only got three, and we lost by five votes, which was… pains me to this day, because think of how different the world would be if the DREAM Act had passed in 2010. 

Menendez: I recently spoke with Cristina Jimenez, who like you, is a MacArthur genius. Lots of MacArthur geniuses on this podcast. Head of United We Dream. And she talked about meeting with President Obama after the signing of DACA, and how he encouraged her to organize to bring Republicans to the table while he focused on looking tough on enforcement, and she told me, “I will never forget that moment, because his administration ends with no immigration reform, and so it was a miscalculation also from his part, and the part of the Democratic Party, who believed that that could be a winning strategy.” 

In retrospect, does it feel like a miscalculation? 

Muñoz: No. It doesn’t. And I worry about immigration advocacy right now for this reason. At the end of the day, in order to get the majority of the country on your side, and certainly the majority of the Congress on your side, you need to be able to convince people that whatever the new regime is, that it’s gonna be orderly, it’s gonna be fair, and it’s gonna have rules, and that people are gonna follow the rules. That’s the formula for an immigration system that works, and that is the path out of this Trump wilderness that we live in, and so that means you have to… We have to be able to talk about who comes in and who doesn’t come in. 

Unless we’re prepared to advocate open borders, which I don’t think we should do, which is not where the country is, and I think it’s probably not the right policy for the country, then we have to be willing to talk about where we will draw the lines, and how we will enforce it. And so, the right policy question, the policy question that President Obama worked so hard at, was not whether to enforce the law. That’s the wrong question. It was how to enforce the law. And that’s a really uncomfortable question for us in our community, for obvious reasons, because we are abused by Border Enforcement and Interior Enforcement. It’s a terrible history and an abusive one, and one that we rightly hate. 

But the conversation we need to be willing to have is how are we prepared to do this job in a way that’s consistent with our values, and what should the law look like? And that conversation, we can win. And right now, given how the absolutely horrible things that this current administration is doing to human beings, we have to win. We will not be helping anyone if we don’t devise a strategy that can convince the public that we can do a responsible job here, and the stakes just couldn’t be higher, and people’s lives are quite literally at stake. 

Menendez: Do you wish you would have done anything differently? 

Muñoz: Yeah, sure. Of course. I think it took us too long to understand that the 2014 crisis of unaccompanied kids was not… was really a refugee crisis in the region. So, I wish we’d gotten on that part sooner. We ultimately did engage in Central America, but it took us a while, because we were so busy trying to find shelters for those kids. So, I wish we’d done that sooner, and I think it took us way too long to get enforcement policy right. We did finally. The enforcement priorities of 2014 I’m really quite proud of. But it took us till 2014. It took us much too long. 

Menendez: You have a section of the book subtitled When People Assume You’re Only There for a Little Color. 

Muñoz: Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

Menendez: When has that assumption been made about you? 

Muñoz: Oh, probably most of my career, I think. So, there are definitely people who think that that’s why I’m a MacArthur fellow. I’ve heard people say that. 

Menendez: Genius. The word is genius. 

Muñoz: I heard people say that. One of the stories I recount in the book is that one of the chiefs of staff that I served under told a couple people who wrote book about the first term of the Obama Administration that he gave them the impression that I was an affirmative action hire for the domestic policy job. Which cost me a couple years of self doubt, and I did really spend a fair amount of energy wondering whether the people I was sitting at the table with, whether that’s what they thought. But I took comfort from what Sonia Sotomayor says in her book, her wonderful book. She talks about getting to Princeton through affirmative action, and she describes it as getting to the starting line of a race, and so there you are at the starting line, but you still have to run it. 

And so, I talked to seven other women as I was preparing this book, and they all said the same thing. It happened to them all the time, too, and they all said their own equivalent of, “So, you’re there at the table, so you gotta do the job. You have to rise to the occasion. You have to run the race.” And there are people who will assume that about you, but it matters less if you know that you were crushing it, and so that’s your job. 

