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Yakima Court ruling could be key to assisting goal of creating Latino-community power

Latino leaders in Washington who have sought to get the state's rapidly growing Latino population to find ways to work together, both in business and politics, may now have found the key to greater cooperation in the potential fallout from a federal court ruling last week

Judge Thomas Rice ordered the City of Yakima to change its election system, which he said violated the Voting Rights Act by denying Latinos full participation in City Council races. He said Yakima's at-large elections block representation by Latinos, who represent a third of the city's voting-age population.

"What's going on in Yakima has been a problem for a long time in the counties as well," said Gene Juarez, who grew up in the Yakima Valley to become arguably the state's most successful Latino businessman as founder and CEO of Gene Juarez Salons and Spas.

Gene Juarez

The reality is that if districts need to be carved out in city elections in place of at-large races, and perhaps even in future races for county commissioner, it will represent opportunity for Latinos to begin learning how to flex their muscle.

Afterall, Latinos make up 30 to 50 percent of the population in some Eastern Washington counties, and as much as 80 to 90 percent in some cities.

But first will have to come a cultural change for Latinos, whose leaders say they must learn the importance of organization and cooperation.

Jorge Madrazo, a leading figure in the administrations of two Mexican presidents and now a key executive with Seamar, the Washington state's largest 501c3 and focused on providing healthcare to low-income citizens with an emphasis on Latinos, says "we need to learn how to organize and learn the value of organizing."

Enrique Cerna, the prize-winning journalist for KCTS public television in Seattle, observes that coordination of the state's rapidly growing Latino population, which grew by 71 percent between 2000 and 2010 "has been a real challenge."

The federal court ruling may spur more interest among both Latinos and key supporters in the first-ever sketch of the significant and growing part of the Central Washington business community that Latino businesses represent, a survey conducted and tallied in a program at Eastern Washington University..

The study, guided by D. Patrick Jones, Ph.D., executive director of the Institute for Public Policy & Economic Analysis at EWU, painted the first real picture of the Latino entrepreneurial community and debunked some key stereotypes about Latinos taking advantage of government services.

The data for the EWU report came from interviews conducted with Latino business owners in Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Spokane Counties by Martin Meraz-Garcia of the school's Chicano Education Program.

And the data would suggest the Latino business owners are often the kind of entrepreneurs routinely applauded by those who praise the entrepreneurial spirit of classic American success stories.

Fully 65 percent of the business entrepreneurs interviewed were first-generation immigrants who came to the U.S. with only the clothes on their backs and very little in the way of skills but with the dream of someday becoming business owners themselves. And 87 percent started their businesses with their own personal savings and without assistance from financial institutions.

Patrick Jones

The study, which Jones expects will be followed up with similar surveys in other counties with heavily Hispanic/Latino populations, notes that first-generation immigrants were the biggest share of participants, at 65 percent of the overall sample. And he adds that 87 per cent of the Latino entrepreneurs started their businesses with their own personal savings and without assistance from financial institutions.

Juarez, who jokes that he early on earned his PhD, which he explains means Personal Hair Dresser, thinks that the issue of Latino business owners not being able to qualify for the usual level of security for bank loans could be addressed by the SBA modifying its standards to allow banks to accept those with low security for their loans.

Juarez, who became one of the most salon owners in the country, describes himself as a conservative and says his view of redistribution of wealth "is to dispense it to those who want to work, and Hispanics are hard workers with a hardworking cultural background."

Madrazo, who was chairman of Mexico's National Commission for Human Rights for one Mexican president, then attorney general of Mexico from 1996 to 2000, adds "Latinos need to learn how to work together and change our way of thinking."

Madrazo, who in 2011 took over and re-energized the Northwest chapter of U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce and now guides business development for the only healthcare entity aiming to attend to the growing Latino population in the state, chuckles when he says "learning how to do public relations is the most challenging thing on the planet for all Latinos."

Cerna, born in 1953 in Yakima seven years after his parents arrived there from Mexico, says "the challenge is trying to get Latinos to work together and thus there's currently an inability to be a strong political force."

The immigration issue looms large for the Latino business people interviewed in the EWU survey by Martín Meraz-Garcia of the school's Chicano Education program, with many of the business people citing immigration raids and recent audits of companies as the primary reason for the slowdown of economic activity in some areas, Jones said.

There is a lot to suggest that immigration may be the issue that brings the community focus and the ability to work together that Latino leaders see as missing for Washington's Latino population that now represents just under 12 percent of total state population and has grown by 72 percent from 2000 to 2010.

Particularly since a key finding in the interviews conducted for Jones' study by Martina Garcia, Ph.D., how deeply felt and positively viewed immigration reform is among these Latino entrepreneurs.

Jones, formerly an executive at Spokane's Intercollegiate Research and Technical Institute and the first head of the Biotechnology Association of the Spokane Region, says "this business sector will be a very important base of the business community in the next generation or so."

But more near term, he notes "the challenge is to engage these people, because then the question will be to what extent will the Latino vote influence the 2016 elections."

