In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) would like to recognize the contributions that Latinos make to the agriculture industry. The agency celebrates individuals like former U.S. Representative Eligio “Kika” de la Garza II, for the impact they had on the USDA and the agricultural landscape.
As Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee from 1981 to 1994, Representative de la Garza helped pass several ag-related laws. A Mexican-American from Texas, de la Garza has a decorated congressional record that includes passing three farm bills and the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987 that provided crucial assistance to struggling farm credit lending institutions. He also was instrumental in nurturing trade relations between the U.S. and Mexico, serving as a key player in establishing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and expanding the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)—agreements that impacted commodity trading for U.S. farmers and producers. Representative de la Garza was also a founding member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and served as its chair from 1989 to 1991.
Throughout our nation’s history, Latinos have been an integral part of our agricultural community. The most recent Census of Agriculture report shows a 14 percent increase of Latino origin farm operators. This increase includes the number of Latino farm owners, managers, tenants, renters, or sharecroppers.
Our agency continues to support the tradition established by Representative de la Garza and other Hispanic leaders. We have a team that travels to events across the country, building connections with Latino communities and reaching out to small and disadvantaged farmers of all races and ethnicities. Our mission is to effectively promote the agency’s services so that they are easily understood and readily accessible. To help increase access to our services, AMS conducts webinars in Spanish and often develops brochures and other items in-language.
We also attend events like the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Public Policy Conference to let participants know about available job opportunities. AMS enjoys being one of many organizations at this event that brings together national leaders, educators, elected officials and corporate executives to discuss critical issues facing the Latino community and our nation as a whole.
AMS, and USDA as a whole, hopes to play a role in the development of leaders like Representative de la Garza. We support programs that help prepare children of all races and ethnicities for academic success. In 2004, USDA was a sponsor for the first Hispanic Youth Symposium, a program that has served more than 3,700 students to date.
AMS employees who took part in the original Symposium continue to participate under its new name, the Hispanic Youth Institute. Each summer, volunteers in this pre-college program mentor youth as the students prepare for the upcoming school year. Students in the program get a taste of college life by visiting university campuses and attending classes, going to workshops, and hearing presentations. Throughout the year, the mentors keep in contact with these students, reminding them of their on-campus experience. Some continue to mentor the students after they graduate high school, encouraging many of these first generation college students to finish their degrees.
AMS will continue its outreach to the Latino community and encourages everyone to celebrate its lasting contributions during Hispanic Heritage Month. Visit the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute website for a list of events.