In July, Isabel Rubio, the founder and longtime CEO at ¡HICA! —the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama—announced she will be stepping down from the organization after two decades of extraordinary work in January 2022.
Carlos Alemán, ¡HICA!’s present Chief Operating Officer will take the reins in January after three years with the organization. Rubio and Alemán have worked hand in hand to prepare him for the job to ensure a seamless transition.
Shortly after Rubio’s announcement, we met up with Alemán at the ¡HICA! Office in West Homewood.
A former professor at Samford and current Homewood City Councilor, Alemán described to us what it is like following a dynamic leader and the organization’s hopes and dreams for the Hispanic community.
Bham Now: Tell me what it’s going to be like, replacing someone like Isabel?
Alemán – Isabel Rubio is a force of nature. She has definitely made an impact and left a legacy to follow here in Alabama —something that she and all of us can be really proud of.
When I first arrived in Alabama, to teach at Samford, I was really looking for a way to connect with the community. I started asking around — Who should I talk to about working with Hispanics?
Everyone said Rubio.
And so I sought her out pretty early. Upon my arrival, we met briefly. And then about a year later she asked me to join the board of directors. I joined and it was clear to me, the great work that the organization was doing. It was a great way to learn the impact that she was making. If you ever see or hear her speak, she is tremendous. She is about building and bridging communities.
That’s the guiding light for her. She’ll tell you herself that she is a product of the Mississippi civil rights movement. Her mission is how do we make sure that we are providing a place where folks can be welcomed, where folks can be included, achieve their dreams and aspirations,
Bham Now: Tell us what’s next for ¡HICA! and some of the work you do?
Alemán – The board of directors, Isabel and I have been having a lot of conversations about what’s next for ¡HICA! We began in earnest late last year drafting our strategic plan. We talked about succession and about transition. We were trying to figure out all of this in the middle of a pandemic, by the way.
¡HICA! was established as a direct services and advocacy organization. A big part of what we do is economic empowerment, moving people out of poverty, so they can achieve their dreams and aspirations. So a few years ago we started a Community Economic Development Program helping people file their taxes for free. From that, we started seeing the need for small business development and financial literacy. We helped folks become entrepreneurs. Many can’t get access to capital or go to a bank for a variety of reasons. They are relying on cash. So we said, “Well, if the banks won’t do it, we will.”
As a result, we started a micro lending program. We’ve deployed about $100,000, over the past two years, and no one’s missed a payment, even during the pandemic.
Our next project we’re working on is workforce development. We have historically had a college access program for young people, making sure that folks who are graduating high school can enter post secondary education. There’s also plenty of folks, young folks and adults alike, who don’t necessarily want to go to college or need to go to college, but they do have a need to find good paying jobs. We figured that we should partner with employers to make sure that we can give Latinos who want good jobs a pathway.
Bham Now – What are you doing policy-wise?
Alemán – We have always been an advocacy organization. We’ve always talked to community leaders, advocating for our community and have tried to offer solutions. We decided that it’s important for us to be able to set the agenda so that we’re not always playing defense or reacting, that we have a community and be a part of Alabama. There still exist barriers that prevent Latinos from fully enjoying their rights, fully enjoying their opportunities. And so we’re trying to figure out what we can champion that would remove barriers.
Our vision is to create an Alabama, in which everyone is able to achieve their dreams regardless of where they came from.
Bham Now: What is the secret to ¡HICA!’s success?
Alemán: ¡HICA! has achieved so much because the community we serve embraced us. We have also received tremendous support from the folks who live in Alabama. Most of our support is local and statewide. I think sometimes folks are surprised that an organization like ours has thrived for 20 years. It’s in large part due to our incredible leadership, and it’s in large part due to our fantastic team of folks who work here and our board of directors. But we couldn’t have done it had Alabama not embraced us. And so I think it’s important to know that Birmingham embraced us. Alabama embraced us. And that we’re here because folks want us to be here.
We just scratched the surface on ¡HICA! If you are interested in learning more about this important community organization, visit their website at https://hicaalabama.org/en/home
Also, meet both Carlos Alemán and Isabel Rubio at their upcoming Birmingham Pig Roast at Cahaba Brewing on September 11th.