Today, Lionel Sosa is the founder of a $130-million advertising agency and a long-time Republican operative, who created campaigns for Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. His success—and appreciation for the American political system—is a direct result of his status as a first-generation American.
My parents became citizens when I was 13, and they were so proud that they could finally cast their vote.
Sosa was born in San Antonio, Texas to immigrant parents who came to the United States to escape the Mexican Revolution. “My parents became citizens when I was 13, and they were so proud that they could finally cast their vote,” he says. “They got involved in local elections and volunteered for candidates.” It’s fitting, then, that Sosa would eventually become a key player in communications between the Latino community and some of the most powerful politicians in America.
After graduating from high school in 1957, Sosa dreamed of working for Walt Disney. “I thought I was so good that if I could get in to Disney Studios, I would immediately be given an office right next to Walt,” he says. Though this didn’t pan out, he built a wildly successful career in advertising and ultimately launched Sosa & Associates, the largest Hispanic advertising agency in the country. When he was asked to work on the 1978 reelection campaign for Senator John Tower, Sosa became the go-to creative for the Republican Party. “John Tower understood that Latinos are a huge asset to this country and that immigration is healthy to maintain the economy,” he says. “And he wanted me to help convey that to the Hispanic community.”
Sosa went on to work on presidential campaigns for Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush. “Ronald Reagan told me that Hispanics are Republicans, they just don’t know it,” Sosa says. “They share conservative values; they’re hard-working; they care about their family, and believe in God and opportunity. The elder Bush also understood the Latino history and culture, partly because his son, Jeb, married Columba, who was born in Mexico. And George W. loves the Latino culture and promoted Latino pride, including the fact that Latinos serve in the military at a higher rate than any other ethnic group, so it was easy communicating their message to all Latinos.”
Today, however, Sosa is confused about the election. “Trump is not the type of Republican I respect,” he says. “He hurt his chances of winning the Latino vote with his anti-Mexican rhetoric.” When the Trump campaign approached Sosa for an ad campaign proposal, he sent back a proposal that began with the candidate “apologizing to Latinos.” The campaign did not accept his plan.
But his reasons are more than just personal. Sosa knows that the U.S. economy depends on immigrants, and he wants to see reform that allows law-abiding immigrants to work and live here without fear of deportation. “If we have 11 million people shipped out, we’d be in deep trouble economically,” he says. “The well-being of this country and economy depends on the work of not only Latinos, but virtually of every immigrant.”