April 2018 Features

2 Networking Groups Created to Provide a Voice to Greater Gainesville’s Hispanic Community


Written By: Savannah Edgens

Integrating into a new community is hard, particularly when that community is in a foreign country with a foreign language. Within the thriving Latino population in Gainesville, there are multiple organizations dedicated to helping newcomers and professionals make that difficult transition, starting with building a network of like-minded individuals. Two such organizations are the Latina Women’s League and the Latin American Business Alliance (LABA).

The Latina Women’s League was started in 2005 by Victoria Condor-Williams. The organization was started to facilitate the integration of newcomers into the community while also promoting members’ personal and professional advancement through education and training.

“Through our programs, we started to develop an outreach and started learning more about the needs of our community,” Condor-Williams said. “It was amazing but at the same time overwhelming.”

Latina Women’s League is a nonprofit organization that sponsors multiple events. For example, the Gainesville Latino Film Festival was the institution’s first major project. The event’s number of attendees has grown from 400 people to 4,000 over the course of nine years. Latina Women’s League supports a variety of causes for Latinas and women in general.

One of the biggest contributions Latina Women’s League makes to the Gainesville community is through its citizenship classes. Latina Women’s League offers free classes on citizenship and English to help Hispanic families go through the legal process of becoming citizens without being intimidated by the tests.

The citizenship program started in 2011 and is intended to prepare adults for the United States citizenship exam. The exam, Condor-Williams said, costs $600 per person per attempt. Therefore, the citizenship test can be one of the most fearful experiences for newcomers, so the organization aims to take some of that fear away. Most of the time, Condor-Williams said, 16- and 17-year-olds can take the test with the mentality that they can take it again if they don’t pass. This can be a scary process for older adults who don’t feel like they have unlimited opportunities to take the test.

“It’s scary in the sense of not passing,” Condor-Williams said. “If you are an adult and you don’t pass, it can hurt your confidence.”

The Latina Women’s League is open to everyone, and it currently has a staff of all women. However, anyone who wants to empower the Latin-American population in North Central Florida is welcome to join, Condor-Williams said.

While Latina Women’s League is a nonprofit organization promoting a social platform, the Latin American Business Alliance provides a platform for Hispanic entrepreneurs and business owners in the region. LABA, according to its strategic outline plan, is not a networking group. Instead, it is a nonprofit business association.

Dwight Hulse, CEO and founder of LABA, said he was inspired by the model of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce while he was in school in Latin America. When he moved to Gainesville, however, he noticed there wasn’t a comparable organization for the Latino population, so he decided to do something about it.

In May 2015, he held two focus groups because he wanted the answer to two questions: Was the organization needed, and what value needed to be provided so people would join?

“We needed to know how many of us existed in Gainesville, Hulse said. “We needed assistance in how to create a business; we needed help in Spanish if we went to a store or a local government office or a city office.”

Hulse said it is also important to have a way to share stories for the generations of Hispanics who are already in America and don’t know the stories of those who immigrated into the country.

There are no requirements to join LABA, but since the alliance is focused on Latin-American entrepreneurs and business owners, knowing Spanish is important, Hulse said. Even if members don’t speak Spanish, they need to be comfortable in an environment where Spanish is spoken.

“The biggest impact to the community is trying to figure out how many Hispanic business owners are in Gainesville,” Hulse said. “It’s getting to know each other. If someone wants to know something about the Hispanic population, they’re calling me. If I don’t know the answer, I can point them to someone I got to know in the community [from forming LABA].”

On the third Tuesday of every month, LABA hosts a professional development workshop, which Hulse said is one of his favorite things. He enjoys getting to know other business owners in the community and helping them serve their clientele better. LABA is all about knowing people in the Hispanic community to make networking easier.

While both of these organizations serve different purposes for the greater Gainesville area, they are similar in that they advocate for the Hispanic population in North Central Florida. They provide a voice and a community to people who otherwise may not have had them.

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SAVANNAH EDGENS is a Journalism senior at the University of Florida. While her interests vary from politics to entertainment, she is best known among her friends for her ability to quote movies. When she’s not writing, Savannah enjoys a good book or movie and a cup of coffee.

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