The San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is the first organization of its type in the United States, having been originally chartered as the Mexican Chamber of Commerce in 1929. Today, there are about 35 Hispanic chambers of commerce in Texas and about 600 across the nation.
The Mexican Chamber was organized by Don Enrique Santibañez, Consul General of Mexico in San Antonio, who became its first president. Given the deep historical and commercial ties and tensions between the U.S. and Mexico, the chamber’s primary emphasis in its early years was to promote trade, policy and cultural harmony.
While the chamber’s leaders forged ahead to define modern Hispanic business, the social climate of the time posed many barriers. Minorities faced discrimination in business, just as in employment, education, voting, infrastructure, access to capital and markets. These social issues necessitated that the chamber go beyond the traditional scope for chambers of commerce and into one of dual social and business advocacy.
One example of this dual role is the Buena Vista Street overpass. It is one of the early victories of the Hispanic Chamber, when its municipal government representation was still limited. The S&P Railroad station at Houston and Medina Streets was the commercial hub of activity in the 1940s and 1950s before interstate highways. Train traffic into the Vista Verde neighborhood would block walking and vehicular traffic going east and west on Commerce Street for many hours at a time, a condition which greatly impacted the Mexican-American community. The chamber took up this cause and prevailed in getting the city capital improvements budget approval for the Buena Vista Street overpass in 1949.
In 1987, the Mexican Chamber was renamed the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The name change was indicative of globalization emphasizing our relationship with all of Latin America and also the diversity of San Antonio Hispanic businesses.
The name change also set the stage for one of the greatest accomplishments for the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. It played a central role in the promotion, negotiation, lobbying and passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The chamber had an active alliance with Mexico’s President Salinas de Gortari and Commerce Secretary Herminio Blanco to coordinate the treaty’s public education and promotion campaigns among Mexican-Americans in the United States. With NAFTA’s passage, the Hispanic Chamber was recognized as a critical component in negotiating the many compromises which made it possible, and also as critical to its future success, again serving as the cultural and commercial connection through which many new trade deals would be realized.
For some time, the Hispanic Chamber was guided by the fundamental belief in full participation in our free enterprise system, the chamber’s role was broadened to include advocacy on behalf of small, minority- and woman-owned businesses. For instance, during the 74th Legislature in 1999, the chamber played a critical role in the passage of landmark legislation designed to strengthen and promote the state’s procurement program, or Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) program, for minority- and woman-owned businesses. The Hispanic Chamber worked with legislators and other organizations to preserve and even strengthen the program and worked during the 75th and 76th (2001 & 2003) Legislatures to oppose any Bill detrimental to HUBs.
In 2004, as a result of our strategic planning retreat, the Board of Directors refocused its mission to be the principle resource and advocate for the growth of Hispanic Businesses and the driving force in guiding San Antonio’s emergence as a national leader of successful Hispanics in business. In addition, the organization created a vision for the next 20 years to measure its success based upon the effectiveness of building a pipeline for Hispanic Entrepreneurship.
Since the adoption of the new mission statement, the Hispanic Chamber has seen unprecedented levels of growth, both in membership and attendance at special events. Membership at the Hispanic Chamber continues to grow on a monthly basis, as new members benefit from the outstanding services provided by the chamber. The annual Installation Banquet continues to establish itself as the premier event for San Antonio’s business community, with recent attendance exceeding 1,300 people. With its many successes, the Hispanic Chamber’s leadership and staff continue to raise the bar and challenge themselves to offer the very best in programming and events.
In 2009, the Hispanic Chamber became the first Chamber in San Antonio, and the first Hispanic Chamber in the U.S. to be accredited by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.