The CHCI Public Policy Conference brought together many important Latinos leaders to discuss various issues concerning our community. I was overwhelmed to see panels composed completely of strong and intelligent women, in particularly Latinas, that work hard to make a difference in their communities. One of the most impressive aspects of the conference was the opportunity to be in an environment where I could listen to the expertise of the panelists, intermingle with them and the audience after the discussion, and network for future collaboration.
I felt that the conference underlined the importance of collaborating with each other to better educate, advocate, and help our communities. I had the distinct honor of presenting Congresswoman Grace Flores Napolitano in the CHCI Summit for 'Salud Mental: Discussing Youth and the Public System'. The panel discussed the approach, progress, and areas of need of mental health issues facing youth in the foster care system and the juvenile correctional system.
I enjoyed learning about Dr. Panayiota Courelli experience in the Foster Grandparent Program. This program takes in young Latino men in the correctional system and inspires in them the philosophy that they are capable of making a good impact in society. Dr. Courelli encourages us to think of different approaches to tough issues. The Foster Grandparent Program teaches these young men skills to be successful in finding a job, and even provides them with a new interviewing suit and shoes. Some in the program are given the task to train a dog that will then be given to a family in the local communities. Others take advantage of a program that removes tattoos so that those permanent images won't inhibit their changes to find job opportunities. The main goal of the program is to address the social barriers that many of these young men confront and to give them the opportunity to invest in the community so that they understand that they are also capable of positive change.
The CHCI Conference will inspire you to strengthen your voice for Latino and worldly issues. Representative from Congress and the Senate, experts of several fields, sponsors of various businesses, and students come together to learn about healthcare, economic, and immigration issues Latinos confront. I felt an enormous sense of empowerment to fight for my community. The conference week has enhanced my knowledge of what are the issues that we as Latino face and the reasons why many of these important issues are not being properly addressed. The discussion on the 2010 Census highlights this point. Panelist after panelist emphasized that the 2010 Census can have a remarkable impact on the Latino community. By filling out the census and ensuring that our families, friends, and neighbors do the same, we can allocate government dollars to our local communities. This money can be used to improve schools, hospitals, senior care centers and other areas of the communities. But if we don't do our part to ensure that 2010 is a Latino Census, then the opposite can also true. Our numbers won't be correctly counted and we could not only lose government money to our communities, but worst, we could be misrepresented in Congress and many of our issues ignored.
The CHCI Public Policy Conference was amazing. The extraordinary group of Latino leaders and distinguished panelists provided insightful and enlightening perspectives on the issues facing Latinos in our communities. As a Fellow, it was mind-blowing to be in the company of accomplished Latino leaders such as U.S. Representative and CHCI Chair Nydia M. Velazquez, Hon. Luis V. Gutierrez, Hon. Jose Serrano, Hon. Grace Napolitano, Hon. Ruben Hinojosa, and Senator Robert Menendez, among others. Senator Robert Menendez's and U.S. Representative Luis V. Gutierrez's passionate speeches on immigration issues and the discrimination and prejudice that still exist towards Latinos in America were moving and inspiring. I felt privileged to have been able to hear their words and exchange of ideas. It was illuminating to hear so many experts speak on a variety of topics such as education, healthcare, and immigration. As I listened to the panelists I realized that this was one part of how public policy is formulated: through open and honest dialogue that moves us forward on a certain issue or topic. The CHCI Conference was an eye-opening experience as well. At times the issues facing the Latino community may seem overwhelming but the conference demonstrates that there are many motivated and talented Latinos out there that can and will bring positive change within our community. As someone who had never attended the CHCI Conference, I walked away with a resurge of confidence that as Latinos we have the strength and perseverance to overcome anything and everything thrown our way.
The conference dealt with a host of policy issues facing not only the Hispanic community but also the nation as a whole. It was exciting to see the number of prominent Latino talent actively involved in tackling this gamut of concerns. I found it especially encouraging to learn of our community's growing presence in both the private and public sectors. The Latinos Leading Immigration Reform plenary was a highlight of the week for me. Listening to the passion with which Senator Menendez and Representative Gutierrez voiced their frustrations surrounding the progress of immigration reform definitely left a lasting impression. Not only did they both do a good job of streamlining the issue and its implications for our community in their presentations, they made clear the urgent action needed to achieve reform during the Obama administration. The value in attending CHCI's annual conference comes from the exposure to a variety of policy issues as well as the key people involved in said policy's formulation. Not only do you quickly become familiar with the work that needs to be done, but the inroads and progress that has already been made in these different areas on behalf of the Latino community, which is equally important in understanding these issues. The conference reiterated to me the idea that "knowledge is power". Forums like the ones provided by the conference setting allow a variety of people to become literate in areas outside their specialization, making them as a result, more comparable leaders and better representatives for the Latino community.
I was once asked if there was any one cultural value that all Americans share. It took me years to think of a proper response. I have come to believe that Americans value when events or talent comes off as "effortless." Next time you read a newspaper or magazine, you'll notice that "effortless" is used as the highest compliment to someone's abilities. The ironic part is that to make something look effortless, one has to work harder behind the scenes than anyone can imagine. Tonight, I saw both the hard work of the CHCI staff behind the scenes and the effortless result. The Obamas and the Lopezes (a nod to Marc Anthony sending a shot out to his wife JLo) were there tonight, as well as Sotomayor and almost every other Latino politician you've heard of, and many more you haven't heard of (yet!). Yet, EVERYTHING went smoothly! Thank you to the CHCI staff for being so top notch. One more thought-- The most amazing part of the program was when Speaker Pelosi and then President Obama referred to the CHCI fellows as the future of America. CHCI gives us unmatched exposure to public service. I feel so honored to be a part of the CHCI family and to be supported by my community in such an overpowering way-- Even the President was there to cheerlead alongside nuestra gente! Tonight was unforgettable.
It was the end of the day and I was feeling a bit cranky after an early morning that began with a teething baby and a 7am metro ride. I glanced at the program and internally moaned when I saw the plenary title: "Here we go... Yet another conversation about immigration." However, I was in for a surprise! After Cecilia Munoz -- who for so long was the "brain behind NCLR"-- gave us the scoop on the White House timeline for immigration reform, Senator Menendez gave a memorable speech about the importance of comprehensive immigration reform and the need to stop the anti-Latino sentiments that surround the policy debates. He said that he has heard the term "those people" a lot in the past couple of years, and that when people say "esa gente" in order to separate themselves as true citizens and de-humanize those who do not have such status, it's not a derogatory term reserved just for those without legal status in the US. Menendez said that "esa gente" refers also to you and me, my fellow Latino-identified. It took me a whole dissertation to explain the message he just so eloquently imparted. I had goosebumps as I stood to lead the standing ovation. Then, Rep. Gutierrez took the stage and calmly began his crescendo towards demanding equality for the hardworking Americans who are ostracized and thus vulnerable to sexual abuse and worker exploitation. I held back tears as he told personal stories that gave real faces to the 12 million undocumented Americans who need a solution in order to experience the basic freedoms we enjoy as Americans. Afterwards, I caught up with him to tell him I am from his district (Logan Square in Chi-town), and that I campaigned for his first campaign for alderman alongside my dad Matias Rico. He gave me a hug and said he was proud that I was a fellow! The kind of access that CHCI gives us can't be measured. I'm feeling grateful and you can bet that my crankiness disappeared for good this afternoon!