Chair Velazquez Takes CHCI Helm with a Vision for the Future

New CHCI Board Chair Nydia Velázquez (NY-12) is setting an agenda to ensure that Latinos are leading the way "Towards 2030," when the Latino population will make up 25 percent of the U.S. population. Chair Velázquez shares her vision for the Latino community, CHCI, and more in an exclusive interview for CHCI.org.

What is your vision for the Latino Community?

My vision for the next two years will be to set the course for the next twenty - to work to set the Latino community's vision "Towards 2030 - Latinos Leading in a Global Innovation Society."

By the year 2030, Latinos will make up 25 percent of the U.S. population. It's important to remember that we are all in this together and that Latino issues are American issues.

Moving forward, Latinos will play an increasing role in developing our nation's public policy and will directly impact the future of our economy and overall success. We need to get more engaged in technology, green jobs, energy and other innovation industries driving our economy.

We must ask ourselves today - what will it take to succeed and lead in a global innovation society?

Although the current economic turmoil is affecting the Latino community acutely, we must take advantage of the historical momentum of this past election and ask the Latino youth population to remain engaged. We must prepare young Latinos to take on leadership roles in all sectors to ensure we are not left behind.

As the Latino population grows, I envision a stronger community that is leading the way for our nation in all areas of society.

What challenges and opportunities do you see for Latinos given our growing numbers and challenging economic times?

At the start of the 111th Congress, we had 31 Hispanic Americans serving in Congress, the most in our nation's history. While Former Senator Ken Salazar and Former Representative Hilda Solis are now serving in President Obama's cabinet, we must seize this moment and realize our potential as a community.

With this potential, comes a responsibility to lead the way for the next generation. Our community has amazing talent and this point in our nation's history presents a real opportunity for Latinos to step to the forefront and lead this country out of the current state of crisis and back on to the path to prosperity.

The Latino community must leverage its collective strength to take its rightful place at the table when major policy decisions are being made. We must work to improve high school graduation rates and give young Latinos better access to a higher education. We have to do more to reduce the number of Latinos without health care. We also need to prepare our young Latinos to run for office and enter the corporate world in greater numbers so that we are represented at the same levels as our population.

It is also critical that we address the issue of immigration with the new administration. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus recently met with President Obama to discuss the urgent and vital need to reform our nation's broken immigration system. Bringing our nation's 12 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and putting their hard work on the books will increase the tax base across the board. And with nearly 17 percent of all new small businesses owned by immigrants, this hard-working population can help lead our economy out of this recession. President Obama has committed to working with us as we continue to lead on this issue, and serve as advocates for the immigrant community.

I recently called together representatives of national Latino organizations working on behalf of the community to ask them what their individual priorities are so that we can put together a comprehensive agenda. Once we have compiled this information, we will share it with the House and Senate leadership on both sides, and the White House to present a unified agenda that clearly outlines the Latino community's goals for this Congress and this Administration.

President Obama, in his speech to a joint session of Congress on February 24, 2009, said "But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken, though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before."

We must tap Latino talent from across the country and open the doors of opportunity for more young Latinos getting their start in the work force. The Latino community must be a catalyst for positive change. We need to forge ahead and seize the opportunities so that by 2030, our young Latinos will be in a better position to lead, compete, and succeed.

What is the current state of small business in America and what advice do you have for Latino small business owners?

Small firms are the backbone of the American economy helping to make our country the vibrant and diverse place that it is.

As Chairwoman of the House Committee on Small Business, I am dedicated to helping entrepreneurs. Our nation has always relied on the proven innovation and flexibility that comes with a small business economy.

From the local tech startup to the mom and pop restaurant down the street, small businesses are suffering everywhere. The current recession has caused many to close up shop altogether.

Fortunately, work has already begun to turn the economy around. The end goal of these recovery efforts should be growth and job creation, two areas in which small businesses excel. After all, small firms are the engine of our economy. They not only create 80 percent of all new jobs, but they also represent 99 percent of American businesses.

If we've learned anything in the last year, it's that there is no single, silver bullet fix for our financial woes. That said, we also know that if we are going to bring our economy back on track, we're going to have to start with the fundamentals. That means jobs, and that means growth. As the backbone of American industry, small businesses can help accomplish both. But before small firms can revive the economy, they will need to survive the recession.

I support initiatives to limit the impact that rising energy costs and regulatory and tax burdens have on small businesses. Small firms also need assistance from Congress to secure better financing for capital purchases, obtain world-class training and development programs, and open doors to sell their products and services around the globe. Assisting small firms secure affordable health insurance for themselves and their employees is another top priority.

My advice to small business owners is to remain steadfast, operate as efficiently as possible, and don't lose hope. The economy will come out of the recession soon and as access to credit becomes more available, small businesses will be able to acquire the capital needed to remain solvent and expand.

What is your vision for CHCI in developing leaders for our community and nation?

My vision for CHCI is to have young leaders work with current leaders to chart a path to success - a strong path "Towards 2030." CHCI serves as a gateway for young Latinos and it is critical that we continue to meet the needs of a growing constituency. More than 11,000 students have already expressed an interest in CHCI's programs for the 2009-2010 cycle.

Over the next two years, we will increase congressional internships offering these opportunities year round. We will strive to provide more fellowships to young professionals and help propel them to highly successful careers like so many of our current alumni.

We will raise more money for scholarships so all Latinos who want to attend college have the opportunity to achieve a higher education. We will work in partnership with the CHCI Alumni Association to expand our Ready to Lead program to reach and mentor hundreds more Latino high school students.

CHCI is uniquely positioned to create opportunities and open doors for Latino students from all over the country. I look forward to working with our partners and supporters "Towards 2030" to ensure that Latinos lead are leading the way. We can not do it alone - the community must act together and seize the future.

What is your biggest inspiration to become an elected official and become a national leader for the Latino community?

As one of nine siblings born in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, I was raised with the influence of political dinner table conversations. My father worked the sugar cane fields, but was also a local political activist and from a young age, I would accompany him to political rallies. He focused on the rights of sugar cane workers and denounced the abuse perpetrated by wealthy farmers.

My father instilled in me the spirit to fight for what was right. In high school I organized my classmates on a protest against the dangerous and unsanitary conditions at the school. The building was closed and the protest caused the necessary renovations to be made.

I am proud to serve as a representative of the greater community and to stand up for those who do not have a voice.

About Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), a nonprofit and nonpartisan 501(c) (3) organization, provides leadership development programs and educational services to students and young emerging leaders. The CHCI Board of Directors is comprised of Hispanic Members of Congress, nonprofit, union and corporate leaders. For more information call CHCI at (202) 543-1771 or visit www.chci.org.

Media Contact:
Scott Gunderson Rosa: (202) 548-5876

eResources