The Greater Washington Ibero-American Chamber of Commerce has marked its sixth anniversary--a symbol of the rapid growth of the area's Latin American community.
Twenty years ago, the District included only a scattering of Hispanic-owned businesses, chiefly mom-and-pop groceries, restaurants, clothing stores and music shops clustered primarily along Columbia Road NW, in the heart of Adams-Morgan.
Today, there are 400 Hispanic-owned businesses in the Washington area, with total revenues approaching $100 million a year, according to the chamber. About half are in the District. The mom-and-pop stores remain, but Latin-run businesses now include law firms, real estate companies, travel agencies, and a variety of consulting firms.
Estimates of the area's Hispanic population range from 60,000 to 140,000.
"The growth of Washington's Hispanic community continues to accelerate, and with it, the role of the Ibero-American Chamber of Commerce is expanding," said Jose Antonio Font, the chamber's Cuban-born president.
The chamber's efforts, Font added, are designed "not only to serve our community, but to help the District gain influence and dollars in this nation's expanding relationships with Latin America."
The chamber draws its members for all Spanish-speaking nationalities, but Cuban businessmen, who make up 25 percent of the membership, compose the largest single group within the organization.
The chamber, established in l977, celebrated its latest anniversary with an awards banquet held at the Shoreham Hotel Saturday night. More than 600 guests attended, including Mayor Marion Barry and City Council chairman David A. Clarke.
The award recipients included "Business Person of the Year" Lila Dominguez, head of Alta Enterprises Inc., a real estate firm, and Aragon Trash, a trash-hauling company owned by Carlos Aragon and Carlos Rodriguez, which was honored as business of the year.
Victor Rivera, director of the U.S. Minority Business Development Agency, an office of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Leveo Sanchez, president of Development Associates, a consulting firm, received distinguished merit awards.
Media Appreciation awards were presented to Jose Sanz, producer of Revista, a weekly half-hour bilingual news and entertainment program aired on WJLA-TV; Allan Klamer, producer at Radio Mundo, the only Spanish-language radio station in the metropolitan area, and Jose Sueiro, publisher of Latino, one of the District's three Spanish-language newspapers.
The Ibero-American Chamber of Commerce also has widened its activities by starting new ventures in the Washington area as well as in foreign trade.