Before 2016, of course, there are the 2014 elections, and a coupleor other interesting Latino developments are the 1st Congressional District campaign by Pedro Celis, who won the Republican nomination to seek to unseat Democratic incumbent Susan Del Bene, and the planned Seattle fund raiser for a Democratic Congressman running for re-election in California's Coachella Valley.

Celis, a former Microsoft engineer who would be the state's first Latino congressman, sums up his view on the immigration issue as "wider doors and higher fences," but adding "we need to make iteasier to come into the country legallyand "trying to deport 11 million people is not only impossible but not in our best interest as a nation."

And intriguing in election-year politics is the political fund-raiser being planned in Seattle for Raul Ruiz, Democratic congressman from California's 38th District encompassing the Coachella Valley.

The fundraiser is being organized by Ralph Ibarra, a third generation American of Mexican descent who is a self-described advocate and activist for the Hispanic/Latino community, is attracting support from both within Latino ranks and beyond for his fund-raising for Ruiz, a Harvard MD.

"It is critical that Latina/Latino elected leaders like Dr. Ruiz remain in place so that the interests of Hispanic/Latino Americans are championed at the highest levels of government," explained Ibarra,who consults with corporations and institutions on Latino affairs but has a particular focus on 9-11 veterans and their families.

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Prominent Latino friends target healthy slice of growing U.S. mezcal market

A retired Seattle baseball hero and two successful entrepreneur friends, all of Latino heritage, are embarked on an effort to bring Mexico's most popular mezcal spirit to successful penetration of the U.S., and possibly other parts of the world where the cousin of tequila might find a market.


It was five years ago that Mike Sotelo, a Seattle businessman with deep roots in the Latino communities around the state, formed La Plaza International LLC with exclusive U.S. and world rights to El Zacatecano and sought out Gene Juarez and Edgar Martinez as partners.


Gene Juarez

Juarez, who grew up poor in the Yakima Valley but went on to establish the Northwest's best-known chain of hair salons that still bears his name, and Martinez, whose career with the Seattle Mariners likely destines him for baseball's Hall of Fame, quickly decided to come aboard.


So did Greg Brown, managing director of the Caprock Group, a wealth management firm, whom Sotelo sought out as a partner who brought both money and financial expertise to the business.

"Mike brought in a money guy, a marketer and a celebrity," says Spencer Kunath, whom Sotelo and Juarez brought aboard as the key executive to oversee the business operations and growth of the company.


Mike Sotelo
Mike Sotelo

Juarez and Martinez, who have already had substantial financial success in their professional lives, seem less intent on making a fortune in the mezcal business than they do on raising the fortunes of the 400 or so residents of Huitzila, where El Zacatecano has been made for almost 100 years. The spirit gets its name from Zacatecas, the state in which the town is located.


Mezcal is the older but less-known brother of tequila. But sales of the two in the U.S. in recent years suggest Mezcal, which was actually created by the conquistadors whose experimenting with the maguey plant to find a fermented mash resulted in the first mezcal, is overtaking tequila, the national liquor of Mexico.


Edgar Martinez
Although mezcal's share of the agave spirits market (tequila and mezcal) is only 5 percent, sales of mezcal are growing four times as rapidly as tequila sales and have a compound annual growth rate of 42 percent over the past three years, according to figures from the U.S. International trade Commission.


El Zacatecano is fermented from the Highland Weber Blue Agave plants that stretch beyond Huitzila and have been harvested for almost 100 years by the family with which Sotelo and his team have an agreement.


The El Zacatecano distillery is the largest employer in
Huitzila , which lies in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains, about 10 miles northeast of Jalisco state but 141 kilometers, or two and a half hours, by rough road and Mexico 23, to Guadalajara.


In an interview, the three principals agreed that their objective is to "support the organic and sustainable economic development of Huitzila by focusing on employment growth. We want people to have good quality and regular jobs to support their families," said Juarez.


I asked the three if tourism might become a residual benefit for Huitzila in the event they are as successful developing the brand as they hope.


"Not with 75 miles of dirt road to get to the town," Sotelo replied.


In addition, Kunath noted the name of the product is about to change.


"We are migrating our brand over from El Zacatecano to ZAC," he said. "The bottles currently say El Zacatecano but that will be changing next month. It is a slow process. We don't want to do it instantly as we could risk losing loyal customers."


Asked to explain the reason for the change, Kunath quipped: "We want our customers who are downing their third shot to still be able to pronounce the name of their mezcal."


This isn't the first business venture for Sotelo and Juarez. Sotelo was the founder-organizer of Plaza Bank, with the goal of creating a lender whose focus would be on "enhancing the opportunity for Latino entrepreneurs in the state to find funding."


A year after its founding in 2007, the bank, on which Juarez served as a board member, ran into the economic storm that impacted a host of small banks in Washington and across the country.


Kunath says the effort to expand current ZAC distribution on the West Coast will soon expand to Texas, Arizona and Nevada, He adds that they are "close to securing distribution in Korea, Japan and the Emirates Group in the Middle East and North Africa. We have tantalizing opportunities in front of us."
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