California’s Latino business leaders, some voicing concern about the resistance Hispanic people face today in American society, on Friday urged one another to come together for the sake of both economic and social progress during a state business convention held in Rohnert Park.
At a luncheon session in the DoubleTree Hotel ballroom, leaders and speakers at the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce convention gave a mostly upbeat outlook for Latino businesses around the state and nation. But several referred to “difficult times” or “attacks” directed at the Latino community, and one guest, comedian and actor Cheech Marin, briefly ridiculed President Donald Trump.
In the life of a democracy, said Marin, “every once in a while you cough up a hairball.”
The group’s 38th annual convention was the first ever held in the North Bay. It drew more than 800 registrants, including roughly 400 who attended the luncheon.
Thursday’s keynote speaker was Hector Barreto, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, and today’s keynote speaker will be Sandra Lopez, a vice president at Intel.
The convention, which concludes Saturday with a tour of Wine Country, provided an opportunity to celebrate accomplishments by members of the state’s 55 distinct chamber groups, as well as to award up-and-coming Latino business owners. Former gold medal Olympic boxer Oscar De La Hoya was slated Friday evening to present a new award named in his honor for millennial entrepreneurs who contribute to their communities.
However, the need for Latinos to take a stand also came up repeatedly Friday. And no speaker was more direct in their advocacy than Marin, widely known for his role in the counterculture comedy duo of Cheech and Chong.
He recalled the fear expressed by a Trump campaign supporter that without action “you’re going to have a taco truck on every corner.”
Marin suggested the statement failed to note the reality of American life. In Topeka, Kansas, he said, he found 50 Mexican restaurants, more than McDonald’s outlets in the city, and declared that already “there is a taco truck on every corner.”
Marin was given a standing ovation for his comments, which included news of his efforts to build a museum in Riverside that will house his extensive collection of Chicano art.
“Chicano art,” he declared, “is American art,” as legitimate a form as pop art or the Hudson River School movements.
Latinos make up 27 percent of Sonoma County’s population, as well as 39 percent of the state’s population.
But, in a sign of shifting demography, 45 percent of the county’s public school students are Latino. And nonwhites now comprise a majority of babies born in the U.S.
At the luncheon, Hector Barreto, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, told the crowd the U.S. has 4 million Latino-owned businesses, with nearly a quarter of them in California.
“We’re making incredible contributions already” to the economy and local communities, said Barreto, chairman of the Latino Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group.
He suggested this may be both the worst and the best of times for the Latino community. The future is bright, he assured his listeners, but the current challenges are “why organizations like this are more important than ever.”