If the Latin Chamber of Commerce, which had its founding in the mid-1970s, had been forced to begin its operations like most other businesses - with an office, paid staff members, and most importantly, money - the organization, as it's known today, may very well not exist.
Rather, it took the vision, insight and determination of a handful of business people, who had many unrealized hopes and dreams, to put the organization together at a time when the average person would have simply thrown in la toalla.
The person spearheading the initial drive was Arturo Cambeiro, who served as the fledgling organization's president for the first three years of the chamber's existence.
"What I remember most about those early years was our great struggle to survive," Cambeiro said in a book about the Latin Chamber of Commerce's history. " On the plus side...we...had an unshakable belief that we could make it happen. That faith carried us through those early years and kept us going when survival seemed impossible."
Cambeiro thought his greatest accomplishment between 1976 and 1979 was that he helped lay the foundation from which the chamber would eventually realize all of its social, economic and political goals. "Admittedly, it was frustrating at times to have to move so slowly, but I knew that it had to be slow in order for us to build the solid foundation we would need prior to doing all of the great things we dreamed of," Cambeiro added in his narrative.
The formation of the Latin Chamber of Commerce was an outgrowth of politically oppressive actions and measures being taken against the Hispanic population in the late '60s and early '70s mainly at the national level, but also, to a lesser but more noticeable degree, at the local level.
In 1970 the Nevada Association of Latin Americans (NALA) filed a complaint against the Economic Opportunity Board of Clark County that alleged Hispanics were receiving unequal poverty benefits. Two years later, the Nevada Spanish-Speaking Coalition was formed when eight Hispanic organizations banded together to address education, employment, job training, housing, government hiring practices and other issues affecting the Latino community.
Although the coalition lasted only three brief years, it unquestionably proved that Hispanic leaders were becoming more cognizant of their community and willing to tackle difficult issues.
From that environment of dedicated interest came a handful of Hispanics, mostly Cuban-Americans living in Southern Nevada who met in late 1975 and early 1976, established the groundwork for the Latin Chamber of Commerce, and saw it become a full-fledged nonprofit organization that was incorporated by the State of Nevada on May 17, 1976.
Just 11 days later, on May 28, 1976, the newly formed chamber held its first event – its First Annual Breakfast, which had as its keynote speaker Governor Mike O'Callaghan, who emphasized the importance of unity within the Latino community. By October 27, 1976 – five months later – the chamber held its first membership luncheon, where 50 individuals received their membership certificates.
Realizing during its first years that running a growing chamber was better suited to an executive who could handle day-to-day operations, the chamber hired a 32-year- old, Cuban-born teacher and counselor in March 1978 to become its first – and only – executive director. From that day to this, Otto Merida has immersed himself in the job and volunteered for countless committees and working groups – all of which are geared to the further betterment of the chamber's goal and mission. Merida is a former chairman of the Las Vegas Housing Authority, past board member of the State Public Works Board and currently serves as a governor's appointee on the Nevada Commission on Economic Development.
In the ensuing years, following the University of Florida graduate's hiring, Merida and the chamber kept their collective organizational raices to the grindstone, working diligently on issues that would bolster the chamber's respectability and credibility in Southern Nevada.
During the first 10 years, the chamber participated in the establishment of a Foreign Trade Zone at McCarran International Airport, operated a job training program, endorsed a school building program aimed at easing overcrowding in the Clark County School District and initiated a "Career Day Program", which exposed high school students to employers, helping to provide job opportunities where none existed before.
In future years, the chamber became heavily involved in political and social issues that directly affected Latinos, and more recently it has worked toward providing greater government procurement and contracting opportunities for its membership, creating educational opportunities for Hispanic students in southern Nevada. And growing from 50 to 1,500 members in over 30 years.