Willie Velasquez would be proud of a Midwest leadership network growing its national prominence.
Consider it's the year 2025. What will be in store for the United States? Alternative fuel automobiles gracing the highways? New electronic devices that make work easier and leisure time more relaxing? At least 50,000 Hispanics elected to political office nationwide?
The latter is the forecast of the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute (USHLI) and it is confident it can make that come true. So far, the number of Hispanic elected officials stands at about 7,000, according to one of its founding members and president, Juan Andrade, and he's optimistic the number will grow. After all, Mr. Andrade has observed a positive transformation, one could say an awakening, in the Hispanic population that has served as the catalyst for USHLI. He and the three other founding members -- Rey Gonzalez, Hank Lacayo and the late Willie Velasquez have led a quiet empowerment of locally based Hispanics focused on voter registration and leadership development.
USHLI is a tax-exempt organization that does not endorse candidates in any type of election. One of its core goals is to target research on Hispanic political opportunities related to census counts. Other goals include becoming involved with redistricting, and "to ensure that Latinos can fairly and effectively elect candidates of their choice, conduct candidate training and campaign management schools, register voters and organize nonpartisan get-out-to-vote activities," according to Mr. Andrade.
"(Mr. Andrade) is not only one of the premiere political operatives in the Hispanic community in voter registration, but also one of the top scholars and motivators of Hispanic youth," said former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who was fresh from a trip to North Korea that ended his term. "He is probably responsible for raising the sensitivity of the Latino community in the Midwest more than any other human being. He perfected the techniques that are used to successfully lure Latinos to the polls."
The organization serves as a mobile training program for current and future Hispanic leaders by offering a series of leadership development programs, which includes civic education; college fairs for high school students; and training on how to formulate, implement and influence public policy. And they do all of this with a small staff of about seven to 10 professionals, plus 10 year-round paid interns with an annual budget of about $1.5 million.
Registering and Voting
Registering Hispanics to vote is an important part of the USHLI goals. Since its inception, it has registered more than 2 million Hispanics, according to U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.
"That means greater empowerment. It means elected office holders more and more coming from our community, or people who are more responsive to our community because they understand that we not only have a voice, but a vote," Sen. Menendez continued. "It's important to instill in the next generation of Latinos a sense of a commitment and engagement. It doesn't mean that everyone is going to run for public office."
The importance of the Hispanic community on the political front was underscored by Mr. Gonzalez, current chairman of USHLI: "We're the fastest growing (community) of the country and by 2040, projections are about one in three Americans will be Hispanic. We cannot afford to have Latinos not participating in the electoral process."
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