01/10/2013 08:31 am ET

Hilda Solis' Departure From Obama Cabinet Surprises Latino Community

The news that the Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis will be resigning from her post was met with surprise from supporters and analysts.

It raised more questions on what propelled this decision.

Solis explained in her resignation that over the holidays she reflected on the past and future. After discussing with her family, she said she wanted to return to the people and places that she “loves” and “inspires” her.

“This afternoon, I submitted my resignation to President Obama. Growing up in a large Mexican-American family in La Puente, California, I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to serve in a president’s Cabinet, let alone in the service of such an incredible leader,” Solis said in her statement.

“I have decided to begin a new future, and return to the people and places I love and that have inspired and shaped my life.”

Hilda Solis’ resignation means one less Latina on the Obama administration’s cabinet, which also raises some eyebrows on Obama’s commitment to diversity in this year’s administration particularly with women and Hispanics.

“This doesn’t really – it’s not going in the right direction,” said Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NILP), while referring to having more Latinos represented in the administration.

“I think everybody kind of assumed that she was going to be staying on, at least for a little while longer – it seems kind of abrupt.”

Solis was raised in La Puente, California by both parents who left their native countries in Nicaragua and Mexico. Solis also became the first woman to serve in the state senate and later defeated a long-time Democratic incumbent to gain a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and now is the first woman to serve in the U.S. Cabinet.

In one of her recent appearances, Solis gave remarks on the need for Latinas to “break barriers” at the National Hispana Leadership Institute’s annual gala. Those who knew her said she was a strong role model.

“We were expecting some changes were going to be happening in the Cabinet, but it’s really unfortunate to be losing a great leader,” said Liz Lopez, a Democratic strategist. “Secretary Solis has been particularly one of the top Latinas we’ve had in president Obama’s cabinet.”

Advocates pressure Obama to fill Hilda Solis’ post with Latino

Speculation also surfaced on whether Hilda Solis was getting enough exposure as a Cabinet appointee. Analysts questioned whether the president let his cabinet members have a “big profile” to let them play a greater public role. There was also criticism by the business community for her relationship with the labor unions.

While it’s still dubious the reasons for her resignation, Hector Sanchez, president of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), said initially they have worked hard to make sure there is fair representation in his cabinet.

“She was a strong advocate and that she was an exemplary secretary of Labor in all of her issues, we will always encourage good exposure for any Secretary of Labor to work on those important issues,” said Sanchez. “She was one of the best secretaries of labor in the history of the nation.”

He indicated that they already asked the president for three Latinos in the cabinet. Sanchez said they will continue to place pressure that the community is well represented in the administration.

“The president has a debt with the Latino community,” he said.

Others noted that there is going to be different changes and different cabinet additions possibly in the next few days. And although several names have still not been confirmed, they said it’s going to be difficult to find a replacement that embodies Hilda Solis’ hardworking ideals.

“Leaving the department is one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made, because I have taken our mission to heart,” said Solis in her statement. “As the daughter of parents who worked in factories, paid their union dues and achieved their goal of a middle class life, and as the first Latina to head a major federal agency, it has been an incredible honor to serve.”

The Secretary said in her statement that in the past four years, more than 1.7 million people have completed federally-funded job training programs; and of those, more than one million have earned industry-recognized credentials.

In addition, she indicated that the Labor Department investments the community colleges “have expanded their capacity to provide local, flexible, employer-specific job training to millions of Americans, and transformed these institutions into engines of economic growth.”

Still for analysts, it just means one less person able to represent the community at the federal level.

“Especially at a time when we really need somebody looking out for the Latino community with the sequestering debate coming up in a couple months, we just got through this Fiscal Cliff…” said Falcon. “The timing is interesting in that regard.”

This piece was originally published by VOXXI under the title "Hilda Solis 'Abrupt' Resignation Surprises Community."



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