Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Andrade remain the most active of the four founding USHLI members. Mr. Lacayo, 80, has devoted more than 50 years to the United Auto Workers, teamed with Cesar Chavez in his fight to gain farm-workers' rights, and served as the deputy campaign director and state coordinator for Bill Clinton during the 1992 presidential election. He was the USHLI's first treasurer.
But always, the driving force behind USHLI has been to empower and educate Hispanics about participating in the electoral process. Before it became USHLI, the organization was called the Midwest Voter Registration and Education Project. It was similar to an already-established organization with Mr. Velasquez at the helm--the Southwest Voter Education Project.
"The idea was to (influence) our Latinos to register and vote, and Juan was pretty good at getting demographics information to organize the Latino community," Mr. Lacayo, who served as the organization's first chairman, said. "By and large, there was a lack of attention to our folks to make sure that they were at the table whenever things were happening."
A lack of Hispanic voters, elected officials and corporate executives was the main impetus for USHLI's inception.
"The (organization) was rooted in principles of civic engagement and political empowerment, research and educating the Latino community on the electoral process and educating the general public," Mr. Andrade said.
The Roots of USHLI
The seeds for USHLI were sown in Chicago. Mr. Gonzalez had been a regional director at the National Council of La Raza (NLCR) from 1979 to 1981. Mr. Gonzalez remembers USHLI's formative years as an exciting time. Time Magazine had just named the 1980s as The Decade of the Hispanics and "it was kind of the birth of the recognition of the growth of the Latino community," he recalls.
After college, Mr. Gonzalez left work at the steel mills and went to work for the Chicago Urban League, a program that helped open doors for women and minorities into the building and construction trade. He then began working as a regional director at the National Council of La Raza from 1979 to 1981. This is where he met Mr. Andrade, as well as Raul Yzaguirre, who currently is the U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republican and for 30 years served as the president and CEO of the NCLR.
Mr. Andrade went to the NCLR seeking funding for research that focused on the need to assess Hispanic political capability in the Midwest. Mr. Gonzalez offered him office space for his Midwest Voter Registration and Education Project. And from that seed USHLI grew.
The four—Mr. Andrade, Mr. Gonzalez, Mr. Lacayo and Mr. Velasquez--first met at a hotel at O'Hare airport in Chicago, and created USHLI as a regional operation in 1982.
"As a young person, close to 29 years ago, for me to be sitting at the table with giants from our community, it was tremendously exciting and powerful experience for me," Mr. Gonzalez said. They looked for sponsors in every sector--foundations, corporations, individuals and unions.
The first grant was from the UAW for $15,000 and the organization was born. Mr. Gonzalez's Illinois home was the legal address of the organization for close to 15 years. In time, Anheuser-Busch stepped up as its first corporate sponsor. Rockefeller and the Joyce Foundation soon followed.
"We weren't national yet, but certainly bigger than the Midwest and then years later we expanded our work to Florida to the southeast part of the country," Mr. Andrade said. USHLI became the official name in 1996.
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