By Jonathan Devin
Source The Commercial Appeal Memphis, Tennessee
An organization of Hispanic professionals started out the new year with new digs in the heart of Hispanic Memphis.
By reaching out to executives, managers, government officials and college students, the Memphis chapter of the National Hispanic Professional Organization (NHPO) hopes to raise awareness and provide opportunities for connectedness across cultural boundary lines.
“What everyone has in common is that we want to get to know other Hispanic professionals in town and provide a forum where people can talk about issues,” said Ignacio Vincentelli, who is counsel for International Paper and chairman of NHPO.
“We see that when people get together with other people with whom they identify, they feel more a part of the community.”NPHO has over 300 members, about half of whom are non-Hispanic, according to the group’s treasurer, Yvette Caldwell, a State Farm claims inspector of Colombian descent.
The group meets monthly at the East Memphis Hilton for a luncheon featuring speakers who talk about their own career paths as well as topics specific to the Hispanic community. Meetings are always held in English.
At January’s luncheon, U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton of the Western District of Tennessee explained the inner workings of the Department of Justice, particularly in cases involving immigration, drugs, and medical malpractice.
At the beginning of the year, NHPO moved into an approximately 2,000-square-foot bay in the Apple Tree Center at Mt. Moriah Extended and Hickory Hill.
Use of the space, which includes room for about 25 to hold meetings as well as a smaller conference room, was donated in-kind along with utilities by CentroSalud, a Hispanic-owned clinic next door.
Vincentelli furnished the office with a grant from International Paper.
NHPO previously borrowed space from a State Farm office until the company needed the space for its own use. State Farm remains a sponsor of the group.
But Vincentelli said that the new location will benefit the group because of its proximity to Hispanic businesses and groups like Latino Memphis, which is within walking distance.
The office is also a short drive to I-240, Bill Morris Parkway, and the Poplar Avenue business corridor.
Antonio Olavarrieta, a credit analyst for Pfizer originally from Venezuela, said that group gives professionals like him a place in the professional market.
“It’s really hard,” Olavarrieta said. “Before (joining NHPO), I didn’t know anybody besides a couple of friends. I work at Pfizer now, but I used to work at FedEx. It’s amazing when you go to these meetings and you meet people from the same company, but you didn’t have any idea they were there before.”
Statistically, that’s a challenge for many Hispanic professionals.
According to the U.S. Census, only about 18 percent of Hispanic Americans are working in professional or managerial positions. Helping Hispanic college students graduate is key to increasing Hispanic’s presence in corporations.
NHPO has student outreach groups meeting at Southwest Tennessee Community College, Rhodes College, the University of Memphis, and Victory University.
“We’re hoping this type of organization and our collegiate chapters will help increase the rate, that they’ll say yes, you can do it. Maybe you’re the first person in your whole family to graduate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t.” NHPO also offers an annual gala at which college scholarships and community awards are presented, and in February, its annual Leadership Institute begins with weekend sessions to be held both at the new office and at Leadership Memphis on South Main.
Approximately 15 members will attend.
What’s not on the group’s agenda are political debates of immigration laws or leveraging Hispanics’ political power.
Caldwell said that grouping all Hispanic voters is a common stereotype despite the fact that Hispanics come from over 20 countries, not all of which speak Spanish.
“It can be a matter of ignorance,” Caldwell said. “Not everyone who speaks Spanish is from Mexico. Sometimes you can’t blame someone if they’re ignorant of the facts. That’s the job of these organizations, to raise awareness. If you attend our monthly luncheons you can see that it’s very culturally diverse.”
“What we all have in common is that we are professionals,” Vincentelli said.