October 12, 2007

Barbara Lee’s Statement in Honor of Hispanic Heritage Month

(Oakland, CA) – Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) released the following statement today in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month:

“As a proud member of the Tri-Caucus – the coalition of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, and the Asian Pacific American Caucus – it is my honor to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month, and its importance to our nation.

“I’d like to recognize my colleagues in Congress who are part of the Latino community, particularly my colleague from California, Congressman Joe Baca, who currently serves as Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the rest of the CHC members, who advocate for public policy that addresses the needs of all, but especially the Latino community in this country.

“Currently, there are 30 Hispanic Members of the 110th Congress, the largest amount of any Congress in the history of this nation. Three of those Members serve in the Senate, and 27 are here in the House, including 7 Latinas.

“The United States is home to the third largest population of Hispanic people in the world. As of July 1, 2006, the estimated Hispanic population is 44.3 million, making them the nation’s largest ethnic minority. In fact, Latinos constitute 15 percent of the nation's total population. Hispanics are also the fastest growing minority group, growing at a rate of 3.4 percent in the last year.

“Unfortunately, the reality is that despite being a large presence in the United States, a certain percentage of Hispanics suffer from discrimination. Unfortunately, the ongoing immigration debate, and the negative rhetoric has caused an increase in discrimination and hate crimes against Hispanic Americans across the country.

“Hispanic families are also disproportionately impacted by poverty, poor healthcare and other social injustices in our country. We must raise awareness and work towards eliminating these inequalities in not only the Hispanic community, but all of our communities, which is something that as Co-Chairs of the Congressional Out of Poverty Caucus, myself, Congressman Joe Baca, Congressman Mike Honda, Congressman John Conyers, and Congressman G.K. Butterfield are working to do.

“This year, I introduced and the House and Senate passed H.Con.Res.148, to celebrate the Heritage of Caribbean Americans who are also part of the Hispanic community. This includes notable Hispanic-Americans such as Celia Cruz, the world renowned queen of Salsa music and Roberto Clemente, baseball legend and the first Latino inducted into the baseball hall of fame.

“In addition, I hope to strengthen ties between the United States and the Caribbean countries, which includes some nations that are part of the Hispanic Diaspora. Through creating important alliances, promoting educational exchanges, my bill H.R.176, the Shirley A. Chisholm United States-Caribbean Educational Exchange Act of 2007, which was passed by the House, will help strengthen that relationship. At the same time, it will create those partnerships between these nations and Hispanic-serving institutions, as well Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

“Over the years, I have had the great pleasure to work closely with a number of distinguished leaders from the Hispanic community in my district. Three who most prominently come to mind include Jane Garcia, CEO of La Clinica de la Raza, Gilda Gonzales of the Unity Council, and Patricia Loya of Centro Legal.

“Before La Clínica de La Raza was established, low-income residents in the East Bay had few options available to them for affordable health care. Now, La Clínica offers comprehensive services including: pediatrics, family medicine, women's health care, mental health services, dental and vision care, and health education. They offer these services regardless of people's ability to pay or lack of insurance coverage.

“For the past 20 years, under Jane Garcia's leadership, La Clinica has become the largest employer of the Fruitvale area, employing close to 500 full-time staff that are diverse and multi-lingual.

“Another extraordinary organization is The Unity Council. Under the leadership of Gilda Gonzalez, the Unity Council has expanded into a prototype for other community organizations, creating innovative programs that help to alleviate and hopefully soon eliminate the poverty in her community.

“The Unity Council was founded in 1964 and has been committed to enriching the quality of life of families primarily in the Fruitvale District of Oakland. Its primary focus has been to create a healthier and safer community for families and residents by implementing and managing integrated programs addressing economic, social, and physical development.

“Gilda Gonzalez has worked tirelessly to lead the Unity Council since the fall of 2004. In 2006, she was named one of the 35 most influential Latinos in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Hispanic Chamber. In 2005, she was selected as one of the “40 under 40” by the San Francisco Business Times.
“Centro Legal was founded in 1969 as a comprehensive legal service and community development agency. Their mission is to protect and advance the rights of immigrant, low-income and Latino communities through bilingual legal representation, education, community organizing and advocacy.

“Under Patricia Loya’s leadership, Centro Legal has flourished by combining quality legal services with movement building activities, education and social services.

“These three women have worked tirelessly to address social and economic issues in my district. They exemplify what it means to provide service and leadership in their community. They have and continue to devote themselves to improving the lives of Oakland’s Latino community, and I owe a great debt of gratitude for the contributions that they have made over the years.

“Latinos are very much a part of our history as any other community. Their honorable contributions to our diverse culture are admirable and I am proud to recognize their work. I look forward to continuing to work with them and others to eliminate the inequalities members of the Hispanic community still face, whether they are recent immigrants or fourth generation citizens, and to help realize the American Dream that all are able to achieve success no matter the color of our skin, or religion or orientation.”