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Oscar Echandi, Community Liason

Bridging Community and Congress, Chicano Latino Affairs Council

Who doesn’t want to be heard? Whether in the work place, home, school, or in the political arena, having your thoughts and opinions vocalized is a truly validating experience. The Chicano Latino Affairs Council (CLAC) of the State of Minnesota is that key element giving voice those who are often dismissed, or feel dismissed, from mainstream society. As the vital intermediary bridging community life to congressional life, the office has been in operation since 1978 and divides its efforts among five priority areas: education, economic development, immigration, health, and housing. Community Liason, Oscar Echandi Chittenden, age 29, is one of the team’s key members who fills his days meeting with constituents and bringing their wants and needs to the government table. He relishes in the emotionally rewarding experience that both sides offer and feels that this job is helping him achieve his true purpose in life. Given that no day is like the day before it, Oscar believes that the element of surprise keeps him in perpetual motion and brings him to closer to true fulfillment. For more information on the Chicano Latino Affairs Council and Oscar’s career highlights, read on in this week’s Non-Profit Spotlight.

Non-Profit Organization

Chicano Latino Affairs Council for the State of MN

When was it founded?

Legislative Cycle 1978




Oscar Echandi Chittenden
CLAC Community Liaison




San Jose, Costa Rica

Current residence

West St. Paul, Minnesota


St. Mary University
Master of International Business

St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity
(78 Credits Master of Divinity)

University of St. Thomas
B.A. Philosophy and Catholic Studies

Cairo American College

Work Experience

Chicano Latino Affairs Council
Community Liaison

Cairo American College
Elementary Art/Music aide



Tell us more about the non-profit: How does it help the Latino Community?

This state sponsored minority council serves to capture the voice of the Hispanic people throughout the state and transform it into concrete policy recommendations. At the beginning of every two year legislative biennium, we submit a series of recommendations to the state governor and congress aimed at improving the quality of life for the state’s Hispanic population. The Council focuses primarily in five areas: education, economic development, immigration, health and housing. The Chicano Latino Affairs Council also serves to inform MN’s Hispanic population about new legislation approved by the governor and state congress which affects Hispanic/Latino concerns. It is the only state-sponsored Hispanic group in MN.

The Chicano Latino Affairs Council assists the Hispanic community by serving as the state of MN’s official liaison with “el pueblo Hispano.” In this role, CLAC operates in gathering la voz Latina through community visits to the 11 largest Latino population clusters in MN, both in the Twin Cities metro and in greater MN. Our community visits focus in five areas: health, education, immigration, employment, housing. As a result of these visits, CLAC formulates specific policy recommendations for the governor and state congress. During the legislative session, CLAC serves to provide witnesses for testimony and advocacy support as it monitors bills debated in the legislature. Additionally, CLAC serves to inform and educate the Hispanic community regarding legislation which potentially benefits or hinders the Latino populace in MN. Lastly, CLAC serves as the official state minority representation toward other state agencies.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

My own daily efforts often find me planning a community visit or community engagement in one manner or another. In this role I am in contact with city officials or Latino community leaders throughout Minnesota as I prepare for the Council’s visit or seek feedback about certain problems or potential witnesses to testify at the state Capitol. Additionally, my position serves as liaison to community immigrant groups, so I am often at meetings sharing information or contacts with other non profit groups.

Most notable milestones

Our little state council does a lot of facilitation work with other state agencies. In this sense, one of my most satisfying milestones has been to connect with the MN Dept. of Education’s “HS Drop Out Prevention Program.” In this project, the MN Dept of Ed was totally unaware of the significant number of Hispanic HS drop-outs. My continuing project aims to accurately obtain and report these statistics and to follow through with obtaining funding for competent bilingual bi-cultural education in MN public schools.

What’s the niche?

At a Council level, we are unique in that we are the only state institution 100% dedicated to addressing the complex Hispanic situation here in MN. With this mandate, we enjoy a certain relationship with both state lawmakers and community non-profits.

At a personal level, I am a Central American who has been raised overseas in various Latin American countries as well as the Middle East. Thus I grew up with one foot in my home culture, but with another foot with the delighted flair of other cultures. In all this traveling my family was always stationed in American (US) embassies overseas (Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, Egypt).

During my university and graduate school I decided to enter a very seldom traveled social service route as I pursued seminary studies toward the Catholic priesthood for five years. It was during these years that I became cognizant of the very difficult social position of the hundreds of immigrants who arrive in MN each month.

What’s the biggest challenge?

