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Latinos Invited into Aviation, Air Show

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Latinos Invited into Aviation, Air Show

by Dan Kerbein

When you come to the Air Show, something in the sky is sure to amaze you. It could be the earth-rumbling thrust of a jet engine, maybe on an F-18 Hornet, cutting its way into the blue yonder.  Even silver-bullet jets from the1950s jets are built for speed - enough to be out of sight in less than a second, and leave you dazzled. 

Wings Over Wine Country AirshowThe Wings Over Wine Country Air Show has pleased crowds for years, and become as much a local tradition as the aroma of hot dogs wafting from its refreshment booths. This year, right along with those hot dogs, the zesty aroma of chilis, cilantro and fajitas will also tempt the appetites of show-goers. 

An open-air taquiza is just one new feature the Air Show is adding this year. You’re likely to enjoy mariachi music, and even wave at some beauty queens from the Miss Latina Wine Country pageant. 

The Pacific Coast Air Museum (PCAM) has made a commitment to bring a Latino segment to this year’s audience. After all, the Air Show has lots to offer: A festival atmosphere, family-friendly and educational displays and events, and exciting airborne feats. In looking for a bigger turnout, PCAM decided to seek a broader one, by reaching out to Sonoma County’s ever-growing Latino community.

PCAM obtained the volunteer services of long-time community advocate and bilingual radio personality Evelina Molina, who started things off by producing a Spanish language promotional flier, emphasizing family fun, food, education and entertainment, along with photos of breath taking aerobatics.

“The Air Museum is making a concerted effort,” Molina told the Gazette. “Often large and long-lived organizations think that all they need to do to catch the interest of Latinos is to print something in Spanish, and see who shows. It’s much more effective to get some ideas from someone who knows the community.”

Molina has brought in not only the taquiza, the Miss Latina pageant, and mariachis, but also a local bilingual Lions Club to provide free vision screenings, and a networking booth by the Latino Pilots Association. Perhaps the crowning glory of this new Latino-friendly tableau will be a visit by Gemi Jose Gonzalez Lopez the Mexican Consul, who will personally address the Air Show, and enjoy it with his family. 

Marcos Suarez, Program Manager for Sonoma County’s Economic Development Board, agrees that “adding a Latino inclusionary component” to an event is the best way to bring Latino participation, and goes on to give some reasons why it is a good idea and a good time to be doing it  - the contribution of the county’s Latinos has become as jet-powered as the Air Show. 

Suarez cites economic figures that crack the sky like an F-15: The county’s Latino population grew nearly 50% from 2000 to 2010, and by 2013 was over 26% of the total population of the county. That ever growing group now represents 33% of our labor force – including 85% of service industry workers - busy producing results and spending money. “Aggregate household income for the county’s Latinos is $2 billion,” Suarez reports, “accounting for  an estimated $307 million in disposable income or purchasing power.” This has spawned 5,024 Latino-owned businesses in Sonoma County, creating jobs.

In Sonoma County at least, the conversation has moved far from just inclusion, to an importance that the Latino population finds local events and businesses appealing to visit and patronize. PCAM has put itself behind not only attracting this new audience, but literally setting the standard for how to do it. 

Suarez gives a thumbs-up to the appearance of the Mexican consul at the show.  “Any time the Mexican Consulate is involved in an event, everyone wants to attend because the consulate has a track record of always either putting on great events or being part of great events,” he said.  

“I believe the Mexican Government plays an important role via the Consulate by providing a trusted entity for Mexican nationals in our community.  They provide assistance in terms of legal right protections, assistance for post-secondary education in the form of scholarship funds.  With regard to creating an alliance with the Mexican Government, I believe that it would help increase the market share of Latinos that would visit Wine Country.  Not only in terms of Mexican nationals visiting from Mexico, but also Latinos living in this country that are US citizens.”

On Saturday, Sept 24, the first day of the air show, the Consul will be greeted as a visiting dignitary by 4th District Supervisor James Gore and Airport Manager Jon Stout. They will take a helicopter to a local winery and a private wine tasting hosted by the Napa-Sonoma Mexican-American Vintners. There will be other meet-and-greets, at the Sonoma Jet Center and at the Air Show, where Mr. Gonzales-Lopez will speak to the crowd. 

Aside from enhanced Air Show attendance, the local aviation industry sees some bigger eventual benefits coming from its ongoing outreach. One near-term  goal of the airport is to open up direct flights between Mexico and Sonoma County. “I think our prospects for service to Mexico from Sonoma County are strong, especially in light of the new aviation agreement between the two countries,” says Airport Manager Jon Stout.

The agreement opens up new routes between the U.S. and Mexico, permits an unlimited number of passenger and cargo flights, and frees up airlines of either country to enter into cooperative agreements.  The most likely markets to Mexico, Stout says, would be Guadalajara and Mexico City.  

Stout regards the visit by the Mexican Consul to the airport as an important moment. “As this is international service, both governments need to approve new markets proposed by airlines. So, the more contacts we can cultivate and provide with our story, the more we can advance the potential for service.  We need as many people as we can get to work the issues on both sides of the border to present our business case and show that we are a strong market.”

There is a long-term objective to be met, as well - to present aviation to young Latinos as a very promising career choice. The aviation industry is facing a shortage of pilots and avionics technicians. Flying magazine reported last month that even the U.S. Air Force wants to give a 40% retention bonus just to keep from losing pilots to the private sector. Aviation mechanics possess an equally sought-after skill, with a shorter learning curve than piloting a jet.  

Here too, Stout offers some ideas at the local level, such as a coordinated speakers bureau, to go out to schools for career days and present aviation opportunities. At the national level, Stout is on the board of Southwest Chapter of Airport Executives, which offers a mix of scholarships, grants, and communications programs to colleges and students. He also indicated that at the state level, California Senator Mike McGuire (who held the 4th District Supervisor seat immediately before James Gore won the seat) has proposed bills that would fund efforts in aviation career development.  

After all is said and done, for many it comes back to air shows, where the fun of flight sparks the interest in flying. “An air show is a great venue for people to get the conversation started and get some information,”  says  Nick Sorkki, founding member and President of the Latino Pilots Association, which will have a table at the Air Show. “I remember  going to air shows since I was a kid. An air show is a great venue for people to get the conversation started and get some information. We see LPA as a vehicle to get out there and expose anybody to aviation, we’re a group of pilots who love to fly, we love to share our experiences with the future generations. It’s a way of saying ‘You’re invited in, too.’”