WASHINGTON - The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s (CHCI) new Board Chair, Rep. Charles A. Gonzalez, begins his thirteenth year in Congress with a focus on providing opportunities for young Latinos to achieve the American Dream. Following in his father’s footsteps as a devoted public servant, he leads CHCI forward at a critical time in our nation’s history. 2010 census data confirms that Latinos accounted for more than half of the U.S. population growth this past decade. Eager to lead our community to greater success and prosperity, Gonzalez shares his vision for CHCI and the future of the Latino community.
What is your vision for the Latino Community?
CG: My vision for our community is a highly-educated workforce that contributes to all sectors of the 21st century economy.
For years the Hispanic population has been growing faster than any other demographic in America. It’s no secret; this trend has been closely monitored and discussed for more than three decades. By 2020, the Latino population is estimated to reach 65 million or 20 percent of the U.S. population. Half of all new workers entering the labor market will be Hispanic five years later.
Latino issues are mainstream issues. Our responsibility for America’s future success is paramount. We need to ensure that our community is prepared to work, to lead, to prosper so that America remains competitive in the global economy.
For my vision to become reality, we must put education first. If the current high school dropout and low college graduation rates continue, we will face a human capital crisis that imperils our nation’s standing as a global leader.
We must also dramatically increase the number of Latinos ready to assume leadership positions in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Both corporate America and government have a significant stake in the outcome.
While we work to achieve this future for Latinos, we must work together in a spirit of unity to ensure the American Dream is achievable for all Americans.
What is your vision for CHCI to meet the rapidly growing demand for its programs and services?
CG: I am thrilled to chair an organization that is making such an enormous impact on the Latino community and our country. My top priority is to keep the promise to the thousands of young people looking for opportunities to succeed.
To achieve this, I will focus on the CHCI Board’s initiative to increase the Latino college-degree/certificate-completion rate to 60 percent of all adults in the U.S. I will also support the five-year strategic plan CHCI is undertaking to double revenue, pursue excellence in governance, own leadership through the value of our proven programs, and increase the scope and size of our programs.
But I cannot do this alone – I envision a CHCI that engages and inspires everyone – our board, our advisory council, our partners, our staff, our students, and our alumni – to work collaboratively for the greater good of the community. I envision CHCI transforming the lives of young people who will lead America forward.
It’s amazing how CHCI has developed and grown in 34 years. When I first took office in 1999 and joined the board of CHCI, it directly served 46 students. In 2010, the organization directly impacted the lives of more than 1,500 students and young professionals and served another 1.2 million users through its Web site.
CHCI program alumni number more than 5,400 around the nation and represent the best and brightest talent our nation has to offer. From Gabriella Gomez at the Department of Education and Stephanie Valencia at the White House, to Carlos Elizondo in the Vice President’s office, we have amazing young people out there who are taking on leadership roles and making a difference in our country.
While we can be very proud of the life-changing opportunities CHCI is providing, the bottom line is that the demand for CHCI’s programs and services dramatically increases each year. In the past year alone, the number of students interested in CHCI programs jumped from 9,000 to more than 23,000.
CHCI is the only national organization that offers a wide range of programs and activities to support the educational and professional aspirations of Hispanic youth from high school through graduate school and into their chosen careers. It’s a model that has proven successful many times over.
Thanks to the leadership of our outgoing chair, Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, and CHCI’s dedicated board of directors, we have an aggressive strategic plan to double our revenue in the next five years to meet the challenge of our growing youth population.
Over the next two years, we will strive to increase scholarship awards and provide added opportunities for college students to intern in their local communities in their field of study. CHCI continues to expand its Ready to Lead college readiness program to new cities across the nation and recently announced its Young Latino Leaders in Washington, D.C. Program that will bring high school students to the nation’s capital for one week during the summer.
Later this year, we will launch education forums in major U.S. cities and draw on CHCI’s convening power to take on the challenge of Latino education and identify best practices for reaching successful outcomes. With our vast network of CHCI Alumni we will leverage our leadership development curriculum model so students that are not able to come to Washington can also benefit and grow as future leaders.
Perhaps my most important goal as chair is spreading the message that Latinos are and will continue to be the most critical demographic as it relates to education and the workforce. We must work together, put education first, and ensure the American Dream is attainable. The future of our nation and the strength of our economy depend on it, and CHCI is uniquely positioned to deliver this outcome for the Latino community.
As an expert on the census, how will the 2010 Census numbers impact Latinos and what challenges and opportunities do you see for Latinos given our growing numbers?
CG: The results show that the Hispanic population grew nearly four times as fast as the population at large during the past decade – something we were clearly expecting. Hispanic growth represented more than half of the total U.S. population growth. While I understand the real challenges we face as a community, I am even more excited about the vast opportunities Latinos have to shape the future of America.
Hispanic population growth occurred, not only in traditionally large Hispanic states, but all over the country. The majority of population growth in 21 states was Hispanic. And except for Florida and Texas, every state that is gaining a seat through reapportionment saw the Latino population increase more than 55 percent. We can expect to see as many as nine additional Latino-majority House seats in the next election cycle once the new districts are drawn.
The current population trends are not expected to change. We witnessed the impact the Latino community can have at the ballot box in the 2008 presidential race. This past November six new Hispanic members of Congress and other statewide office holders around the country were elected. It is critical that as Latinos, we understand the power and leverage we have as a community. Increasing population numbers doesn’t mean much if we don’t translate this into additional opportunities for Latinos to assume leadership positions across all sectors of our economy. We must be represented at every table where decisions that affect our community are being made, including corporate America, where our numbers our dramatically lower than the general population.
We must also be at the table to ensure adequate resources are being provided in all corners of the country for Hispanic students to have access to a quality education that places them on the pathway to college. Our growing numbers demand that and as chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and CHCI, access to a quality education will be one of my primary focuses.
It is critical that we continue to work on the issue of immigration. As difficult as it has been to move this issue forward, we cannot give up on reforming the nation's broken immigration system. At the very least we must push through the DREAM Act to secure a future for the young Latinos who have worked so hard to be successful contributors to our nation.
I am proud to have voted for President Obama’s health care legislation, and we will continue to look for opportunities to improve health care for our community while we also work to stimulate job growth for Latinos and all Americans as our economy rebounds.
At the end of the day, there are no limits to what the Latino community can achieve in the coming years if we do our job as leaders to strengthen its foundation. Our most important mission is preparing the next generation for their role in ensuring the future success of our great nation.
What was your biggest inspiration to become an elected official and a national leader for the Latino community?
CG: I have always felt a fundamental responsibility to give back to the community. The value I cherish most in an individual is capacity to sacrifice self-aspirations to contribute to the greater good.
I learned this value from my parents, and especially my father, Henry B. Gonzalez, who served for 37 years as the congressional representative for the same district in San Antonio, Texas, that I have the honor of representing today. I was able to see his passion as a Latino and as an American who wanted the best for his community and for his country.
I live and work every day with those same values, and I hope that all of my hard work and effort continues to open doors and lays a path for the next generation, just as my father and all the pioneers before him have done for me.
It is truly an honor to serve in Congress and to have the opportunity to lead the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. I look forward to working with President Obama and with all of my colleagues on both side of the aisle in the House and Senate on a unified course to move our nation forward guaranteeing the American Dream for all.