Economic, voting clout of Latinos highlighted at OCHLA, OHCC event
By Federico Martínez, Special to La Prensa
Columbus: With a purchasing power of more than $8.2 million annually and a population of more than 400,000, Latino Ohioans have more economic and political clout than many politicians and businesses realize or are willing to admit – a mistake that could be detrimental to their future success.
That was the blunt message delivered by Latino leaders during the Ohio Hispanic Legislative Day 2014, sponsored by the Ohio Latino Affairs Commission (OCHLA) and the Ohio Hispanic Chambers of Commerce (OHCC). The daylong event, which drew nearly 300 leaders from across Ohio, was held at the Statehouse Atrium in Columbus, Ohio on Dec. 3, 2014.
“It is time for Latino business leaders to flex their economic muscle,” said keynote speaker José Feliciano, Sr., a longtime Cleveland trial attorney and Chair of the Hispanic Roundtable of NE Ohio.
“The Latino family has grown in population and we are starting to feel the political ramifications of that growth,” said Feliciano, noting that garnering 75 percent of the Latino vote is “why President Barack Obama was re-elected to a second term.”
“Latinos are becoming a political and economic juggernaut in the United States and Ohio; something people like Governor John Kasich, who’s not here, should begin taking notice of. The sleeping giant is awakened and it’s cranky and it’s taking names,” stressed Feliciano.
Attendees were especially incensed that Gov. Kasich, who was scheduled to attend the event, “stood-up” organizers without explanation and sent representatives instead.
State Representative Dan Ramos (D-Lorain) encouraged Latinos in Ohio not just to vote, but to become more involved in their communities – join city, county, and neighborhood boards and committees, he said.
“If Latinos vote we can make a difference; but we need to speak out,” Rep. Ramos said. His message was echoed by State Representative Rick Perales (R-Beavercreek).
Martin D. Golden, Columbus District Director for the U.S. Small Business Administration, said there are approximately 9,700 Latino-owned businesses current in Ohio, more than 3 million nationwide. Most of the Latino businesses in Ohio are small businesses, he added.
“Our economic recovery has been in large part due to the success of small businesses,” Golden said.
Golden noted that Ohio received $2.1 billion in federal contracts in 2014, but that announcement was jeered by many business leaders, including Robert Torres, executive director of the Northwest Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who noted that Latino businesses received one percent of those financial opportunities.
Jason P. Riveiro, who was recently elected president of the Hispanic Chamber of Columbus, urged business leaders to continue applying for government contracts and to teach other Latino business owners how to apply.
Lilleana Cavanaugh, executive director of OCHLA, said the annual event is important because it gives attendees an opportunity to meet with legislators, the governor, and/or other political staff. It also gives Latino business owners and representatives from other organizations to network and hopefully collaborate on future projects.
Torres used his time at the podium to discuss the impact the fast-growing Latino community is having in Toledo and throughout Northwest Ohio. He also noted the opening of one of Toledo’s first bilingual [Spanish/English] schools, Toledo SMART Elementary.
“Of all the populations that have increased, only the Latino community has seen growth in every county in Ohio except one,” he said. “Lucas County’s Latino population has doubled in the past decade. Toledo is going to have to bank its future on the Latino community.”
Leopold: GOP anti-immigrant rhetoric “boils down to racism”
Guest-speaker David Leopold, a Cleveland-based immigration attorney, delivered some of the most-pointed comments. Leopold, whose parents are Jewish immigrants, said the US-America’s economy and progress has always been reliant on new immigrants.
The current backlash against Latino immigrants, which he blames partially on inflammatory rhetoric by Republicans and the Tea Party, “boils down to racism,” he said.
“The fear of the Browning of America, or racism, is the root of the anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S.,” said Mr. Leopold, former president of the American Immigrant Lawyers Association based in Washington, D.C.
Robert Torres, David Leopold,
José Feliciano, Sr.
Dan Ramos, Gayle Manning, Rick Perales
José Feliciano, Jr., Robert Torres,