When I ask other women in my life, other people in my life who are people of color, it’s a pretty common experience, and it can mess with your head. It certainly messed with mine. So, I thought it was worth writing down some strategies for, “All right, you have self doubt, and you also have the doubts of people around you, and here’s some strategies for confronting that and besting it.” 

Menendez: What do you think is the most effective strategy? 

Muñoz: This is why the book is called More Than Ready, right? It’s about the fact that the world is more than ready for what we bring to it, but also, everybody I talk to that has these moments of self doubt says they deal with it by overpreparing. Right? By making sure that when they walk into the room, that they know their stuff. We’re more than ready because we work at it, and we overcome our own doubts and other people’s doubts by working harder, being good at it. 

Menendez: The one thing I thought was missing from the book, and perhaps it’s because it doesn’t exist, is the aha moment. Because it seems you’re still grappling with some of these things, even as you are encouraging me and other Latinas to go for it. There’s still a part of you that has some of that inside voice, some of that self doubt. 

Muñoz: Totally. 

Menendez: Was there a moment that crystallized this for you? 

Muñoz: Yes, and it is the moment when my elder daughter, Tina, and I were talking about the 2016 election, and I said to her, “You know, it’s not like I haven’t been around the block, and I don’t know from sexism, but even still, I am stunned by the misogyny that I’m seeing.” And she said, “Mom, I’m not stunned.” She said, “The difference between me and you is that you’ve been at it for so long that you’re used to it.” And I thought, “Oh. She’s right. I’ve come to accept a certain amount of self doubt, a certain amount of misogyny, a certain amount of racism.” Because it’s just my reality. 

And she’s younger, and she can see it in a way that is fresher, and more vivid, and it gives her a better capacity to fight against it and to call bullshit on it. So, that was my aha moment. 

Menendez: Part of what I think is interesting is that rather than embrace the portrayal of strength that we’ve been told is the only version of strength that can exist, you make an argument at the end of the book for kindness.

Muñoz: Yeah. 

Menendez: And for empathy as a skillset. What does it look like for someone who wants to be perceived as a strong leader, but also wants to embrace that kindness and that empathy? 

Muñoz: Well, this is what your book is about, right? The Likeability Trap? 

Menendez: I was just begging you to plug it for me. 

Muñoz: No, it’s… I’m so intrigued by the interplay between my wrestling with these issues and your wrestling with these issues in your book, because what you say is all true, that we are stuck in this if we’re likeable, then by definition they think we’re not strong, or we’re not smart, or we’re not tough enough. And the case I’m trying to make is yes, that people will think that. They happen to be wrong, by the way. Being likeable, or being kind, is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s a sign of strength. And part of the reason that I was a good Domestic Policy Director is because I have empathy. I can read a room. I understand what everybody in the room needs in order to get to a decision, and I know how to maneuver so that everybody supports that decision, even if they weren’t on the winning side of the argument. Those turned out to be essential skills, and they are not policy skills. They are empathy skills. And it’s a skillset. We just don’t honor it. 

We don’t name it, we don’t honor it, we don’t see it as a sign of strength. But I think it is. 

Menendez: This book is full of lessons. If there is one lesson that you want a Latina listening to take away from More Than Ready, what is it?

Muñoz: You know so much already just by virtue of who you are, and the people that you interact with, whether it’s at work, or at school, or wherever it is, they may not know that they need what you bring, but they do. And if you walk in with that understanding and confidence, you can change the world. 

Menendez: Cecilia, thank you so much. 

Muñoz: Thank you. 

Menendez: Our Lady of the Conference Call. 

Menendez: Thank you as always for joining us. Latina to Latina is executive produced and owned by Juleyka Lantigua-Williams and me, Alicia Menendez. Cedric Wilson is our sound designer. Emma Forbes is our assistant producer. Manuela Bedoya is our intern. We love hearing from you. Email us at, and remember to subscribe or follow us on RadioPublic, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, wherever you’re listening, and please, please leave a review. It is one of the quickest ways to help us grow as a community.  


Menendez, Alicia, host. “Political Power Player Cecilia Muñoz Reminds Us That We Are ‘More Than Ready’” Latina to Latina, Lantigua Williams & Co., April 6, 2020.