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Isabel Rubio, founder of ¡HICA!, to step down at end of this year

Isabel Rubio founded ¡HICA! in 1999 and has grown the organization from a staff of one into an organization with binational recognition. Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)

By Barnett Wright

The Birmingham Times

Isabel Rubio, founder and chief executive officer of ¡HICA!, the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, for the past 20 years will step down  at the end of this year.

Carlos Aleman, ¡HICA!’s Chief Operating Officer, will become chief executive officer on Jan. 1, 2022, according to a release.

Rubio founded ¡HICA! in 1999 and has grown the organization from a staff of one into an organization with binational recognition. ¡HICA!’s staff of 26 bilingual professionals serves more than 5,000 people each year.

“Working at ¡HICA! has been an extraordinary experience,” Rubio said in the release. “The opportunity to serve my community in collaboration with my incredible teammates has been a privilege and honor.”

After a brief respite in early 2022, Rubio’s future plans include continued service to the community with specific interests in the areas of strategy, community development and engagement, philanthropy, social justice and equity.

She has raised more than $19 million to support Latinos with college access, citizenship, and access to capital, including small business development, entrepreneurship, and home ownership.

¡HICA! exists to help people get acclimated to life in United States in general and Alabama in particular, Rubio said in a 2017 interview with The Birmingham Times.

“That’s why I had to leave social services,” said Rubio, a former social worker at University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). “I felt like social services in so many ways make people dependent upon systems.”

Mission Statement

¡HICA! mission is straightforward: the social, civic and economic integration of Hispanic families in Alabama. Its vision: an Alabama in which everyone has full and equal participation in our state’s civic, cultural, social, and economic life.

Rubio moved to Birmingham in 1991 to add a social work degree at UAB to the history degree she already had. During the mid-1990s, the Latino population began to increase dramatically in metro Birmingham. Rubio and Lisa Theus, who worked at the Jefferson County Department of Health, noted the growth and wondered who might ease the transition for immigrants into the local society.

“I first thought, ‘This is so cool,’” Rubio recalled. “But then I thought, ‘Yikes. Do these people speak English? How acculturated and how acclimated are people to what exists?’”

Rubio’s mother was the daughter of a Mexican immigrant who had come to New Orleans during the Mexican Revolution, and her father was white. Both of her parents have passed away.

“My mom, for the most part, considered herself a New Orleanian,” she said. “That’s how I am Mexican-American, even though I consider myself pretty much a white girl from Mississippi. That was the culture I was raised in.”

Rubio’s aim when ¡HICA! began was to find someone else to lead the organization.

“I can’t run this organization,” she said. “I don’t really speak Spanish.”

But Raul Yzaguirre, then president of the National Council for La Raza, changed her mind.

“[He] turned to me and said, ‘Isabel, you are the only person who can run this organization,’” Rubio remembered. “When he said that, I said he sees something I don’t see. I just have to believe what he believes, just keep doing what I’m doing, and go forward.”

In 2021, her work culminated in the pursuit of the Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) designation for the Camino Loan Fund of ¡HICA!, which will allow ¡HICA! to provide even more financial resources for the Latino community.

“I am proud of our accomplishments, especially creating a place that welcomes, embraces and empowers our Latino community to achieve their dreams and aspirations,” she said. “I am deeply grateful for the support ¡HICA! has received: our funders who have believed in us, our partners who have welcomed us and been willing to be changed by us, and our Latino community who gave us their trust. I look forward to supporting Carlos and the Board of Directors as ¡HICA! continues its high level of service to the community.”

Incoming CEO

Carlos Alemán joined ¡HICA!’s professional staff in 2018 as Deputy Director. “It is an honor and a privilege to step into the Chief Executive Officer role at ¡HICA! – it is a dream come true for me,” said Alemán.

“As an immigrant who came to this country as a child, I have been able to realize many opportunities because my family relied on organizations like ¡HICA!. I feel a deep sense of responsibility and gratitude to every person who walks through ¡HICA!’s doors because I know first-hand what it means to be welcomed. I look forward to serving our community and working with our terrific team as we lead ¡HICA! into its next era.”

Prior to joining ¡HICA!’s staff, Carlos was an assistant professor of history at Samford University, a position he began after completing a Ph.D. in history at Michigan State University, with an emphasis on Latin America, immigration, and race.

Alemán is a first-generation immigrant from Nicaragua. He and his family are deeply rooted in the Birmingham community, exemplified by his civic commitments. In August 2020, Alemán was elected to Homewood’s City Council, becoming the first Latino elected to public office in Alabama. Alemán is a board member of several organizations including the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), the Alabama Business Charitable Trust Fund, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Red Mountain Park and the Literacy Council of Central Alabama. Carlos is a 2020 graduate of Leadership Birmingham.