Few Hispanic leaders have made as much of an impact in the U.S. Hispanic community as Hector Barreto, Sr. Even people who have never heard of him have benefited from his work toward creating opportunities for new business owners and his frequent stands for Hispanic rights and causes.
Barreto was born in Mexico City, Mexico on August 23, 1935. At 16 years old, Barreto was making a good living working with his father as a livestock dealer in Guadalajara. But he went bust after going out on his own a year later. In 1958, he immigrated to the United States to try to recoup his fortunes and started out digging potatoes on a farm near Corning, Mo., for 80 cents an hour. Later he opened several restaurants and an import distribution business.
“He basically came to the United States with nothing, and just his hard work and his commitment was all he had to build his life, “said Hector Barreto, Jr. “One thing I’ve realized over the last couple of years is how many people my father touched, not only in this country and in Mexico, but in other countries as well,” said Hector Barreto, Jr. “One thing people will tell you over and over again is that my father was a passionate, visionary leader who believed in people and that’s why he dedicated himself to all of his causes including – small business, the Hispanic community and the relationship between the United States and Mexico.
Barreto wound up working on Ronald Reagan’s presidential transitional team and becoming friends with George H.W. Bush and family. His work often took him to Mexico to meet with national leaders there. In 1979, Barreto founded the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) with several other dedicated Hispanic leaders. Together, they realized the enormous potential of the Hispanic business community in the United States and envisioned the need for a national organization to represent its interests before the public and private sectors.
“I had a chance to see Hector Barreto Sr. present the prestigious Chairman’s Award from the USHCC to his son, Hector V. Barreto, Jr., administrator of the Small Business Administration,” said one admirer. “It was an extremely emotional moment as one of the founders of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce honored an outstanding leader and outstanding son.
The national chamber Barreto formed helped bring power to the Latino business community. President Ronald Reagan addressed the group in 1983, making him the first sitting president to attend a Latino meeting. “Barreto’s life was one of those great quintessential American stories that remind us of just how great this country is,” said a former USHCC President/CEO. “Hector was an advocate and a pioneer who selflessly challenged anyone who was not demonstrating fair and equitable treatment to Hispanics.”
He will be remembered largely as a founder for the nationally-based United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, but he was also active in founding the Greater Kansas City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He served as a liaison between presidents of the United States and Mexico and the Hispanic business community.
For his accomplishments, he received numerous awards, titles, and honors. But the two he prized most were being chosen for the prestigious “Ohtli award” presented by the Mexican government and being inducted into the League of United Latin American Citizens’ Hall of Fame, a prominent U.S. Hispanic organization.
Hector Sr.’s memory will live on as a champion of The Hispanic community and business throughout the world.