October 13, 2000

From His Roots as a Farm Worker to His Success as a Community Leader, Juan Andrade Jr.'s Commitment to Empowering Latinos Has Never Wavered

Chicago - A farm worker for 18 years, Juan Andrade Jr. knows how to appreciate the fruits of his labor. His life in the fields of his hometown of Brownwood, Texas during the 1950s and `60s taught him perseverance and the importance of a job well done.

But farm work also made him realize that to succeed in the United States, Latinos need education, political representation and participation.

In the late `60s, Andrade became involved in voter registration efforts and embarked on what would become a life-long pursuit of higher learning. His academic accomplishments thus far —an undergraduate degree, two master's and a doctorate— paved the way toward realizing his calling as a community leader.

As co-founder and president of the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, a Chicago-based, non-profit organization with a mission to increase voter registration and participation, Andrade exemplifies the importance of education and political participation in the Latino community.

"One of the biggest challenges facing Latinos is the lack of leadership in our community," says the 53-year-old Andrade. "As America turns more and more to the Hispanic community for leaders, we must be prepared to step up and meet that challenge and the key is education."

Tired of the lack of political representation he saw in Texas in the 1960s, Andrade began working in voter registration campaigns -- and speaking out about the need for Latinos to participate in the political process. By 1970, he was a state director for voter registration campaigns. Four years later, he joined Willie C. Velasquez, a Chicano movement organizer, in his quest to increase the number of Latino voters by encouraging Chicanos to vote and non-citizens to become citizens so that they, too, could cast their vote.

Today, he proudly makes note of the strides Latinos have made in the last two decades.

"We're making a lot of progress," he says, noting that in the last 20 years, Latino voter registration has increased 164% in comparison with a 31% increase in the general population, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. "People had to organize and institutional barriers had to be eliminated."

A concurrent increase in voter turnout during the same period is another source of pride for Andrade —135% for Latinos, compared with a 21% increase in the general population, according the U.S. Census figures.

Part of his mission as president of the USHLI is to educate Latinos about the obstacles that kept Latinos away from the voting booths, Andrade says, "so that they don't take their voting right for granted."

A major ploy, says the soft-spoken Andrade, was a required $1.75 poll tax in Texas that few Latinos were willing to pay. Other tactics that were effective in keeping Latinos away were laws requiring voters to read and write English, own property and register one year prior to the election.

"We're a proud people, and we don't go where we're not wanted," Andrade says. "We just take a deep breath, pump out our chest and don't vote."

In 1983, while working on a voter registration drive in San Antonio, Andrade met Rita DiMartino, an AT&T vice president of congressional relations. DiMartino became involved in Andrade's mission and offered to help him raise the money needed to organize the community.

"I have long admired Juan for the outstanding leader he is —a man who is a role model to the Latino community, and more specially, to our youth," says DiMartino. "He is a man of determination, compassion and integrity, someone who uses a common sense approach in helping others."

AT&T generous financial support over the years, An-drade says, contributed to USHLI's ability to organize community meetings, conduct workshops and carry out its mission.

Without AT&T's belief in him and the company's commitment to his cause, Andrade says he would have been hard-pressed to recruit additional sponsors.

"Other organizations became aware that AT&T was supporting us, and they felt that if we were good enough for AT&T, we were good enough for them," Andrade says.

A modest man, Andrade has a hard time describing himself as a leader. Yet, his students, colleagues and staff can't say enough about his exemplary leadership.

"Juan Andrade is a man of conviction," says Eduardo Garza, who met Andrade at a community meeting 12 years ago and is a USHLI director. "To get ahead and have power and legitimacy, you need education," Garza says, pointing to Andrade's accomplishments.

Andrade is currently working toward his third master's degree, and upon completion, he will have earned five higher education degrees in disciplines ranging from education to urban studies, in addition to an honorary doctorate from Howard Payne University.

When asked what compels him to continue earning degrees, Andrade thoughtfully responds that education energizes and nourishes him, adding, "As leaders we need to take ourselves out of our comfort zones and learn different things outside of our field of work."

A father of four, Andrade smiles when he proudly relates that two of his children are college graduates and the other two are following closely in their footsteps.

Because of Andrade's work as a promoter of political participation, he is often invited to speak at conferences and seminars promoting democracy, especially in Central and South America and Mexico.

He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by HISPANIC Magazine in 1998, had the honor of being the only Hispanic representative of the United States invited to attend the inauguration of El Salvador President Armando Calderon Sol and was included in Hispanic Business Magazine's 100 Most Influential Hispanics in America in 1984, 1995 and 1996.

Andrade has come a long way from picking cotton, cabbage and cantaloupe in 105-degree weather deep in the heart of Texas. But not much has changed when it comes to embracing his community, increasing Latinos' political participation and his pursuit of higher education.

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