The Association of Latino/as Motivating Action (ALMA) welcomed its first executive director at a reception on Oct. 13.
The event, which took place at Pilsen's Quesadilla La Reina del Sur restaurant, celebrated ALMA's 38-year evolution while looking toward the future. A host of LGBTQ+-rights activists, community leaders, friends and supporters dined on a buffet dinner as they formally met Executive Director Manuel Hernandez. ALMA is the oldest Latinx LGBTQ+ organization in the Midwest and one of the oldest in the country and has been recognized by the Chicago LGBTQ Hall of Fame as well as the cities of Aurora and Chicago.
In 1989, ALMA was started during the AIDS crisis out of the need to serve LGBTQ+ Latino men by mobilizing to provide immediate culturally and linguistically appropriate supportive services and safe spaces while advocating for the thriving Latin community. Since then, ALMA has shifted from replicating HIV/AIDS services that other partners provide, focusing instead on building power through community engagement, policy change and safe spaces for all members of the Latin/x LGBTQ+ community. ALMA has functioned with a board of governors and volunteers since its inception but after the group decided that the organization had grown significantly, it decided to appoint an executive director.
At the start of the presentation, ALMA board member Dulce Quintero spoke on her hesitancy to joijn ALMA in 2012, which, at the time, was focused on men. What concerned her was whether the organization would embrace Latinas and support trans women under its umbrella.
Later, ALMA co-founder and board member Julio Rodriguiez spoke about the organization's history and subsequent evolution during two massive epidemics. He said, "ALMA was started in one of the worst pandemics [the AIDS crisis] and the story of Black and Brown LGBTQ+ people was not told. We were invisible. We started with only four peoplefour social workers, so we knew the community."
He added, "When we started in 1989, we didn't know where [ALMA] was going to go. There were so many people and organizations who supported us along the way. Among those were Kim Hunt, Affinity, Nora Seledon and Amigas Latinas, The Black Gay Men's Caucus and Vernita Gray. One thing I valued about our alliance was knowing when we needed space and when we needed to come together."
Hernandez greeted the overflow crowd by thanking and acknowledging the current board members and a host of Latin LGBTQ+ activists including Jose Sarria, Miss Major, Silvia Rivera, Marsha B. Johnson, Storme DeLaverie, Victoria Cruz and Julio Rodriguez.
He also said, "I would like to honor my ancestors, for it is said, 'I am their wildest dreams'an out and proud puertorriqueno living in my truest and most authentic life."
Regarding the organization's future, Hernandez said, "ALMA will continue to be reflective of our ever-changing and -evolving community and we will be sure to hold ourselves and others accountable while ensuring that the needs of the Latinx LGBTQ+ community are addressed, especially those individuals most vulnerable and marginalized. I make a commitment to ensuring that the voices of trans people [and Latin/Latinx LGBTQ+] people are not only heard but amplified."
Hernandez is from the Bronx, New Yor,k and has a decade of experience in organizational leadership, fund development and community building. He has worked as a consultant and content expert for local and national non-profit organizations, public and private educational institutions and science and technology startups. He began his career as a math educator later transitioning into higher education administration where he worked for various institutions and their commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion including Hampshire College (in Massachusetts) and the University of Chicago's Office of Business Diversity.
For more information on ALMA, visit www.almachicago.org .