As we present this year's 100 Most Influential, we are again reminded of the heights Hispanics have scaled as political and business leaders, beacons of education, world-class athletes, creative entertainers, administrators, and entrepreneurs. It hasn't always been easy, but these are the leaders who, through the force of their personality and their actions, have shown us that it can be done.
Our list of Influentials encompasses all parts of the nation, with many of our movers and shakers located in New York, Florida, and Texas. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that California, and Los Angeles in particular, has emerged as the center of U.S. Hispanic economic and political clout.
Our research efforts focused on the Golden State this year. More than half of our choices came from California, with 40 influential Hispanics chosen from Los Angeles alone.
According to the Census Bureau, California is home to 13 million of the 44 million Hispanics in the U.S., while LA County, with 4.7 million, has the largest Hispanic population of any county in the nation.
Hipantelligence, the research arm of Hispanic Business Inc., estimates current Hispanic spending power at $869 billion and likely to top $1 trillion in 2010, while California will account for more than one-fourth of it.
LA's Growing Political Clout
Above all, this year's list illustrates what a political powerhouse the LA area has become for Hispanics. The City and LA County are home to Congressman Xavier Becerra, Congresswoman Hilda Solis, State Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, State Senators Gilbert Cedillo, Jenny Oropeza, and Alex Padilla, and Assembly Member Kevin de Leon, among others.
The City itself is home to a virtual "who's who" of influential Hispanics, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, and Los Angeles City Council Member Ed Reyes.
Hispanics National Insiders Wielding Influence
Meanwhile, on the national stage, the political clout of Hispanics is underscored by the appointment of Barack Obama's key strategist Federico Pena to the post of co-chair of Sen. Obama's campaign.
As the country moves toward November's presidential election, Mr. Pena, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation and Secretary of Energy, is leading Obama's nationwide Hispanic outreach, trying to woo the many Latino voters who supported Hillary Clinton in the primaries.
Tonio Burgos, chairman and CEO of Tonio Burgos & Associates, a New York-based firm specializing in strategic planning, lobbying, and public affairs, is encouraged by the progress he's seen Hispanics make.
Looking ahead to the election, he believes the Hispanic vote will prove decisive in a number of states. "There's no doubt -- Hispanics are now a significant voting bloc in this country."
Supervisor Molina, whose resume includes time spent as a state legislator and member of the LA City Council, is also heartened by the overall advancement of Hispanics who, she said, are "taking advantage of the opportunities available to them."
She's impressed by a "whole community of younger professionals," including lawyers and doctors, coming through universities, and says Hispanics are also playing a major role in this country's small business sector.
Hispanics tend to be very entrepreneurial and have a tremendous interest in developing and owning their own businesses, Ms. Molina said. "They're buying into the American dream."
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