In some cases, Influentials drew inspiration from people of meager means.
Dr. Jaime R. Torres, a podiatrist for the poor in New York City and the founder of Latinos for National Health Insurance, said his own patients often serve as a reminder that the nation is in dire need of healthcare reform.
"I've seen people lose legs because they could not afford health care for infections," Dr. Torres said. "I've seen people coming into my office and saying, 'Can you see my wife? She's been in pain for a week. I only have $20 but I'll pay you the rest later.' This is happening now, in our streets. Not 20 years ago, but now."
Not all powerful players in Washington, D.C. are politicians or Cabinet members. Arturo Valenzuela is a professor of Latin American studies at Georgetown University—and his imprint on the world extends far beyond the halls of academia.
Professor Valenzuela has served in key advisory positions in the Clinton administration, and has been nominated by President Obama to be the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. That means he would report directly to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Professor Valenzuela was born to missionaries in Chile, where he attended a French high school until 1960, when it was destroyed by the Great Chilean Earthquake – which registered a 9.5, the largest ever recorded. Afterward, when his parents sent him and his brother to live in the United States to escape the chaos, the teens took a long bus ride through the segregated South – an experience in observing injustice that helped shape his life's work.
In 1964, professor Valenzuela wrote his college thesis on what was then a fledgling phenomenon: the Civil Rights movement. As a student he served on the board of Americans for Democratic Action, and in that capacity met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. several times.
Professor Valenzuela, who now serves on the board of directors of the National Council of La Raza, advises students to follow their bliss.
"Do what inspires you, what motivates you," he said. "I'm one of these believers in the fact that everybody has a vocation, and they are of equal worth."
Moises (Moe) Vela Jr., director of administration for the Vice President Joe Biden, says the biggest challenge for the Hispanic community now is to inspire more and more youth to follow their dreams.
"The challenge still lies in creating a pipeline," he said. "We need to groom young Hispanics to rise through the ranks of public service – to understand how it works and to become new leaders."
Rosa "Rosie" Gumataotao Rios, who was recently sworn in as the 43rd Treasurer of the United States – and whose name will soon appear on the dollar bill – agrees, saying "education is key."
"I have made it clear to my own children that college is not optional, graduate school is not optional," she wrote in an email to HispanicBusiness Magazine. "The more you learn, the more options you will have at your discretion throughout your life."
Although there remains a long way to go to obtain full equity, Secretary Salazar said there is good reason to be optimistic.
"The roots of the Hispanic community go back here for a very long time – more than four centuries before Jamestown and before Plymouth Rock," he said. "But it's also important to look ahead. In the 21st century, the Hispanic community is going to make up a very significant percentage of the population of the United States. I view the Hispanic community as being willing and able to be a positive and contributing factor in this mosaic of America."
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