Anna Cano-Morales is “a Pioneer” for Latinx Women with Political Aspirations in Rhode Island | Rhode Island College
“Never be apologetic about being a woman or having an accent or your educational trajectory. Be proud of it.” -Anna Cano-Morales
By Jhon Cardona.
Anna Cano-Morales M.S.W. ’99, the associate vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Rhode Island College, is a well-recognized figure among the Latino community in Rhode Island, especially in her hometown of Central Falls, where her parents emigrated from Colombia at the tail end of the city’s once booming textile industry in the ‘60s.
Cano-Morales, a first-generation Colombian-American, marvels at her family’s trajectory and social mobility, something accomplished through the many years working for and with the community. And she says that it takes only one generation. “I am a living example of that,” she beams. “How does a daughter of immigrants, a first-generation student, come to ascend and have the access and opportunities that I have today? By sticking in an elbow, advocating for self and others, taking in knowledge and trying to navigate or change systems that are not created for you.”
Her resume is long and interesting. She is a former appointee to the Rhode Island Board of Education, served on the University of Rhode Island Foundation Executive Board of Directors, and the RI Latino Political Action Committee, as well as multiple statewide task forces and commissions.
Over the last decade she has worked as the Executive Director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University, the Rhode Island Foundation, and has served as Chairwoman of the Central Falls School Board of Trustees.
In addition to the accomplishments that appear on her CV, Cano-Morales has worked behind the scenes as a mentor, advisor, trainer and instructor for, the next generation, who seek to make positive changes in Rhode Island and beyond.
She believes that everybody has a role to play in making equity changes in this world, and her role, sometimes strategically, has been behind the scenes paving the way and supporting the next generations.
“For me, it’s a team effort. I listen a lot, observe and make connections for people. I am a social broker. I build bridges. I try to make myself available. It is called sponsorship,” she says. “This part of community building is so important because it takes it one step beyond mentoring. It is selfless love for your community. That is a huge part of me giving back the privilege that I have. If leadership and access is not shared, if we don’t work together but instead compete, we are missing the point of success.”
Cano-Morales recognizes the important mission and work that Rhode Island College does by supporting and offering opportunities to the community to include, immigrants, marginalized groups and first-generation students. “Twenty-five percent of RIC students are Latinx, they mirror the state and the region, we should all be paying attention to the demographics because the numbers don’t lie.”
As she guides people who want to serve their communities, all she expects in return is to see people succeed and grow. “The joy that I get when I see our community thriving and being part of the fabric of Rhode Island is amazing,” she notes.
Cano-Morales strongly believes in the work that women — especially — are doing, getting to positions that could help change the perspectives, practices and policies of a state that welcomes people of diverse populations. She easily rattles off names of women who are making a huge difference. One such name is Central Falls City Council President Jessica Vega ’10, who she had the honor of mentoring in a leadership seminar for the Institute for Nonprofit Practice, where Cano-Morales is an instructor.
Vega believes that Cano-Morales is one of the guiding lights for Latinxs with political aspirations in Rhode Island and for those who just need advice and support. “She is a pioneer, opening opportunities for other people in the community, who want to run for office,” she says. “Anna is a strong advocate in our community, and everyone knows who she is. People know how hard she works.”
Cano-Morales does not see her line of work as political, but instead ecosystemic. “I have an affinity towards systems, policies, practices, strategy and structures,” she explains, “and often times they intersect with politics, especially when we talk about diverse communities.”
Her advice to the new generation of aspiring leaders is to surround themselves with other individuals who can offer different perspectives, and to recognize their own privileges. “Stay connected to your identities and to your communities. Never be apologetic about being a woman or having an accent or your educational trajectory. Be proud of it. Those are badges of honor and strengths that make you unique. They make you who you are; those are signs of a good leader.” Lastly, she says, “Don’t let others define you, your worth or your potential.”