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Latino Leaders Network convened in Houston to honor role model, promotes book for schools

September 22, 2018

Latino Leaders Network, a national organization dedicated to building unity among Hispanics trail blazers headquartered in Washington, convened Friday in Houston to spotlight positive role models in an effort to change the negative narrative they see coming from the White House.

The Latino Leaders Network, a nonprofit headquartered in Washington D.C. that promotes the contributions of Hispanics in a wide array of pursuits, celebrated its 55th Latino Leaders Luncheon Series at the Marriott Marquis Houston. This year the group honored the work of award-winning Mexican-American journalist and author Alfredo Corchado with the Eagle Leadership Award.

“We have role models, heroes and outstanding leaders who are deserving of recognition and praise for their contribution to our community and, moreover, our country,” said Mickey Ibarra, Founder and Chairman of the Latino Leaders Network.

The award recognizes national leaders who have made a significant impact on the lives of Latinos in the United States, and has previously been conferred on more than 50 Hispanics, from senators, mayors and former presidential appointees, to artists, media personalities and religious trailblazers.

Nearly all the speakers at the event voiced frustration with the negative narrative coming from the Trump administration, and championed the need for Latinos to combat and alter that narrative to conform with their growing potential for national service and opportunity.

“In this city we are about building for the future,” said Major Sylvester Turner, the keynote speaker of the event. “I don’t care who the president may be, but you can’t put the chains back; this is a new day, this is a new time, and people are demanding to be sitting themselves around the table of decision making. And in the future, a Hispanic president, Hispanic senators, Hispanic mayors, who knows what the future may bring, and I believe it will happen right here in the city of Houston.”

Corchado is the author of two acclaimed books, including “Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter’s Journey Through a Country’s Descent into Darkness. ” His newest book, “Homelands: Four Friends, Two Countries and the Fate of the Great Mexican-American Migration,” was published this year.

“His personal story of obstacles overcome to achieve success inspires us to dream big and be ready to lead,” Ibarra said.

Corchado, born in Mexico and raised in California before moving to Texas, is an unlikely success story from a family of eight children born to migrant farmworker parents. As a teenager raised in extreme poverty, he worked to help support his family while bearing up under parental pressure to be an example for his younger siblings. It created a personal crisis that almost forced him down the wrong path, as he wrote in his latest book.

Instead, he has become an authority in the Latino media on Mexico’s drug wars and border issues, drawing on a long career as reporter and Mexico’s correspondent for medias outlets like The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio and The Dallas Morning News. He has received death threats and risked his life to cover mass killings and expose corrupt government officials entangled with cartels in that country.

“We have become the piñata of this administration (of President Donald Trump), a relentless hit and hit; we are the enemy, the scapegoat of all problems, and as a journalist I feel that this is a crucial moment to tell stories that humanize us and present a different picture,” the writer said.

But Corchado doesn’t take himself too seriously.

“I do not see myself as an authority or a leader,” Corchado said of the recognition. “I see myself as a journalist and as a storyteller who shares stories about who we are; immigrants who have built this country as Germans, Irish, Hungarians, Italians, Mexicans and many others have done.”

In his book Homelands, Corchado tells the story of four friends of Mexican origin with different backgrounds; he, a restaurant owner, an Ivy League lawyer and an activist. “I wanted to wave the big picture of the Great Mexican Migration as the backdrop with our contemporary bicultural history, dilemmas and contributions,” he told the Chronicle. It’s a story of friendship in spite of the differences, “and I hope that in this changing America people can associate with it; the immigrant experience that unites us all.”

That immigrant experience, however, seems to be forgotten in today’s America, Corchado said.

St. Sen. Sylvia Garcia, running to become the first Hispanic woman in the U.S. Senate from Texas, noted that Houston’s public safety response was during Hurricane Harvey was overseen by Police Chief Art Acevedo, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and Fire Cheif Samuel Peña.

“You have the White House talking about the MS-13, gangs, and murderers,” Garcia said. “But they are not looking right here in Houston where during Hurricane Harvey at the table were Latinos, the sheriff, the Police Chief, the Fire Chief, leading and making critical life and death decisions for our entire region.”

An uncomplimentary portrait of Latinos isn’t a new occurrence. Studies show that they have been poorly represented in TV and the entertainment and publishing industries, and when used are cast for shameful roles in movies and series and overly associated with negative stories in the media.

Book to schools

“Our personal stories are powerful and need to be told,” Chairman Ibarra said.

The mission of the Latino Leaders Network is to promote successful stories about Latinos to counter decades of stereotypes.

“The negative narrative about our community from the White House and too many other places needs correction,” said Ibarra, who was Assistant to the President and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs during the Bill Clinton administration.

As part of the organization’s effort to disseminate a positive narrative about Latinos, the over 200 participants at the event received a copy of the book “Latino Leaders Speak: Personal Stories of Struggle and Triumph,” published by University of Houston’s Arte Público Press.

The book is a compilation of 33 Latino leaders telling their own American stories.

“We have the goal to introduce this book in as many schools as we can,” said state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, who spoke at the event.

“It tells many stories that can be an inspiration to others, especially young people and Latinos to see that there are many successful leaders and role models in the community that they can” look up to, she said.

Alvarado said the book will be included in the library of the University of Houston-Downtown after she and Ibarra brought the idea this week to Juan Sánchez Muñoz, president of the institution. She is also brokering its introduction in the Houston Community College system and also met on Thursday with Donna Bahorich, chair of the State Board of Education.

The chairwoman “made a commitment to include the book in Texas school libraries” when a new Mexican-American studies curriculum currently under development takes effect, Alvarado said.

olivia.tallet@chron.com

Twitter.com/oliviaptallet

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