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As the nation celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, Philanthropy Roundtable interviewed Mario H. Lopez, president of Hispanic Leadership Fund. HLF focuses on protecting the American dream for all by steadfastly defending historically proven principles that strengthen and empower families, communities and America as a whole.
The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Can you tell us about Hispanic Leadership Fund – its mission and the policies it supports that allow for greater economic mobility?
Lopez: HLF’s core principles related to public policy are advancing liberty, opportunity and prosperity for all Americans. In a practical sense we know that all issues are “Hispanic issues” since Latinos are now interwoven into the fabric of America: 65 million people, with 35 million of those being eligible to vote. We weigh in on a variety of topics, including a few that some might find surprising, like energy, technology and telecommunications policy.
Q: How did you come to lead Hispanic Leadership Fund and how did your personal journey bring you to this point?
Lopez: The genesis of the efforts that became HLF started during my two stints on Capitol Hill. As a liaison to outside coalition groups for House Conference leadership and then for Hispanic Members of Congress, it was impossible for me to not notice that there was no voice that was focused on Hispanic constituents and operating in the same way as other successful advocacy organizations. I had been involved in several political party-centric groups, but there was not a group that stood on a policy level for free market principles that was not also beholden to or purposefully subdued by the established political order.
We are proud to say HLF was the first nonpartisan advocacy organization focused on communicating principles of liberty to Latinos, with experienced political and policy professionals who know how to win. That commitment and multi-faceted skill set helps us to be effective. And independence has always been an important part of our success. First, because it is the right thing to do, but also because you need to maintain credibility with the people with whom you are communicating, and often, trying to persuade.
I grew up in an urban, inner-city environment—a fairly rough neighborhood. From an early age I followed news and current events and learned about economic liberty by happenstance. It was clear right away that 99% of like-minded political leaders had no interest in communicating to people like me, my family, my friends and our neighbors—despite the clear evidence of leftist policy failures all around us. So, from the beginning of my interest in politics, I was passionate about evangelizing to others in similar circumstances.
Q: How have free market policies and education about them impacted the Latino communities you serve?
Lopez: Latinos live and breathe the success of free markets every day. For example, more recent immigrants and their families came here for economic opportunities that were limited for them through authoritarianism, neglect or corruption in other countries. Hispanics are incredibly entrepreneurial, starting businesses at a rate much higher than other Americans, and free markets are essential to their success and growth.
Many challenges to education about free market policies arise when there are complex social problems that can seem unique for certain communities, but leaders and community members are only hearing one side of the debate. I often suggest that people ask themselves: If you have a problem, and you constantly only hear from folks from a certain point of view on how to address the problem, aren’t you much more likely to agree with the view that was presented to you, instead of the view of those who are absent, won’t talk to you, or even worse, argue that the problem isn’t significant or doesn’t really exist?
Q: How would you describe how your work is helping to preserve the American dream?
Lopez: First, there is the foundation of the principles that guide our organization and then our work to connect policies to those principles. Free markets and the American constitutional order made the United States the most prosperous country on Earth—a Shining City on the Hill. Protecting those things that made our country great, and the American dream achievable for so many, is a constant goal. Luckily for us, polling consistently shows that Latinos are optimistic about the American dream and realize it is possible to succeed in the United States. Communicating to these constituents about a specific policy has to be centered around the real world effects of how it impacts them and their families’ lives.
And political independence, as I mentioned previously, has only grown in importance because politicians on both sides are adopting more authoritarian stances on a variety of issues. Human history proves that statist policies, whether from the left or right, simply do not work. At a minimum they prevent prosperity for everyday people, and at worst, they result in oppression.
Q: What’s been your general experience with diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and messaging in your work, especially with Latino communities? Have you seen DEI efforts that have been helpful, harmful or both?
Lopez: Some of the folks who promote DEI may be well-intentioned, and the words themselves can be interpreted in a constructive way. But in practice we’ve seen that the resulting orthodoxy very much fits in with, and reinforces, a narrower world view that ends up fanning the flames of division and does not acknowledge that there are other, often better ways to empower individuals and achieve positive outcomes.
One theme we keep in mind at HLF is although we look to focus heavily on communicating with Latino constituents, we always do so with the purpose of creating unity, not division. We can keep in perspective that policy disagreements should not lead us away from acknowledging that we are all American and should want to uphold our common commitment to what America stands for. And crucially, at a time when there is a nationalist streak on the political right, we fight to uphold the truth that anyone, from any corner of the Earth, can become American if they believe in the fundamental principles of our republic.
Q: How does the Latino community in the United States define and experience the positives of diversity?
Lopez: It is important to note that the Latino community is itself quite diverse. Hispanic is an ethnic category, not a racial one. So, as examples, you have people who come from various Caribbean basin countries who are Black, people like my mom who have super fair skin and green eyes, and people of primarily indigenous backgrounds. There are portions of Latin America that have substantial Japanese and Lebanese populations, as additional examples.
So, for Latinos, diversity is built-in to a certain degree. And with rates of intermarriage increasing, we are, as I mentioned previously, an ongoing part of the American fabric.