More than a “Single Issue Community”: The Congressional Hispanic Conference

Today’s post was written by Lynn Nashorn, textual processing and accessioning archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

Serving as the Republican counterpart to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Conference (CHC) emerged following a rift within the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus was formed in 1976 as a bipartisan organization to ensure the needs of Hispanic or Latinx people were being met.

From the mid to late 1990s, Representatives Henry Bonilla (R-TX), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) left the Caucus over its support of bettering U.S. relations with Cuba. Although Ros-Lehtinen continued to assist the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (the organization’s outreach and fundraising component) by 2000, the Caucus became a solely Democratic organization.

4 men and 1 woman standing around conference table
Secretary Mel Martinez with Congressional Hispanic Conference Members, Apr 9, 2003 (NAID 6188054)

            In 2002, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Florida) organized the CHC to balance out the Caucus’ Democratic agenda and announced its formation in an open letter published by the Wall Street Journal on March 17, 2003. In the letter, Diaz-Balart promised the Conference would “place principle over partisanship on issues directly affecting the betterment of the Hispanic and Portuguese communities” including tax relief and faith-based initiatives. During the administration of President Bill Clinton, the files of Special Assistant Irene Bueno (series NAID 7367472) reflect growing divisions within the Hispanic contingent of Congress. He officially announced the group’s establishment at a press conference on March 19, 2003.  The CHC formed its non-profit, outreach arm, the Congressional Hispanic Conference Institute later that year.

 The CHC disputes the notion that Latin Americans are a “single issue community” and argues that Hispanic and Portuguese Americans should be involved in “all issues” in American politics. These issues include encouraging small businesses, the economy, border security and immigration, free trade with Latin America, and education. Founding member Mario Diaz-Balart and other members of the Conference work is seen in sets of Legislative Files (NAID 79420000) from the National Park Service.

record of Diaz-Balart sponsoring legislative bills
Selections from the Congressional Record, April 2, 2009 (NAID 84286521)

As with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Conference also welcomes members of the Senate. Non-Hispanic congressmen and women can also join the Conference as “associate” members, if their districts include sizeable Latin American populations or if they support the organization’s policy goals.

7 people standing behind table facing camera
Congressional Hispanic Conference members met with Attorney General Al Gonzales, 2005 (wikimedia)

Between 2006 and 2008, the Conference lost almost half of its members due to election losses, resignations, and campaigns for higher federal offices. However, founder Representative Mario Diaz-Balart remains active in the CHC and younger members such as Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-CA) joined the CHC after the 2010 midterm elections. The Conference has not updated its website or social media sites since 2013 and remains a much smaller organization than the Congressional Hispanic Caucus with six members to the Caucus’ 38 members. Yet, it grew out of political differences and remains an important reminder that the Latinx community is not a “single issue community” and that the community holds a multitude of viewpoints across the political spectrum.