Gathered around a square table in Mexico City, a group of U.S. Dreamers and Mexican senators spoke candidly, sharing their hopes for a better future. A meeting between the two groups might seem unusual, if not for the woman who brought them together.
For over a decade, Rebeca Vargas, president and CEO of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation (USMF), has worked tirelessly to bring Mexican communities on both sides of the border closer together. One of her latest ventures — USMF’s Dreamers Without Borders program — has brought 180 Dreamers to Mexico since their first trip in March 2015. During the mentorship program, the Dreamers meet with lawmakers, tour Mexican multinational companies, and build cross-border friendships with Mexican university students. The aim, Vargas explained, is to “put a space for Mexico in the hearts and minds of Mexican-Americans and recent immigrants.” This type of strong binational, bilingual and professional focus — found throughout USMF’s educational programs — is also representative of Vargas’ own cross-border history.
Vargas, now 45, began her career at BBVA (now BBVA Bancomer) in Mexico City, and after graduating with an MBA from Tulane University in 2000, she joined Citibank in New York. Two years later, she was the only woman — and the youngest member — on the executive team that managed the integration of Mexico’s second-largest bank.
“At that point, I raised my hand,” Vargas recounted, describing the email that she wrote to the then-CEO of Global Consumer Banks about the need to engage the United States’ rapidly growing Latino market. It was a chance to “do good for my community and the right thing for the company.”
The email would change her career, and for the next 12 years — first at Citibank and then at JP Morgan Chase — Vargas led the marketing, product development and outreach efforts in the Latino market, helping families send remittances without fees and assisting customers with opening their first U.S. bank accounts, credit cards and mortgages.
Now at USMF, Vargas says she is pursuing the same goals she did in banking: connecting and strengthening Mexican and Mexican-American communities on both sides of the border. “The United States and Mexico share a border, share a destiny, and share a future,” she said. “We should embrace that.”
Vargas isn’t just embracing this shared future; she’s helping to build it, whether through innovative cross-border financial products, targeted student exchanges, or unlikely meetings between Dreamers and Mexican senators.
Leutert is the Mexico Security Initiative fellow at the University of Texas at Austin.