Angelette Aviles: "We were the ones here first."

Networking works for this young Hispanic visionary.

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click to enlarge A VISION OF UNITY: Through the Hispanic Vision Forum, Angelette Aviles works to get both Hispanics and non-Hispanics more involved in politics. - Wayne Garcia
Wayne Garcia
A VISION OF UNITY: Through the Hispanic Vision Forum, Angelette Aviles works to get both Hispanics and non-Hispanics more involved in politics.

Who? Angelette Aviles, 32, co-founder of the bipartisan Hispanic Vision Forum website (hispanicvision.org), a gathering place for Hispanics and non-Hispanics to gain information about each other and become politically engaged. She is, according to her business card, the "lead genius" at her family's Americas Marketing & Graphic communications firm in Tampa.

Sphere of influence: Aviles, Puerto Rican by descent, is active in Hispanic business circles as well as Republican politics. She is regional chairwoman of the McCain Hispanic Council.

How she makes a difference: A member of HYPE, Hispanic Professional Women's Association, the Small Business Advisory Council, the Hillsborough Republican Executive Committee and the Early Learning Coalition, Aviles is part of a Gen X breed of Hispanic leaders who are holding onto their heritage but working to engage their community in the larger body politic.

CL: A blog post on your new Hispanic Vision Forum site asks the cultural identification question, "Hispanic or Latino?" Which is it for you?

For me, it's Hispanic. One of the most common things we have is speaking in Spanish.

What led you to form the Hispanic Vision forum?

We're asked by our political parties to give our inside tips to reaching out to the Hispanic community, and they still don't get it. We realized that [the best course would be] putting this together, being a bipartisan project [aimed at] really getting Hispanics involved and getting them to speak. It's not just for Hispanics; it's for non-Hispanics as well.

What don't we understand about the Hispanic community?

Corporate America understands. They've been spending a lot of money in advertising to Hispanics. They've really incorporated not just the bilingual aspects but sometimes do some sort of piece that could be in English but that reaches to Hispanics culturally, on a cultural level. Politicians and public officials and public agencies haven't realized that. They think still to reach to the Hispanic community it just has to be translated. They don't realize that they should cater certain messages to certain things that really grab our attention.

You're a Republican, and your co-founder, Evelyn Hale, is a Democrat. Why was it important to make Hispanic Vision Forum a bipartisan effort?

I had this idea in my head for a long time, but I knew it was never going to go anywhere if it was just me. When I met Evelyn, we kind of knew each other being of the opposite party, but we have that one common goal: to really empower Hispanics to get involved politically.

You are Puerto Rican, part of the largest ethnic group in the Hispanic demographic here. Why do they seem to be invisible in business and political leadership?

The Puerto Rican community, they get involved, but we tend to express our thoughts and opinions sometimes [only] in protest.

How far away are we from having our first Puerto Rican county commissioner?

[Laughs.] You want to elect me? I don't know. [Pauses and thinks for a moment.] Wow. I hope soon. I hope soon.

A member of your own party, Congresswoman Ginnie Brown-Waite, recently generated controversy by referring to Puerto Ricans as "foreigners" instead of U.S. citizens, which they are. How did you feel about that?

She kind of represents the average person out there, that they're not really aware of the status of Puerto Ricans. ... You go there, you're going to think Puerto Rico is foreign because of the difference in culture, the food, the music, the language. By her saying that should bring an opportunity for educating people...

You have an active position in the John McCain campaign. What is the role of the Hispanic community going to be in this election?

I think a big, big role. The group that's going to select the next president of the United States is going to be from the Hispanic community.

What would you tell John McCain his No. 1 issue should be for Hispanic voters?

The media has misportrayed Hispanic voters, saying that immigration is the No. 1 issue. Actually, the poll we are doing online says that the economy is the No. 1 issue.

It's the economy, stupid.

Economy, and there's been other polls that show education is the No. 1 issue, and that has a lot to do with us being a young group. ... I have three kids. Of course education is going to be real important to me.

You've written that Tampa Bay is an "authentic" Hispanic community, with diversity and a long history that is more representative of Latin America as a whole. How does Tampa Bay take advantage of that?

It needs to. [Laughs.] Historically, we were the ones here first. It was Tampa before Miami or Orlando.

You're saying it has historical authenticity. Do the local non-Hispanic leaders recognize the power of that attribute?

I don't think so.

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