Over 1,000 local hispanic business owners, entrepreneurs and community leaders came out last Thursday to the annual California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce convention at the Doubletree Hotel, which was held for the first time in Sonoma County. It provided business workshops, local business informational booths and myriad of famous speakers such as actor Cheech Marin.
The Chamber, which represents around 8,000 Hispanic-owned businesses across the state, kicked of the two-day convention with a press conference, where CHCC President Julian Canete spoke, as well as Sonoma County Supervisor Chairwoman, Shirlee Zane and Rohnert Park Mayor Jake Mackenzie, who welcomed the convention to Rohnert Park.
This year’s convention theme centered around “building bridges for a stronger tomorrow,” which Canete spoke on at the start of the conference.
“This year’s convention theme, ‘Building Bridges for a Stronger Tomorrow,’ speaks to the Hispanic business community’s legacy and vision for building meaningful relationships with people from all backgrounds across all disciplines and regions — not only to strengthen commerce, but also to positively contribute to society as a whole,” Canete said.
In light of the recent events in Charlottesville and the Trump administration, Canete also mentioned CHCC would continue to build bridges against hate and racism.
“We do want to make a comment in light of current events the CHCC shall continue to build bridges across hate, bigotry and racial violence to advance diversity, equity and economic opportunities,” Canete said.
Zane expressed similar thoughts, talking of the importance and the major role that Hispanic businesses have throughout Sonoma County. She also emphasized and praised the important role that not only the CHCC, but how the county itself plays a role in helping Latino communities start out on their own business ventures.
“I’ve lived in Latin America and I’ve worked with Latino immigrants. When I joined the board eight and half years ago, I said, ‘what can we do to help Latinas start their own small businesses?’
We’ve worked on it and I am proud to say we have given a few dollars in terms of assisting the start-up of Latina businesses. After the current administration took office in January, Sonoma County decided that we were lead in the country in pushing back and letting our immigrant population know that we support them 100 percent,” Zane said.
For Rohnert Park and Sonoma County the convention is a unique event to be held locally, as the large convention is usually held in major metropolitan cities, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.
Jenny Chamberlin, President of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Sonoma County said of the event being held in Rohnert Park, “We are honored to have the convention here in Sonoma County. Being selected for this significant event is a testament to the economic and social impact Sonoma County’s businesses, notably over 4,000 Hispanic-owned ones, are making.”
Other special guests and speakers to attend the event included; Benjamin Ramirez, a Hollywood business owner who had to face violent and racist actions when a pedestrian knocked over his food cart, boxing world champ Oscar De La Hoya, Baldwin Park Mayor Pro-Team representative Susan Rubio, Chairman of the Latino Coalition, Hector Barreto and California Assemblywoman Blanco Rubio.
However, before the speaker events, dozens of local businesses set up booths around the hotels’ banquet halls, each displaying their unique business and offering information to convention-goers.
One such booth belonged to Olga Enciso Smith, founder of the Machu Picchu Gallery of the Americas in Silicon Valley, which collects and displays paintings, sculptures and textiles from across the Americas. Smith has attended the convention for many years, this year displaying a variety of paintings and hand woven Peruvian placemats and jewelry made out of red forest seeds.
She said her favorite aspect about the convention is the ability to establish friendships and display the work of artists.
“It’s (her favorite part) the friendships developed and the resources for small businesses to expand. The economy is very important in our lives and small businesses make up a quarter of jobs in the country. And it is important to support artists… since they bring beauty to this world,” Smith said.
Sonoma County Tourism was also present at the event, with Charmaine Louzao, tourism services manager manning the booth. Louzao said the main goal for the tourism groups’ presence at the event, was to get more local businesses to come to Sonoma County.
“We certainly want to talk to businesses who want to bring more business to Sonoma County through their chambers,” Louzao said. And when asked what makes Sonoma stand out from all the other counties Louzao said, “We really have it all, the scenic beauty, the coastline, wine country and food, beer and wine.”
Other businesses who made their-self known at the convention included, the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture and Industry in Riverside, BATS — Bay Area Temporary Sanitation and Bank of America.