My own biggest challenge thus far has been in trying to facilitate communication between three groups of disparate cultures. In one end I find the Americans of Mexican descent who have struggled mightily for their civil rights and are often suspicions of new arrivals. On the second tier I try to communicate with the dozens of Hispanic cultures present here in MN (from rural Mexico, to Cuencanos from Ecuador, to my own Costa Rica, to the gamut of distinct accents, expressions, flourishes, slang, cheers and gossip of the many countries of Central and South America). On the third tier are the well meaning, if somewhat puzzled, Scandinavian-Germans who form the Northern European backbone of Minnesota.

What’s in store for the future?

For the future of CLAC, we hope to more effectively coordinate between the growing Hispanic population (now including three Hispanic state legislators, a MN first!) so that urgent, pressing questions such as the DREAM act (or similar opportunities) might improve the quality of life for all Hispanics here in MN.

Personally, after having traveled through the state of MN, I am appalled at the immense dearth of capable, licensed teachers who speak Spanish. Thus, in the future, I am becoming interested in joining them (and perhaps in a few more years beginning that lovely experience of teaching in international schools around the globe).

Best way to keep a competitive edge

I am fairly new to the world of Non-profit Philosophy, and I am almost certain that significant erudite and intriguing bedtime reading has been assigned in M.A. & Ph.D. coursework on this theme. To this body of literature I have nothing much to add. Having said that, I would offer one observation that does come to mind.

I have noted that many times, the non-profit sector seems to attract highly gifted, inspired, zealous individuals with strong personalities and stronger educations who came forth blazing to save thing “x” (the world, human trafficking, carbon emissions, Jabba the Hut dolls, etc.). This is in marked contrast to the lean, mean corporate world whose organizing principle is the money.

In my few management courses, I have been absolutely impressed with the razor thin adjustments made to management processes, work descriptions and structures in the frenetic race to glean that last penny out of the efficiency machine. In one sense, it is stressful and wretchedly competitive. And all’s well with that sort of thing if it’s your gig.

However, I am noticing that the non-profit sector seems to be generally not gifted with the same tendency to “run lean”, that is, keep its operational processes & structures so well defined that the agency can do work “x” in such a manner that they become the “Toyota” of non-profit world. (Again, I speak generally, from my experience in MN).

So, I think that maybe the best way to keep a competitive edge in the non-profit sector might be to take our zealous, educated minds with oodles of education and run them through a couple of basic business management courses. A non-profit remains a type of business after all, and all the low-paying stress of non-profits need not necessarily mean that our business structures & relationships must always resemble the Addams Family environment.

Guiding principle in life

Well this one’s rich and juicy!

As for guiding principle, I cheerfully submit that I still relish a lot of the funky things I thought about when I was studying to be a priest. However, I am not thinking about the somewhat banal and bland Catholicism of the suburban American experiment. Rather I am thinking of the weird and exotic Eastern Religion of the Middle East as I found it when I lived in Cairo and Israel, when I traveled through the Sinai and in the monasteries of Greece. A world view also delightfully meshed with the indigenous beliefs of the Mayan and the Inca in Guatemala and Ecuador.

This is a set of principles is a kissing cousin to Zen Buddhism, and a nephew to the Chinese Dao. It delights in the Greek philosophers and reads men such as Chesterton and Aquinas for the simply-profound, evident wonder of the world and of the human person. I find hints of it in Frankl’s Logotherapy, in the iconodulic serenity of the seventh century Sinai monks, yet also in the profoundly happy Corpus Cristi drunken revelry of Cuenca.

I guess my guiding principle remains that of endless childish wonder at the world, in the belief in the basic goodness of the other, and in an abiding certainty of peaceful mystery of God.

Yardstick of success

I am told anecdotally that my parent’s generation were ferociously profit-driven. My own generation seems less so (at least reported by yahoo news some time ago). I seem to define happiness by ample time for leisure, good friends, excellent wine, intelligent conversation (in contrast to other lists which might hint at big houses, fast cars, breast implants, etc.).

To the first list above I would add a little time for meditation, good, meaningful work that is done well (yet left at the office) and opportunities to love others well (friends with young children who need a break, a newly married couple who might need a hand moving, volunteering to teach Spanish/English). Oh! I forgot the most important thing – green tea.

Goal yet to be achieved

I would like to finish getting a Teaching License. This seems to me important because of the tremendous need for Bilingual teachers here in MN, but more so because I seem to have an inner preference to feel happiest in the lowest levels of service. By this, I mean that interviewing legislators and mayors (my current work) and all is fine and dandy, but to teach (a profession of highest eminence in the East) seems relegated to a heavy, red-tape, No Child Left Behind burden in the West. And yet, I believe, it is in education that the rub lies!

Best practical advice

Call your mother! Make sure she knows you love her – a lot.

Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture

“Hey, cheer up buddy! Remember the kids at Melrose.”

