"We probably have done more research on Latino voting trends than anyone else in the country," Mr. Gonzalez said. "The more successful we became the more in demand we became."
There already was "a thirst by Latinos in the country for assistance and help with their voter registration and voter education programs," Mr. Gonzalez said. "There was a growing sentiment around the country for Latinos to become involved in the political process, run for political offices, and determine our own destiny."
That thirst would be whetted with the advent of USHLI's annual conference.
The Annual Conference
Now in its 29th year, the idea for the first USHLI annual conference came not long after the organization's inception. The founders held the first conference in Chicago in November 1983. The conference began as 1 1/2 days and then it grew to three. The focus was on topics such as education, youth, voter registration, candidate training, how to run a successful campaign and how to use the media. They had a goal to attract 300 participants--674 showed up.
"Of the estimated 275,000 participants we have had in our leadership development programs to date, over 100,000 have attended our national conference," he added.
The highlight of the inaugural conference for Mr. Andrade was having then newly elected Mayor Harold Washington, the first African-American to hold that office in Chicago, as a key speaker. Mr. Washington told the crowd that, if it were not for the Hispanic vote, he would not have been elected.
"Our vote had never been acknowledged at that level, anywhere in the Midwest or in most places around the country," Mr. Andrade recalls.
The second year, the USHLI board booked a locale for 700 and ended up with 1,500 people. According to Mr. Gonzalez, at the height of the conference, just before Sept. 11, 2001, they drew a crowd of about 10,000. From these conferences, the new leadership within the Hispanic community came of age.
Helping Train Leadership
For Eduardo Garza, 35, the USHLI conference was his first taste of the organization's influence. He was 12 when he first met Mr. Andrade, whom he recognized from his stint as a political commentator on ABC-7 television.
"The theme has always been about leadership, culture, education and empowerment," said Mr. Garza, who is the recipient of the Dr. Juan Andrade Scholarship for Young Hispanic Leaders.
Mr. Garza eventually became a member of the conference planning committee, then an intern for USHLI through his college years and eventually became an employee of the organization.
Another product of USHLI is Janet Padilla, 31. She was first introduced to the conference her freshman year of high school. Now she said she feels a responsibility to give back to her community.
"The conference is a wealth of knowledge and resources. They run so many different sessions and in every session you basically have a pool of role models and leaders in our community that you have access to," she said. "This was all new to me. After that first year, I attended a good 12 years straight."
A notable conference speaker and a current USHLI board member is Henry Cisneros, who became mayor of San Antonio, the second Hispanic to reach that office in a major metropolitan city. Cisneros also served as the 10th secretary of housing and urban development in the administration of President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997. Mr. Cisneros has known Mr. Andrade for 25 years and is the recipient of USHLI honors.
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