In January of this year, Roman Hernandez, an employment, labor law, and business litigation lawyer from Portland, Oregon, was named to the Portland Branch Board of Directors. Hernandez is one of few Latinos selected as a director at the Federal Reserve System regional level.
Raising above obstacles and barriers and getting to the Federal Reserve System
“It is a great honor to be selected as a member of this organization,” Hernandez said. A partner and director at the Portland law firm Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, P.C., Hernandez thought the vice president of the Portland Branch was choosing the wrong person.
“I said, are you sure you are asking the right guy?” he admitted in an interview with VOXXI.
The Board was not only looking for leaders in finances but also business-minded people whose opinions and perspectives might shed some light on the present economic situation, provide input about the regional economies and help the body work within its power to boost the recovery, Hernandez shared.
The son of Mexican immigrants — his father was from Leon, Guanajuato, and his mother from Piedras Negras, Coahuila — and the youngest of eight siblings, Hernandez had to work full-time jobs after school and summers in the farming fields to help his family since he was 13-years-old. Despite their own low levels of instruction, the Hernandezes always instilled in their children the love and determination to pursue higher education.
“When I reached high school, one of the counselors told me and another Latino student to enroll in the military or pursue a technical trade while all Anglo students were filling out college applications. He was selling us short,” Hernandez remembered.
Fortunately, his older siblings already in college encouraged him to pursue his ambitions. Hernandez ended being the only of eight children to complete a Juris Doctor degree from Northwestern University School of Law. Prior to law school, Hernandez served in the United States Air Force for nearly five years, attaining the rank of captain. He was later honorably discharged to pursue his studies.
Professional and community activities
Hernandez’s law practice is focused on the defense of employers against employees’ claims for discrimination, harassment, constructive discharge, wrongful discharge allegations and for alleged wage and hour violations in both state and federal courts, including class action litigation.
An active community and civic advocate, Hernandez is a former national president of the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA), former chairman of the board of directors of the HNBA Legal Education Fund, the HNBA’s only charitable foundation, and the past president of the board of directors of the Portland Hispanic Chamber.
Among numerous appointments, in 2006 Governor Kulongoski called on Hernandez to serve on the 10-member board of directors for Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), Oregon’s only academic health center. He was reappointed in 2009.
In 2011, The American Jewish Committee selected Hernandez as one of 12 Hispanic national leaders to participate in Project Interchange, an exchange educational institute with the State of Israel.
“We Hispanics have to work harder to prove ourselves, more than the average Anglo, against a general presumption that they are more competent,” Hernandez shared with VOXXI. “All my appointments have come to me in some unexpected way, I believe because I have committed myself to work hard and become involved in community organizations, always valuing the importance of giving back.”
Hernandez considers education opens up opportunities and prepares Latinos and Latinas to take over greater roles in society.
“When I speak at high schools and colleges, I tell students and parents to be cognitive about the value of education,” he said. “The question is not whether their children have to go to college, but rather ask what college they should go to.”
Individually, Hernandez encourages parents to raise expectations for their children, to encourage them to take leadership roles and change the dynamics of the next generation of Latinos.
“I always tell my son — now seven — that he will be President of the United States!” Hernandez concluded.
Latinos and the Feds
With 12 regional banks, the Federal Reserve System is the spinal cord of the economy. Each one of these privately held banks represents the economic activity of each region: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco.
Many of these cities or regions have vast numbers of Latinos. The 12th District of San Francisco is the only regional Federal Reserve Bank comprising all Western states including Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Among the 281 directors of these regional Federal Reserve regional boards, a handful of Latinos occupy these important seats. Dallas appears to have more than one Hispanic board member while other heavily Latino populated regions have one or two, such as New York district’s Richard L. Carrion, CEO and chairman of Banco Popular de Puerto Rico; or the Atlanta district — which includes Florida — with Carol B. Tome (deputy chair), CEO and executive VP at The Home Depot; and Jose S. Suquet, chairman, president and CEO of the Pan-American Life Insurance Group, both of whose terms end in 2013. A few Latinos seat as directors at city advisory boards in each district.
But a Latino does not seat at the Board of Governors in Washington D.C. — or never has.
A slow recovery
In a slow road to recovery filled with bumps and reboots, the U.S. economy has been growing at around two to three percent GDP since 2010. Despite natural setbacks — such as the recent Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast or the drought in the Southwest — or man-made disasters — like the real estate bubble or the continuous budget/fiscal cliff/debt ceiling soap operas going on in Washington D.C., the economy continues to gradually improve.
But the recovery has not been even for all populations in the country, a report from the Federal Reserve says. Among low-income families, Hispanics suffered the biggest loss of wealth mostly because their home equity is the largest part of their net worth. For many, it accounts for all their assets.
Hispanic businesses were also hit the hardest among all other minority groups, the Gazelle Index reports. Fifty five percent of Hispanic businesses had to reduce their labor force — some as much as half of it — as a result of the economic turndown. The reasons are related to the characteristics of Latino businesses as well as the concentration in industries that suffered a deeper impact such as construction in the West and South states of the country.
Latino organizations believe that experts and professionals from within the community can contribute solutions to issues that impact a demographic gaining political and economic power but lacking enough political or economic representation. Despite efforts from Latino leaders to catapult their own talent into the front lines of the new Obama Administration, the selection has been, to say the least, slow.