Across the United States, in all fields of endeavor, Latinos are working to uphold their place in American society. Fox News Latino is proud to present "Our American Dream" a series of snapshots and profiles of Latino success stories.
For Lillian Rodríguez López, her life's work has been to elevate and enrich the lives of folks stricken by poverty and life’s hardships. And working to improve the lives of others has made her a strong voice for disadvantaged Latinos in the United States.
Rodríguez López arrived sixteen years ago at the Hispanic Federation, a respected non-profit group that serves as an umbrella organization to nearly 100 Latino health and human service agencies located in the New York City metropolitan area.Today, she serves as President.
The Federation strives to safeguard the basic social programs essential to hundreds of thousands of Latinos.
Rodríguez López aims to empower the Latino community through the support of Latino-led non-profits. By building capacity and leadership in organizations that are community rooted, Rodríguez López believes, thousands of needy families benefit from basic resources that are essential to their survival.
Yet her biggest challenge has been the dismal economic climate that’s threatened the existence of the Hispanic Federation and its members. With the current financial state of the country, funding for programs has become a serious ongoing challenge for non-profit organizations in all regions and levels.
And that’s just what makes Rodríguez López’ work so critical.
“I never have to apologize for what I represent at the Federation, because quite frankly, it is in my DNA, and I have been rewarded a thousand times over whenever I see a person who we have touched with our work,” said Rodríguez López.
The mission to help others is rooted in where and how she was raised.
“I had a great upbringing with very loving and traditional parents. We were a working class family and great emphasis was placed on good grades and education, she stressed, “Yesterday, today, tomorrow - education is still the key to a better life for people in this country.”
She and her two siblings were raised in the Bronx, in the Tremont section to be exact. Her parents always prepared traditional Puerto Rican meals for the family, despite the hustle and bustle of the outside world. Her mother worked full-time as a teacher while pursuing a master’s degree.
I never have to apologize for what I represent at the Federation, because quite frankly, it is in my DNA, and I have been rewarded a thousand times over whenever I see a person who we have touched with our work.
“Frankly, I am not sure how she and so many other Hispanic parents did it, but it set a high bar for the rest of us,” Rodríguez López answered.
Today she tries to live her life by their example.
Rodríguez López received her B.A. in Communications from Fordham University and completed the Executive Program at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, under the 2003 National Hispanic Leadership Institute.
And it during those years that she found her life’s mission: “I look at the Latino community and all of the contributions we have made to this country for centuries… my job is to have people recognize this value,” she said.
“I am proud of our work on educating Latino parents through healthcare reform and through registering thousands to vote,” said Rodríguez López.
The Hispanic Federation has also held effective voter drives in order to increase Latinos’ participation at all levels of the electoral process.
“My former boss once told me that I have to leave the organization better than I found it. And I think I have but not alone. The strength of any institution is the foundation under it and those that support it. I think HF is solid and this makes me proud,” she said.
Rodríguez López’ next step is to improve the practices of how corporations create economic opportunities for the Latino community.
“We need Latinos on every corporate board and in higher level positions, as well as broader and more effective supplier diversity programs and enhanced community investments for Latino institutions, she continued, “we all recognize the power of the Latino consumer but we lack economic parity in too many settings.”
Cristina Pinzon is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.