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The face of the future is Latina

When Christy Haubegger first dreamed of creating a magazine for Hispanic women, she wasn't strictly capitalizing on the increasing influence of Hispanic women. But her timing was perfect.

On a recent cover of Latina magazine, movie actor Salma Hayek wears scuffed leather bandoleers loaded with cartridges, carries a bugle and hoists an unfurled Mexican flag. She is portraying an adelita, a woman who took up arms to defend land and family during the Mexican revolution, the magazine explains.

Hayek's macho leather straps criss-cross a low-cut, lace bodice and midnight-blue silk gown, however. Her parted lips are painted, the magazine reveals inside, in a tint akin to Revlon MoistureStay Lipcolor in fawn.

This is Latina: A beautiful brown-skinned woman who exudes sexiness and today can storm, not the mission, but the corporate ladder.

The glossy, three-year-old magazine successfully shares rack space with Cosmopolitan and Mademoiselle and Essence. Latina is not about niche marketing but the face of the future, says president and publisher Christy Haubegger.

The Latino population in the United States is growing at a rate seven times that of the general population, and Latinos will be the largest minority group before the year 2010.

"There was incontrovertible evidence that there was a need" for a magazine like Latina, says Haubegger. "I was very fortunate that I had a dream that coincided with the biggest demographic shift in this country's history."

Haubegger was in Tampa last week to speak at the Women in Business Awards Luncheon, which filled a hotel ballroom with a sea of more than 600 black, red, teal and fuchsia business suits worn by entrepreneurs who, like Haubegger, are accustomed to wearing figurative bandoleers over their camisoles to get ahead.

The 30-year-old wore a quiet beige suit, but with spike-heeled sandals, and pulled the podium microphone down to her 5-foot height to talk of her own quest to publish a magazine.

Haubegger graduated from Stanford University law school and intended to wear "a charcoal suit and be a lawyer and make my parents proud." Instead, an assignment in a marketing class sparked an exhaustively thorough business plan for a Spanish-English magazine for women. She freelanced as a lawyer and looked for investors for her proposed publication.

She knocked on 197 doors.

"(But) I sucked out all the information I could" from each rejection, she says. "I was the most informed failure there is. Networking, for me, is shamelessly telling anyone what you want to do."

A voracious reader of teen magazines as a girl, Haubegger says she thought they would give her answers. "I couldn't figure out why these magazines made me feel left out. I didn't realize that they made everyone feel left out."

She felt invisible.

"I wanted Hispanic women to picture themselves in a different way."

Haubegger envisioned a magazine to tell Latino women they were strong and stunning, to inspire them with business success stories, and to tip them to the perfect shade of bronze blusher.

A Latina woman is 48-year-old Debra Amesqua of Wisconsin, the first Latina fire chief in the nation. She is a slightly overweight Los Angeles teenager, Griselda, who has the fashion edge of an urban vaquera. She is sultry Salma Hayek, playing with the big boys in the film Wild Wild West.

She is a woman dealing with single parenthood, or trying to raise a bilingual child, or stealing time to earn credits toward a college degree.

"If we could talk about all of that _ and low-fat enchiladas and Ricky Martin _ then we've got a magazine," Haubegger says.

Latina's investment "angel" proved to be Edward Lewis, founder and owner of Essence, the leading magazine for women of color. In a joint venture between Essence Communications Inc. and Haubegger's own company, Alegre Enterprises Inc., Latina made its debut in June 1996. Today it circulates monthly to 205,000 and can be found at Winn-Dixie grocery stores, Barnes & Noble and Borders Books & Music.

For a newsstand price of $2.50, Latina recently offered five things readers can do to make Latina lives better (pool your money and make loans to each other in emergencies); a report on the growth of Latina sororities nationwide; a recipe for Pisco Sours, made with a grape liqueur from South America and poured into a sugar-rimmed martini glass; and a beauty myth busted (piercings in navels will not immediately close if one fails to wear studs).

Most of the articles are written in English, followed by a shortened text in Spanish. Sprinkled throughout are streetwise hybrid words, or Spanglish.

But while readers may first flip to El Papi Chulo, or "Our Finest Man" _ August's hunk is Julio Iglesias Jr. _ the survival of Latina rides on Haubegger's unflinching pitch to advertisers.

"What surprises me," she says, "is the notion (by businesses) that these may not be your customers. How can you say you're not doing Hispanic marketing if you're selling your product in Miami, where it's 60 percent Hispanic?"

There are 30-million Hispanics in the United States, she says. Latina magazine readers average almost $30,000 in annual income, the magazine reports.

"I, myself, have four different products on my hair today," Haubegger tells the group in Tampa, as proof of the lucrative market waiting to be tapped.

Another major challenge came in building a company of women, she says, though she concedes someone in her 20s does not have much experience in managing either gender. Latina today employs a staff of 45, 40 of whom are women.

"Things that work better for us are, if I win, the whole team wins. My sales team doesn't want to beat each other," she says. "Women want more from their jobs, more than a paycheck: We want to believe we're building something meaningful."

To bring her dream to life, Haubegger invested years straddling creative and pragmatic interests and the cultural worlds of Anglos and Latinos. She was prepared, she says, by her personal history.

She was a "chubby Mexican-American baby adopted by parents who were tall, thin and blond." A native of Houston, she now lives in New York and jokes she is "the oldest single, childless Hispanic in the country."

Her baby, she says, is on the newsstands.

"Imagine the thrill of seeing Jennifer Lopez on a magazine next to Kate Moss," Haubegger says.

"A lot of what shapes us, the media, is not valid. We get to tell women every month that you are beautiful, capable and not alone."

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