My Boss, during the most hectic, busy times at CLAC, reminding me of our visit to Melrose, MN High School where the entire Latino High School student body came out eager to find opportunities for learning and professional growth during a CLAC presentation.

Who do you feel is your main mentor and why?

Hmm, I can’t point to anyone in particular as “main” mentor.

My mom has always been a good instructor in discerning hearts (and having fun). My high school professors taught me to love the English language, the fine arts, and even (real) wrestling!

My younger brother still teaches me the value of working hard after hitting rock bottom.

My Art History prof taught me to wildly love syncretic Latin American colonial expressionism.

And a poor, high-school drop-out mother of six (who is my age) is still teaching me that it is the humble quiet people of the world who are truly sane.

What motivated you to get started?

My desire to involve myself in meaningful work towards the Hispanic community and a bit of naiveté about what public policy and politics are all about!

Like best about what you do?

Meeting good people doing fantastic work and connecting them with each other.

Like least about what you do?

The interminable minutiae of government reporting.

If you could be doing anything else as a career, what would that be?

High School Philosophy Teacher (and soccer coach) in an international school!

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Astronaut, fireman or coffee farmer (like my grandfather).

What was your first job?

At age 17 I served as a summer intern with the US Agency for International Development in Cairo.

Needless to say, I was a bit overwhelmed by the verbiage, formality and downright seriousness of the affair. Nonetheless I learned to file like nobody’s business!

Biggest pastime outside of work? favorite hobby?

I love road biking in flat Minnesota. Recently I was made Scoutmaster to a newly created Troop of Hispanic Boys. Ooh yeah! Let the fun begin!

Person you are most interested in meeting?

Probably the teachers who work around the corner in the local Hispanic HS. They bust their butts and have fun doing it!

Leader in business that you are most interested in meeting?

As I mentioned above, I am deeply interested in obtaining a more proficient (albeit humanist) approach to business. In this vein, I would be keen on having lunch, or even a good long walk with any of several Brazilian entrepreneurs who have reshaped their country into a near autonomous powerhouse for South America. How did they do it? How do they treat their people? How can this model of integration be replicated in Hispanic communities here in the US?

Tell us three interesting facts about yourself

  1. I learned to drink, smoke and swear in seminary (and by smoke I mean the lovely hookah water-pipe with delicious apple tobacco & honey. Mmmm!
  2. I am a convinced extrovert with an occasional penchant for contemplative solitude.
  3. I drive my dream car (an old, beat-up 1991 BMW 318iS with way too many miles and repairs. It’s the “wife-car” who nags too much).

Tell us three characteristics that describe you

  1. I relate through relationships rather than facts.
  2. I favor spontaneity and intuition before planning (though I DO plan, just very generally).
  3. I love to relate through animated stories, especially to children.

Three greatest passions

  1. Time for solitude
  2. Opportunities to travel
  3. A good job done well!

Favorite book? show? movie? song? (choose 1 or more)

Book: “The Aubrey and Maturin Series” by Patrick O’Brian

Show: “Battlestar Galactica”

Song: nearly any by Juan Luis Guerra and 440

Favorite cause

Macs, computers, and old BMW’s

What truly gets you up in the morning and ready for work?

The ferocious desire to improve quality of life for the many new immigrants through direct community visits/policy involvement here in MN, since no one else is doing it!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Nope, thanks!

Who would you like to be contacted by?

Any person is welcome to contact CLAC for information or myself if I can be of service.


Interview by Alexander Grant
Introduction by Sara Ortega
Edited by Valerie Enriquez

Article published on Sep 19th, 2007 | Comment | Trackback | Categories »


September 28th, 2007, 17:39:00
Alma Garay-Lehn

Just a little UPS! The Chicano Latino Affairs Council is a State Agency, not a Non-Profit Organization.

Thank you,

October 1st, 2007, 20:47:28
Layla Ponce de Leon

Searching for student financial aid for higher education can be a daunting task… It’s not always easy to find Hispanic scholarships, and other ways to pay for your college tuition. I’ve found the Internet to be a great source of information when looking for school/college financial aid information. There are many sites dedicated specifically to providing Hispanics/Latinos with information on school funding, student loans, education savings, and what to expect in terms of tuition.
A friend recently recommended signing up for Club Futuro, an information service of www.FondoFuturo.com, a bilingual site with information on school loans which also offers loans and scholarships.
I strongly believe that education is the key to Latinos advancing in all areas of life. Whether it’s through college, graduate school, or continuing education, I encourage all to look for ways to further the educational level of our community.
I hope you find this information useful and I look forward to your comments. I’d be interested in knowing what other sites people found helpful.
Thank you!

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