The potential behind Latino consumers
The potential behind Latino consumers. (John Minchillo/AP Images for Unilever)

In a not so distant past, corporate sponsorship and Latino advocacy groups were like oil and water.

It wasn’t until the mid-1980s when companies realized the potential behind Mexican and Latino consumers. As community organizer Steve Renderos remembers the quid pro quo didn’t go mainstream until Coors Brewing Company capitalized on a golden opportunity. It used Cinco de Mayo to repair its already troubled image among Hispanics.

But a few fat cats aside, political outcry and change in the community didn’t come by way of Fortune 500 funding. It was a little bit more cunning and inexpensive such as a small group of reporters choosing to use different payphones around Washington, D.C. complaining to the White House that the name of the media room designated for Spanish reporters, “lower press,” was insensitive and needed fixing.

After numerous nagging calls and a ringing endorsement from then U.S. Representative Bill Richardson (D-NM), the White House acquiesced and changed the name to “specialty press.” No lobbying money was exchanged.

Now, with Hispanics gaining political footing and as eight U.S. Senators plan to give immigration its biggest overhaul in 26 years, companies are endearing themselves with Hispanic political leaders and becoming bedfellows with some of the most influential Hispanic organizations. What seemed like oil and water just a few decades ago is now as common as tamales and chile.

Hispanic organizations and Latino consumers

Mother Jones made light of this in their April 8 piece. Reporter Andy Kroll used The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, which he described as “an obscure offshoot of the 27-member, all-Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus,” to show just how much funding has grown for these once inconspicuous organizations.

“CHCI’s coffers have steadily grown in recent years, from nearly $950,000 in revenue in 1990 to $7.7 million in 2012,” Kroll wrote.

The article also pinpoints how $1 million yields a VIP treatment and an opportunity to “maintain a special relationship with CHCI leaders.”

Throw in $300,000 and a company can be the “sole host of the institute’s annual public policy conference, which includes exclusive access to networking events.”

While CHCI maintains that the organization is not for profit, using its money to develop young Latinos by giving them better access to jobs and colleges, many critics have said that organizations such as CHCI and National Council of La Raza are way too involved with big corporations.

Retired educator and current Hispanic Link News Service contributor Jim Lamare made the observation of just how lucrative funding Hispanic organizations was when, a few years ago, he covered a conference hosted by the NCLR—the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States.

Lamare wrote in jest that before listening to President Barack Obama deliver the keynote speech he had to hear a word from NCLR’s sponsors.

“One by one, they came to the dais to make a little pitch for their respective companies. Up they marched—a representative from AT&T, JP Morgan Chase, McDonalds and Time Warner…” Lamare later wrote.

“All the spiels were delivered in near first-rate English, but the intros were done to a nice spicy Latin beat. Oh yeah, then President Barack Obama spoke.”

Esther Aguilera, president and CEO of CHCI, told VOXXI that her organization and other Hispanic institutions have grown their capacity to serve the Latino thanks to the help from corporate and other supporters.

“As the Latino community’s influence and numbers continue to grow, corporations increasingly understand that it is a good business practice to engage with Latino organizations as Latinos are the future of their workforce and customer base,” Aguilera added pointing out that 73 percent of overall giving comes from individuals.

Only 5 percent comes from corporate funding with less than 2 percent of foundation giving going to Hispanic organizations, Aguilera said.

Despite good efforts, critics argue that National Hispanic organizations go down a slippery slope when enveloped in corporate funding. A recent fight over New York’s ban on large sugary drinks serves as a case in point.

Hispanic organizations along with other advocacy groups aimed at helping people of color, sighted with the bottlers in their fight to stop New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to ban high-calorie soft drinks even when obesity affects Hispanics and blacks at alarming levels.

Their effort against Bloomberg’s ban is “not surprising” critics say considering Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. fund Hispanic organizations.

To that end, community organizer Renderos, who is part of Center for Media Justice, said big funding has blinded Hispanic organizations to issues such as net neutrality.

“I can’t speak directly to the relationship between many of these Latino Civil Rights organizations and telecommunications companies,” Renderos told VOXXI, “but when you talk to some of these organizations, what they’ll say is they take money from corporations but it doesn’t impact their stances or our policy platform. But when you look closer, they are often on the same side.”

As far as CHCI is concerned, Aguilera argues that supporters understand that their participation does not guarantee control over policy platform and how the organization is to conduct its business.

Renderos said the growth of national Hispanic organizations have alienated many voices. As a result, communities such as Center for Media Justice and Presente.org have sprung up to safeguard issues overlooked.

“We are online communities,” Renderos said. “These are groups that are saying, we don’t feel reflected by these national groups and we have to establish our own institutions. Otherwise, our voices are not going to be represented.”

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