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Pilar Avila, Executive Director, New America Alliance

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Pilar Avila, Executive Director, New America Alliance

May 5, 2004 -  Click here
to listen to Pilar Avila's speech at AJC's 98th Annual Meeting.

Maria del Pilar Avila
New America Alliance Executive Director
AJC Intergroup Relations in the 21st Century Panel Remarks
May 5, 2004

Good afternoon! First of all, on behalf of New America Alliance I would like to thank AJC leaders and members for your vision and your friendship. It is truly a privilege to have the opportunity to join you today and share some of our perspective regarding intergroup relations in the 21st century.

I will provide highlights regarding New America Alliance (NAA), our guiding principles and mission, our involvement in intergroup relations, specifically as it relates to Latino Jewish collaboration, and the implications I see on the dynamics of our common national and global interests.

In June 1999, NAA Co-Founders Henry Cisneros, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Raul Yzaguirre, Founder and President of the National Council of La Raza, introduced a small group of prominent American Latino leaders to the concept for a new leadership organization that was soon organized as New America Alliance. Today, around 100 very successful American Latinos comprise the membership and lead the NAA organization.

NAA is organized on the principle that American Latino business leaders have the responsibility to lead the process of building the forms of capital most crucial for Latino progress, including - economic capital, political capital, human capital and the practice of philanthropy. At a glance, this seems very similar to what several other great Latino organizations have been doing for many years. However, NAA's uniqueness is in the American Latino leaders who envisioned it, those who joined early on to build its foundation, and those who have joined along the way. They are extraordinarily successful, they stand tall as individuals, but when their collective success, economic and political access, their personal time and resources are leveraged in a network like NAA, so that others can have the possibility to achieve the same and more success than they have, it provides a great opportunity - the opportunity to approach our agenda from a position of power.

Our founders were extremely wise in studying successful models such as the American Jewish organizational model to ensure that lessons learned by successful communities were applied to this new Latino leadership network since its inception. We adopted the concept of tzedakah, it became part of our foundation and principles. NAA members committed to give generously and to invest in our own solutions. Also an important part of our foundation is that Latinos of all origins, their interests and agendas, merged into one national American Latino agenda; this was achieved by actively securing the participation of a diverse group of Latinos from the beginning including our Latino-Jewish members.

NAA's empowerment and wealth building agenda focuses in promoting the participation of American Latinos on corporate boards and opening access to the finance industry, particularly as it pertains to private equity funding. Given that not even 2% of Fortune 1000 board positions are occupied by Latinos and that barely half a percent of private equity funding is invested in Latino companies, we have committed most of our time and resources to change this situation.

Just to bring a more ample perspective to the issue of Latino empowerment, consider the following facts:

  • Today, Latino purchasing power is estimated at 700 billion dollars and by the end of this decade it is expected to reach a trillion dollars

  • Today, Latinos comprise about 15 percent of our nation's population and by mid 21st century in 2050 the Latino population will triple and it will comprise 25 percent of the US population,

  • In 2003, Latinos accounted for almost 13 percent of the civilian workforce, almost 11 percent of the private sector workforce, obtained 5 percent of bachelor's degrees, owned about 5 percent of all businesses. Yet again, corporate board participation did not reach 2 percent and private equity financing barely reached half a percent.

I believe the accelerated growth of the Latino community in the 80's and 90's and the recognition of American Latino influence in politics, culture, arts and other aspects of American life encouraged established and young Latino leaders to recognize their opportunity and their responsibility to not only participate but assume positions of leadership in a variety of platforms. American Latino life and outlook evolved from insular and provincial to national and global; our quest for social and political inclusion is now about full economic empowerment and participation; our preoccupation with obtaining access to higher education evolved to seeking access to the corporate board; and vision of entrepreneurial success now comes with the possibility of turning a small family business into a New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ listed company.

This new level of maturity, growing readiness and confidence provided the necessary ingredients for an organization like New America Alliance to become a reality. It provided our leadership - the protagonists of this American Latino transformation - the ability to look outside our community for examples of success and potential alliances. It provided us the opportunity to become a facilitator and a vehicle for the establishment of a more sophisticated collaboration between the Latino and the Jewish communities. And AJC and its leadership have played a pivotal role in this process. I am referring, specifically, to the effort initiated by Dina Siegel Vann and the leadership of B'nai B'rith in 2000 that provided an opportunity for NAA, AJC and a number of other Latino and Jewish organizations to reevaluate our relationship and elevate our collaboration through the creation of the Latino Jewish Leadership Council.

Inaugurated in 2003, the Latino Jewish Leadership Council serves as a vehicle though which a group of national Latino and Jewish organizations are collaborating to enhance our organizational and leadership communication, increase mutual understanding of Latino and Jewish issues and priorities, and identify issues of common interest that would be better advanced by Latino-Jewish collaboration. In addition to AJC and B'nai B'rith, other Jewish organizations involved in this effort include the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Other participating Latino organizations, in addition to NAA, include the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials and the National Council of La Raza.

I would like to share with you part of my personal journey through this process. I recall the steps we went though after the March 2001 Latino Jewish Leadership Summit to identify areas of potential collaboration and issues of specific or more relevant interest to each one of our communities, in addition to areas of common ground. Some of the more relevant Latino issues were identified as immigration, education, and Latin America relations and trade. Jewish issues were identified as providing for a strong a secure Israel and efforts to counter terrorism worldwide. I could understand the issues identified by our Jewish friends and the relevance for inclusion as part of the Council agenda, but my perception at that time was that these were not my immediate issues as a Latina; I felt these were not concerns for the Latino community, then. Our common ground was identified in relation to join domestic goals related to education, immigration, and other economic issues.

A visit to Israel in June of 2001 by invitation of Project Interchange gave me a brand new perspective. Not by instruction of anyone I interacted with during that experience, but by my independent interpretation, I soon understood that the stability in Israel and the Middle East, and the threat of terrorist acts were also my issues, issues of absolute priority for our nation. Today, many other Latinos and other Americans share the understanding I gained then.

Clearly, there is ample common ground for our communities - more than education, immigration, economic development. Certainly, national security, global protection against terrorism, stability in the Middle East, the security of Israel, must be a priority for all in our nation.

We must all recognize that the more recent dramatic shifts in global concerns, national and global economy dynamics, the reorganization of US national concerns and priorities, and the change in national demographics - by 2050 it is expected that 50 percent of the US population will be white, 25 percent Latino, 14 percent black, 8 percent Asian and 5 percent other - provide the environment for more dramatic changes to come. Change is the only guarantee. If as a nation, we do not adapt quickly and efficiently, there are no guarantees of the extent of our global influence and what role we, as a nation, will play in that arena in years to come.

This, I submit to you, has and will continue to define the nature of intergroup collaboration in our nation. Furthermore, this dialogue must be inclusive of other ethnic groups.

I would like to conclude by reading part of the conclusion from the brilliant letter of April 14, a Changing America, from AJC Executive Director David Harris. Mr. Harris wrote this in reference to American Jews coalition efforts. I will read the same statement but I will replace the reference to American Jews with a reference to American Latinos:

"Nevertheless, American Jews (Latinos) will have to become even more adept at the field of interethnic and interfaith diplomacy, building ties with other communities based on mutual understanding and mutual interest and, for our part, a high comfort level with Jewish (Latino) values and issues. Coalitions are the name of the game, and they require both acute sensitivity and well-honed skills of negotiation and compromise".