Hispanic legislative representation has grown consistently over the past few decades, yet lags behind when compared to the community’s share of the U.S. population.
Mary Ann Gomez Orta, President and CEO of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute
, discusses advancement opportunities available to Hispanic college students.
Ortiz:The NALEO Educational Fund reports that there are 53 million Latinos in the United States comprising 17% of the population. However, just 1% of the nearly half-million local, state, and federal elected officials across the country are Latino. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Nathalia Ortiz. Joining me to discuss efforts to increase diversity in leadership roles through internships at congressional and corporate offices is Mary Ann Gomez Orta, President and CEO of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute. Mary Ann, welcome to the program.
Orta: Thank you. Very much appreciated.
Ortiz: Mary Ann, I want to start with a statistic that we´ve got. Several majority Latino counties have no Latino representation at any level -- county, state, legislative, or congressional. I want to let that sink in to our viewers because we know that Hispanics are a huge part of our country right now. And why do you think we are so underrepresented in political spheres?
Orta: Well, part of the concern that a lot of us have, a lot of organizations, in particular ours, the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute, is that there´s a lot of information that, at the community level, we really don´t know about the importance and the value of being involved in the electoral process and being involved in the legislative process. And we don´t make the connections that our leaders are the ones that are helping us at the community level. So we need to help make those connections.
Ortiz: Why do you think Hispanics don´t know that there´s that connection? It would seem so obvious to most of us. Are they concerned with other things -- getting food on the table, just trying to make ends meet? What do you think?
Orta: Most of the Latinos who are actively involved from a civic-engagement standpoint, to your point, they´re more educated, they´re more informed, they respect and understand those different processes, and so they´re just a different situation when it comes to, like, our originafamilies, right? So, like, my parents were farmworkers. You know, at that time, you kind of are worried about putting food on the table, having shelter for the kids, and so as we as Latinos move up in our education levels, as we also move up in terms of being registered to vote and learn about voting, then we start to become more involved in the process. But even getting there is a process.
Ortiz: So, how does your organization help offset that or change that for us?
Orta: What we´re doing is, we were founded by members of Congress about 15 years ago, and so the focus has always been on honoring that diversity of thought of Hispanics in the U.S. and using that as an opportunity and a platform to make sure that we provide a leadership program for young Hispanic college students to learn about public service and, hopefully, a little spark for them to consider, whether it´s at the local, state, or at the federal level.
Ortiz: And specifically what you´re doing is you´re providing the opportunities for Hispanic students to have internships not just in government but also in corporate America, such as government-affairs departments, et cetera.
Orta: And it´s a balance.
Ortiz: Yeah, okay. And then, also, there´s a semester that´s offered at George Washington University that kind of is part of this program and helps add to their experience and to their educational level.
Ortiz: Why do you think that this is so important? Obviously, we know that many of the faces we see in Congress and in corporate America in these specific positions are many Caucasians, correct?
Orta: Correct. So for us, it´s a sweet trifecta. It´s getting the Hill experience, getting experience in working in a corporate environment, and then having the education specifically on policy and how government works. The majority of us, including myself growing up, we didn´t -- we weren´t exposed to business environment, we weren´t exposed to elected officials, and when we were, quite honestly, it wasn´t always a positive experience, right? And so we want to make sure that we -- and under the care and guidance of members of Congress and corporate executives on our board, that we provide these different opportunities. We have a lot of alumni now, about 200 alumni that have gone through our programs, and they´re everywhere, Nathalia. They´re everywhere. They´re in public service, in private sector, they´ve started their own nonprofits, they´re in the Silicon Valley space, and that´s what we want. We´re not necessarily here just to get them into public service, but we want them exposed to all of those opportunities because even if they choose not to go into public service themselves, they understand the importance and the value of someone else making that decision.
Ortiz: What is the criteria -- really quickly, because we´re about to wrap up -- for participants to join or to become part of this program?
Orta: There are a lot of nonprofits based in Washington, D.C., that offer internship programs. Ours, the students -- If you´re a college student of Hispanic heritage, junior or senior or just completed within the last year, go to our website at CHLI.org, and there´s all the information. Glad to say that the deadline for the spring selection is in November, and so a lot of you who are paying attention, if you´re a college student, if you have a college student yourself in your family, please let them know about these opportunities.
Ortiz: Mary Ann Gomez Orta with the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute, thank you for joining us.
Orta: Thank you.
Ortiz: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Nathalia Ortiz.