At the time, there had only been three Hispanic senators in the history of the nation – all from New Mexico. Although the Hispanic community has a sizable presence in Colorado – the demographic accounts for about 20 percent of the state's population – Colorado isn't generally considered to be the kind of Hispanic population center that has come to characterize states like California, Texas and, well, New Mexico.
To Secretary Salazar, this was a clear indication that the electorate chose him on his merits.
"The people of Colorado were able to look at me in comparison to my opponent and say, 'He's the best person for the job,'" he told HispanicBusiness Magazine.
Secretary Salazar said he takes great pride in his heritage.
"I am a descendant of Latino families who have inhabited the southwest part of the United States for 400 years," he said. "It's a part of who I am."
Secretary Salazar grew up in a poor family, one of eight children on a ranch in Colorado with no electricity or phone. It was the ranch where his grandmother was born in 1884 and father was born in 1916.
"They never had an opportunity to get a college degree," Secretary Salazar said of his parents. "They taught us that we had no limitations – that anything was possible."
As a result, all eight children became first-generation college graduates.
Meanwhile, Secretary Solis, the first Hispanic woman to serve in the U.S. Cabinet, has racked up an entire portfolio of "firsts" of her own.
In 1994, she became the first Hispanic woman elected to the California State Senate. Six years later she became the first woman of any ethnicity to receive the "John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award." Her feat? Successfully authoring the first bill of its kind to address the disproportionate presence of toxic-waste dumps and polluting factories in poor communities – despite firm opposition from then-Governor Pete Wilson who vetoed her first attempt. In 1999, Gov. Gray Davis signed Solis's bill into law.
Also among this year's influentials is Congressman Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, who stressed the importance of reaching out to the next generation. Rep. Grijalva said he enjoys speaking at high schools in the hopes that he can make an impression on the students he addresses. Sometimes, though, it works the other way around.
"They don't have as many filters when they ask questions," he told HispanicBusiness Magazine. "I hope it's good for them but it's certainly a very positive thing for me."
As an example, Rep. Grijalva cited an instance in which he was leading a classroom discussion during the last presidential campaign. A Hispanic student stood up and asked: "Why should I vote for a black man?"
Taken aback, Rep. Grijalva answered that the color of a candidate's skin shouldn't be a factor. The student responded: "'Yep, that's what I was thinking,'" Rep. Grijalva said. "He was testing me."
Much as this year's 100 influentials serve as role models to others, they, too, drew inspiration from teachers, parents and political figures that often seemed larger than life.
Rep. Grijalva was an early admirer of the Civil Rights heroes: Robert F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Cesar Chavez, as well as the fiery Malcolm X.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Raul Cisneros, chief of the 2010 Census publicity office, drew inspiration from President Ronald Reagan.
"He had a tremendous sense of optimism about the United States," Mr. Cisneros told HispanicBusiness Magazine. "The things he did eventually led to the end of Communism."
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