Gilda Ramirez knows how much immigrants have to contribute to the United States. Her father was born in Mexico but grew up undocumented in Texas. Just after he received a letter of deportation, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and went to fight in Germany during World War II. It was only upon his return to the United States that he became a U.S. citizen. In addition to serving his country, her father became a small business owner, running an automobile service station. “My dad only went to school up to the eighth grade, and then he got his GED after the war,” Ramirez says. “But he had the mind of an engineer. He built our house, his business, raised six kids with my mother, and made sure we all went to college. He worked so hard.”
Ramirez adds that while she and her siblings were raised in a household with a strong Hispanic culture, it was also a very American household. For this reason, she doesn’t differentiate between American-born citizens and immigrants who are living and working hard in the United States. “I recently spoke to a man here in town who used to be a friend of my father’s and is 92 years-old now,” she says. “He called to congratulate me on accepting the position with the Hispanic Chamber and when I asked him how he felt about us joining together with the Corpus Christi Chamber, he said, ‘I never joined the Hispanic Chamber because we’re not second-class citizens. We need a place at the same table.’ ”
I never joined the Hispanic Chamber because we’re not second-class citizens. We need a place at the same table.
This is exactly why it was important for Ramirez to help unify the two chambers of commerce in 2016. “I always look for projects or vehicles where I can do good works for the community,” Ramirez says, “and this is good for the economy of the community and for Hispanics.” As interim president of the new United Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce, she sought to create an economic powerhouse that makes immigration and Hispanic outreach a priority. She personally would like to see immigration reform that acknowledges the contributions immigrants and Hispanics make to their communities. “We need to speak against deportation,” Ramirez says. “Immigration is an asset to U.S. economic growth. Major businesses are looking for engineers and coming up with scholarship programs to prepare the youth, and others are looking specifically for blue-collar workers. Immigration is only going to grow as an asset as this country develops in the future. That’s where our opportunity is.”