JACKSON, Tenn. – Sept. 22, 2011– Claudia Velasco spent her summer writing letters, but they weren’t to her friends or even her mother.
The letters from the Union University junior answered questions from the constituents of Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D- Calif.), which was one of Velasco’s duties as an intern with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington, D.C.
Velasco was one of 32 college students chosen out of 730 applicants for the program that allows young Hispanics to be involved in the legislative process through internships and leadership sessions.
Tennessee has the third highest Hispanic growth rate at 134 percent, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Even with that growth in the state, Velasco, who hails from Johnson City, Tenn., but is originally from Ecuador, said she enjoyed having classmates at CHCI who shared a common background.
“For me growing up in Tennessee, I was usually the only Hispanic girl in my classes even in my school, so it was just really amazing to interact with 30 other Hispanic kids who had my same passions, dreams, goals going to college,” she said. “It was just so great to have that with them and to be able to talk about our ideas and our passions and what we envision for our own Hispanic communities back at home.”
During her two-month stay in Washington, Velasco interned for Sanchez and was able to meet influential and well-known people such as Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and actress Eva Longoria. She also went to leadership sessions led by people involved with Teach for America, the Smithsonian Institute and the National Council for La Raza, the largest Hispanic rights advocacy organization in the United States.
Immigration, education and women’s issues were the focus of CHCI’s programming, and Velasco said she has come back to Tennessee with a newfound dedication to education, especially for Hispanics.
“My passion now is to focus on education because … education is the great equalizer,” she said.
She is working with the Hispanic community in Jackson by tutoring elementary and middle school children, and she said she hopes to mentor high school students through the college application process next semester.
CHCI and tutoring are not the only ways Velasco is working in and for the Hispanic community. She continues to be active in promoting their rights and is going back to Washington for the “Latinos On Fast Track” leadership summit and the Hispanic Heritage Awards, which will be held Sept. 15.
Velasco, who is an accounting major, said this experience has also shaped what she wants to do in the future — finance, public policy or non-profit work. She said Hispanics are the most underrepresented in the finance industry.
“We need people, Latinos, that support these types of issues that the Hispanic population is interested in to be in investment banking, to be in the financial world,” she said.
By Whitney Jones (’12)