On Feb. 14-17, 11 members of Bellevue College’s El Centro Latino Resource Center and Latin American Culture Club attended the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute Conference in Chicago. The USHLI conference has been bringing Hispanic community leaders from high school age to company CEOs together for over 30 years and is the largest conference of his kind and aims to promote education, unity, leadership and service by “maximizing civic awareness, engagement and participation,” according to the USHLI website.
El Centro and the LACC discovered the conference online about six months beforehand and decided it was a good fit for their interests and goals. The conference was expensive, but the students who attended thought it was well worth the money.
“We went to many workshops and networked with many Latino leaders and students like ourselves,” said Victoria Sifuentes, a student who attended the conference. “It was a great opportunity to branch out with other students like us or see what their passions were, and what made them want to continue higher ed. or the job they were doing.”
The workshops and presentations were led by prominent leaders in the Hispanic community. Highlights included a presentation entitled “Dream Bigger, Reach Higher: Social Justice and Activism through Spoken Word” by Michael Reyes and meeting Civil Rights Activist Dolores Huerta.
“It was very inspiring to finally see Latino leaders, whether it be government officials or doctors or lawyers. It’s something that’s not very common here. Even on this campus that you have a professor or faculty member that is Latino so having those people talk to you about their difficulties and the struggle that they went through, but in spite of everything they were able to make it through, that was pretty awesome,” said El Centro Latino Director Gabriela Gonzalez.
Gonzalez continued: “One of the reasons to get motivated was to continue higher education because education is the route to success and [many of the speakers] didn’t have the opportunity to have a higher education and yet they were able to make it. But then there were also people with Ph.D.s who started from the very bottom but because they were able to get that higher education they were able to be where they are now.”
Victor Morales found those presenters without a college degree particularly inspirational because they “set the bar pretty high” without any higher education, and as a college student, he felt he had the opportunity to reach even higher. “The other thing I learned is that dissatisfaction is the driving factor to take action for something you really want to do in the community.”
Andrea Torres, president of the Latin American Culture Club, stressed the importance of embracing Hispanic culture and leaders, as Latinos are the fastest-growing minority. This conference helped the students in attendance learn to step up as leaders in their communities.
Gonzalez hopes that next years’ students will have the opportunity to attend the conference: “We’re hoping that this is still a possibility, because it took a lot of money to make this possible and we really hope the school is willing to support us for next year.”