On Wednesday, July 21st the Hispanic Heritage Foundation held the Latinos on the Fast Track(LOFT) Youth Leadership Summit. It began with a Capitol Hill Congressional Lunch at the Hart Senate Office Building, continued on with a White House Briefing at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and ended with a reception at the Inter-American Development Bank. Young Latino/a professionals and interns working in different segments of government in Wahington D.C. from all over the country, as well as those working in the non-profit and business community came together to enjoy a day filled with encouraging words, inciteful tips and an opportunity to network with one another. The energy that was circulated throughout the day by over 250 promising young latinos/as was truly moving.
“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community…our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own,” said Antonio Tijerino, President of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, who set the tone for the summit with this inspirational quote by Cesar Chavez. In addition to delicious sandwhiches and complimentary brownies, the Congressional Lunch consisted of a panel of saavy Latino/a Capitol Hill representatives, ranging from Public Affairs Specialists to Senior Senator Advisors. Panelists included Melody Gonzalez, founder of the New Latino Movement, Leo Diaz, UPS representative, Maria Cardona, Public Affairs Specialist, Jazmin Llaver, Senior Advisor for Senator Bob Menendez, Ilon Menendez, Outreach specialist of the Hispanic Task Force, and the Executive Director of the Hispanic Caucuss. Highlights included talks about the need for the creation of a National Latino Museum to comemorate the contributions of Latinos/as in the United States, as well as a discussion about the issue of Corporate Diversity, which is a project that Senator Bob Menedez is currently working to address.
Another hot topic was Immigration Reform. Panelists were asked to elaborate on whether or not they believed immigration reform was still a manageable issue before the end of the congressional year. “A day is a lifetime in politics,” replied Maria Cardona, who maintained that from a political standpoint, she did not believe that comprehensive immigration reform would happen by the end of the year, though she believed things can change over the Lame Duck Session after elections. However, she mentioned that pieces of immigration reform such as the Dream Act seem more promising, though it could be detrimental to the passage of comprehensive immigration reform in the long run. She also emphasized the importance of understanding that, “Our issues are Americas issues.” Furthermore, Executive Director of the Hispanic Caucuss stressed that, “Every issue is a Latino issue!”
After lunch, everyone headed to the White House Latino Youth Briefing, where interns were greeted by appointees from the Obama Administration. Stephanie Valencia, Associate Director of White House Public Engagement, gave the opening speech and introduced the first panelist, Roberto Rodriguez, Education Policy Advisor. His topic of discussion was The Obama Administration’s Education Agenda and What it Means to You. Rodriguez stressed the need to invest in early childhood education programs, such as Headstart and Childcare services, as well as higher education initiatives, such as The Recovery Act and the Higher Education Act. He emphasized that there is an economic and a moral imparative to improving education, as the number one statistic accounting for student drop outs is boredom, as a result of uninteresting and unengageing curriculums.
Felicia Escobar, Senior Immigration Policy Advisor, engaged students in a discussion about Fixing our Broken Immigration System. She argued in favor of the need for administrative changes, which she referred to as “smart policies”, ranging from the improvement of precessing time to the smart use of technology to making naturalization fees constant. Following Escobar was Melissa McNeal, Director of the White House Internship Program, along with Daniel Campos, Intern at the White House Office of Public Engagement, who both spoke on behalf of the White House Internship Program. They informed attendees that undergrads and recent college graduates alike, could apply to the White House Internship Program and enjoy a semester working in public service.
The ending segment of the briefing was entitled From There to Here: Tips and Guidance from People Who Have Been Where You Are which gave interns the opportunity to listen to words of advice from a panel of young latino professionals working in the Obama Administration. The panel included Roberto Gonzalez, White House Counsel, Felicia Escobar, White House Domestic Policy Counsel, Carlos Odio, White House Political Affairs, Luis Miranda, White House Office of Communications, Emanuel Pleitez, Department of Treasury and Lizet Ocampo, White House Legislative Affairs. Emanuel Pleitez advised students that in politics, as well as in all aspects of life, “Longetivity of relationships matters.” It is better to establish long-term relationships than to burn your bridges by asking favors of someone you just met. “If your not impressed with what you’re doing, it’s time to leave,” said Luis Miranda, who stressed the importance of taking pride in your work and finding joy in what you do. Furthermore, Stephanie Valencia reminded everyone, ” Remember the progress that you’ve made.”
The closing speaker was Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, who gave an inspirational speech about the progress that has been made by the latino community working in government. She ended by stating, “As a community we are many things, but invisible isn’t one of them anymore.”
The briefing was followed by an exciting reception to allow students, Obama Administration appointees, Capitol Hill Representatives, Government Officials, as well as Corporate and Community leaders to network with one another. Tasty snacks, light drinks, and good conversation made it a great day to be latino!