SACRAMENTO -- The California League of United American Citizens has taken notice on a new trend in recent years. Not only is the number of women taking leadership roles within the national organization growing, but the overall success of LULAC is being attributed to female members -- some of which have taken the initiative and started new chapters throughout the state.
This trend was highlighted at LULAC's 65th annual California State Convention Women's Dinner held last Friday night at the Woodlake Hotel where a number of exceptional women were recognized for their contributions, community service, and dedication to what is considered the leading civil rights organization in the country.
Today, LULAC is lead by a woman -- national president, Margaret Morán. The Vice-president of the far west region is Mickie Solorio Luna. Still, many more women are taking leadership roles in their local chapters in their communities and trying to make a difference based on the guiding principles and mission of LULAC.
Today, Susie Flores is doing the same. LULAC changed her life, she said.
By the time the Orange County native was 20 years old, she was already married, working full-time and caring for her three young children. She had been a community college student but dropped out to care for them. Her husband signed her up to be a member of LULAC -- despite not knowing what it was all about. He had already been an active member and wanted his wife to be involved too. But, Flores couldn't find the time to learn about the organization.
"He used to tell me it was an exceptional organization, but because I was a housewife taking care of my young children at home, I wasn't really exposed to the work the organization did and I couldn't find the time to attend the meetings or any of the functions. I knew it was doing great things for the community, I just didn't know the specifics or to what extent," Flores said.
That all changed one day when she helped with registration efforts at a local meeting. She saw first-hand the camaraderie between its members, their passion and devotion to creating positive changes in their communities. She heard about their upcoming projects and she felt a calling.
That same day, she shook hands with the late iconic civil rights leader, Mario G. Obledo who at the time, was campaigning in hopes of becoming California's next governor. Flores had no clue who he was.
"I was so embarrassed. Especially when people came up to me and said, 'Do you have any idea who he is? You are so lucky. He is going to be the next governor of California!,' " she recalls. "That realization did something to me. It gave me the motivation to get involved. So, I started attending the meetings shortly thereafter and eventually became an engaged member. I didn't think LULAC would become such an important part of my life."
That same year, she divorced but met another man who would change her life -- a mentor and friend who had become LULAC's state director in the early 90's -- Gil Flores.
The two married at a LULAC state convention "because everyone was already in town," said Flores who went on to become the District Director for LULAC in Orange County, then State Secretary and State Treasurer for a total of eight years. She brought her three young children to all of the meetings, fundraisers, conventions, conferences and made sure they too, got involved.
"I raised my kids in LULAC. It was a blessing for me because they learned the value of hard work, how to stand up for just causes, how to give back to your community and be grateful for what you have. It kept them busy and it kept them involved and they became exceptional leaders in their own right," Flores said.
Her only daughter Marissa Mendoza became the National Youth President for LULAC by the time she was a senior in high school. She went on to receive both a bachelor's and masters degree at the University of Southern California. Her two sons started their own chapters.
In 2010, Flores started the first -- and only -- LULAC all-women's chapter in Orange County. Since its inception, she has been the chapter's president and to date, has approximately 20 members.
"The goal of this chapter is to help women, children and their families. I want to teach women about self-sufficiency -- that they can't rely on a man to take care of them. After all, it's inevitable that at one point in their lives, they will be alone because of divorce or death and they need to learn to carry on. I want to stress the importance of getting an education and having fulfilling careers. There are opportunities and resources for them," she said.
At 56 , Flores celebrated 30 years with LULAC and 15 years working alongside her husband Gil. Both continue to stay involved with the organization and plan to do so until the "end of time" said Flores.
A few years ago, her involvement helped inspire her to go back to college and get her degree. Today, she has a bachelor's degree from the University of Phoenix in business management.
Last year she was selected out of 50 women from throughout the state to participate in the Sacramento Women's Health Leadership Program and has received dozens of accolades in her community for her work with LULAC.
At the convention Friday, Anna M. Caballero, Secretary of State and Consumer Services Agency cabinet member for Gov. Jerry Brown -- delivered the evenings keynote speech upholding women in leadership roles.
"We have a total of three Latinas in the state legislator out of a total 120. Next year, we will lose two. Sisters, we have a lot of work to do and brothers, we need your help," Caballero said.
"We have to keep getting women elected into leadership positions. One is not enough. Women need to feel confident. They have all the skills needed for leadership positions: they are good listeners, know how to compromise, are flexible, know how to get things done, can fundraise -- all you need is 'ganas' and someone to ask you, to please run for elected office or any other leadership position. We need you and we need your voice so I humbly tell you, 'Please run for office,' " Caballero said.
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