By Julian Canete, Peter Guzman, Cindy Ramos-Davidson, Carlos Gomez & Michel Zajur
As we watch the leadership crises of two historically significant, national Hispanic interest groups, we are reminded of something that was said by Hispanic comedian George Lopez: “When things are bad, it’s the best time to reinvent yourself.” These are important words for the Hispanic community to remember right now. We are living through a time that could deeply impact the position and role of our community; this is a good time to think again about how we are represented at a national level.
Both the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) have long served as gathering places for Hispanic Americans, offering national representation for our community as individuals and as business owners. Unfortunately, neither organization has strong footing at this moment. The board at USHCC has dismissed its president and CEO amid a sensational scandal involving accusations of financial and personal impropriety. Meanwhile, LULAC’s president is facing calls for his resignation after he applauded President Donald Trump’s plans for immigration reform.
In both cases, it strikes us that the role of the individual became greater than the role of the group — this is the beginning of the end of any effective leadership, and it pains us to see it happening in the Latino community in such a public way. Like any national leader, the men and women who preside over Hispanic organizations must put themselves and their personal views last while they faithfully represent their membership. The day an organization president or CEO believes that he or she is the organization is the day the organization begins to crumble.
Much like America herself, national advocacy groups (Hispanic or otherwise) do better when their power comes from — and remains with — the state and local level. As the heads of state and local Hispanic chambers of commerce, we are looking for national representation that recognizes that our organizations are in the best position to serve Hispanic business owners because we know them, and work with them, personally every day. Our groups will happily partner with organizations that can represent us in Washington, D.C., but our independence is important.
In the coming days, more than a dozen other heads of local and state Hispanic chambers in co-hosting a meeting of The Latino Coalition (TLC) — another national group that represents Hispanic entrepreneurs and consumers in the corridors of power in Washington, D.C. TLC’s focus is on business and economics, and on the public policies that provide the best opportunities for Hispanic Americans, particularly those who are starting or running their own businesses.
Those of us who are partnering with TLC are responding to their mantra of “leadership, integrity, community and partnership.” Our experience with TLC has been one where we are treated as equals. We have never been treated as “little” chambers, but instead as leaders ourselves. There is recognition that state and local Hispanic chambers are an important and lasting tradition that should be leveraged for the good of our community, not exploited for the benefit one or two high-profile officials.
TLC’s approach is certainly influenced by its leader — Hector Barreto, Jr. — who is the son of a well-remembered, well-loved leader in our community. Hector Barreto, Sr., was one of the original founders of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He was the visionary who, some forty years ago, first conceived of a national gathering place for state and local Hispanic chambers.
At a time when we have an opportunity to reinvent our national profile, Hispanic Americans should look for the leaders and groups who, like Barreto’s original Chamber, put us ahead of their own self-interest. That is where we will find a national gathering place and the voice we need during these consequential times.
Julian Canete is the president and CEO of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce; Peter Guzman is the president and CEO of the Latin Chamber of Commerce — Las Vegas, Nevada; Cindy Ramos-Davidson is the president and CEO of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Carlos Gomez is the president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce — Greater Kansas City; Michel Zajur is the president and CEO of the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.