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The Stars Align: The 100 Most Influential Hispanics

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The Hispanic Business 100 Most Influential Hispanics� list always presents a stellar assembly, but perhaps in 2007 � with two astronauts, a NASA engineer, the writer behind the newest Star Trek theatrical film, and the NASA Vision Award-winning writer for two Star Trek TV series � it's more star-struck than usual.

But the list is by no means homogeneous, with designers such as Orlando Diaz-Azcuy, who appears on our cover, rubbing shoulders with C-level executives, while neurosurgeons mingle with behind-the-scenes dealmakers and law enforcement leaders.

The only obvious trait shared by all, beyond their determination and success, is their Hispanic heritage. But, even there, variety is the rule. We surveyed the Influentials and found that a bit under one-third of the respondents report Mexican heritage, another third Cuban, and another third Puerto Rican [keep in mind that responses can include more than a single ethnicity].

100 Influentials Lorna and Lorena
Some 34 of our Influentials are female � still not a 50-50 split, but up from the 24 we logged just five years ago. While the visibility and acknowledgment of women's accomplishments have increased, it's tough to say whether our increasing number better reflects a genuine increase in influence or our own enlightenment.

The importance of the Influentials is not just in what they do by themselves, but what their example does for others.

Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, for instance, is the journalist-turned-professor who helped lead the fight to bring a much-needed Hispanic perspective to the documentary on World War II. She recalls the value of role models in helping young people pursue their own ambitions.

"I wanted to be a nurse when I was in high school, and the reason [why] was because the only Hispanic woman that I knew � who I was close to � who had a college degree was one of my cousins, and she had been a nurse," she says. "I think that speaks to how young people think of role models, or at least how I thought of role models: I saw somebody who looked like me and she was a nurse, so I thought, 'OK, I'll be a nurse.'"

And while it was writing, not nursing, that burned in her heart, that initial impetus got her into the University of Texas, where she discovered her true calling.

Our list is drawn from several sources, most notably submissions made by our readers and visitors to HispanicBusiness.com, and from people with whom our editorial and research staff have interacted or observed in the past year. We look for people we think are having a great year now or who can expect a great year in 2008; people who are contributing to their communities or professions; people who are generally raising the bar in whatever they do.

Orlando Diaz
Adding to the mix, we try not to draw too heavily from people who have appeared recently on the Influentials list. Therefore, while Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez's star rises in the waning days of the Bush Administration, or Antonio M. Perez works to improve the picture at a struggling Kodak, their names, and those of some other obvious candidates, don't appear this year.

But the list does spotlight a number of rising stars, especially in the world of politics.

Politics
Whether it's Nativo Lopez at the Mexican American Political Association or Roberto Rodriguez whispering in Sen. Edward Kennedy's ear, Hispanics are starting to flex the muscles that their numbers in the general population hint at. That's true in Hispanic-heavy states such as New Mexico, where Influentials such as Hector Balderas is state auditor and Martin Chavez the mayor of Albuquerque, and in states where the Hispanic demographic wave is more muted such as Connecticut, where Eddie Perez is the mayor of Hartford.

The brightest political star here is also one of the most retiring � Patti Solis Doyle. Ms. Solis Doyle has been a fixture in the Bill and Hillary Clinton camp since Mr. Clinton's successful 1992 presidential bid. The Washington Post has described her as "first among equals in Clinton's inner circle."

Now, with Mrs. Clinton widely considered the top candidate in the 2008 campaign, Ms. Solis Doyle's role as her manager is making her one of the most watched political lever-pullers out there, even as she attempts to keep the spotlight firmly trained on her boss.

Speaking of politics, among the Influentials who returned surveys, 46 percent identified themselves as Democrats, 12 percent as Republicans, and 27 percent as either independent or with no affiliation. This reflects two widely repeated beliefs about the current political landscape � that the Hispanic vote favors Democrats, and that independents increasingly will decide future election results.

Some 52 percent of our respondents say Democrats are the party that best represents the interests of Hispanics, while 21 percent said no party did. Just 12 percent of our respondents say they are Republican, only 6 percent feel the GOP is the best party for Hispanics.

Ugly Betty's America Ferrera
Sixty-four percent say they have participated in a political campaign, and three out of 10 have contributed to a political action committee or party, but half say the political involvement of Hispanics is inadequate.

That might make some of our Influentials, such as Linda Macias, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Joe Baca, bridle. "From my first job to currently advising a U.S. representative," she says, "my goal has always been to make a positive difference in our country. I want to make sure that my community's interests are considered and that their rights are protected."

For Us, By Us
What agenda should Hispanics pursue, whether in politics, industry, or their neighborhoods? Our respondents were asked to name up to three areas, and three out of four said access to education should be a priority. Only economic development, at 70 percent, joined education in receiving more than half the votes.

Despite that affirmation, educators were tied for second, along with small businesses and community activists, as the best people to empower the Hispanic community. One out of three of our respondents identified Corporate America as the best group to do so, more than double the vote given to educators. Politicians came in third, with 12 percent of the tally.

The hopes for help from Corporate America are not as fully reflected in the hopes for help from businesses owned or run by Hispanics.

When asked how much local Hispanic companies and business people have helped the overall Hispanic community, only 18 percent of our respondents reported a "great" contribution, almost the same as the 15 percent who cited a "minimum" contribution. The largest percentage, 39 percent, reported a "fair" contribution.

Beyond private enterprise, our respondents have no clear issue that they've identified as the most critical for federal intervention.

Immigration reform was the most cited issue, at 39 percent, followed by financial aid for education at 21 percent, and employee recruitment plans at 15 percent.

That last number indicates that the future will be brighter than the past. Asked to rate how well government diversity programs have been in helping Hispanics participate in the U.S. economy, only 3 percent found them "very effective" and 21 percent "effective."

Almost half of the respondents, 46 percent, rated them "not very effective," and another 9 percent labeled them "not effective at all." Those numbers were actually better than the figures cited for corporate diversity program, where 58 percent of respondents said they were "not very effective."

Are those programs even necessary? Well, 55 percent of our respondents said they have encountered discrimination, and, most often, the venue for that discrimination was in hiring or promotions, followed by discrimination in the academic world, then in access to capital.