The low hum of discontent finally became audible on the last day of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) Annual Convention, held in Los Angeles October 16–19, 2002. After listening to a litany of complaints and comments during a general membership session, incoming USHCC Chairman J.R. Gonzales concluded, "We hear you, and we have to fix the system."
Earlier in the day, a group of disgruntled chambers staged a public protest on the steps of the Los Angeles Convention Center to oppose the election of USHCC board members. Dissenting chambers included such heavyweights as the Latin Business Association (LBA), the ostensible host of the USHCC convention; the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC); the Florida State Hispanic Chamber; and the Albuquerque (New Mexico) Hispano Chamber. Although each chamber had its own story, they expressed similar themes: exclusion of board candidates or member chambers from the election process, confusion over the rules, suspicions that exclusions were politically motivated, and lack of communication from USHCC leadership.
Dissent erupted on the first day of the convention, when the LBA addressed the USHCC board about the exclusion of David Lizárraga as a candidate for a board seat. The USHCC had ruled that the LBA was not a member in good standing and therefore couldn't sponsor Mr. Lizárraga for the election. After reviewing the case – including such minutiae as the dates of canceled checks and certified letters – the USHCC board reaffirmed Mr. Lizárraga's ineligibility.
Thereafter, a dissenting coalition came together almost spontaneously. By the final day of the convention, it had 60 chambers, an attorney, and a press release enumerating its complaints (to see the release, go to HispanicBusiness.com/go/ushcc">www.HispanicBusiness.com/go/ushcc). At press time, 130 chambers had joined the coalition.
In response, the USHCC issued a statement (see HispanicBusiness.com/go/ushcc">www.HispanicBusiness.com/go/ushcc) detailing its election procedures for 200 Hispanic chambers across the country, of which 133 qualified as members. Later in the day, a new board took office and Mr. Gonzales formally assumed chairmanship of the organization.
In the aftermath of the convention, the dissenting chambers adopted the name Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce for Fairness and Inclusion. Also, the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (FSHCC) gathered the reform-minded state chambers to participate in its Annual Conference and Procurement Expo. At the event, the coalition signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, the U.S. Hispanic Business Roundtable, and five state Hispanic chambers. The agreement outlines plans for 16 to 18 regional small-business events around the country focusing on procurement and capital access issues.
Hispanic Business interviewed both Mr. Gonzales of the USHCC and Mr. Lizárraga of the coalition; edited versions of their comments are presented here.
THE NEW CHAIRMAN
J.R. Gonzales assumes leadership of the USHCC in the midst of an organizational crisis, the depth of which he may not recognize.
Like most nonprofits, the USHCC has an established routine for leadership succession: the vice-chairman moves up to the top spot when the chairman retires. This year, the organization nearly broke form, but in the end former vice-chairman J.R. Gonzales of Texas won a three-way election to become the new chairman.