Group Starts Second Hispanic Chamber 

"I don't want to have dancing with Mexico," Cornicello says, referring to the ballet from Zacatecas that Zajur recently brought to Richmond. "That's a secondary thing to us. We got children without insurance. … We can't rent apartments because of the paperwork they ask us."

Zajur says his Chamber "is a sincere organization that is dedicated to building bridges within the Hispanic communities, all communities." But, he says, there's room for more than one organization in the Richmond area: "Any group that can help our mission, I welcome them."

One Tuesday afternoon, Marcelo Cornicello sits at the deli's red tables with his wife, Barbara, and six other leaders in the Hispanic community, discussing plans for the chamber. On the wall, amid family photographs, hangs an image of Cornicello's father as a bare-chested boxer, grinning as he leans back in the corner of the ring.

Cornicello, too, is a fighter. He wants to fight the DMV's proposal to make drivers' license regulations more stringent, which would leave many Hispanics unable to obtain identification, he says. He wants to fight the recent placement of Spanish signs in the James River Park that he considers discriminatory against Hispanics as litterers. And there are many more targets.

The new chamber Cornicello and his colleagues envision would serve as a voice to address the injustices they perceive, as well as a place that would direct Hispanics to services they need: translation, English classes, help with school enrollment, legal and medical aid. Also, like a traditional chamber of commerce, it would seek to unite Hispanic-owned businesses for purposes of investment, education and marketing.

The chamber is now discussing possible locations for headquarters and plans to begin fund-raising soon. Barbara Cornicello is studying sister organizations in other states to serve as models. Peruvian Elsa E. Miller will serve as president. But Cornicello stresses that despite titles, the organization is egalitarian; no single member will be the voice of all Hispanics.

"I want to help a lot, Cornicello says, but I don't represent anybody."

— Melissa Scott Sinclair


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