Maria Contreras-Sweet was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday to head the Small Business Administration. Contreras-Sweet, whose family immigrated from Mexico when she was a child, becomes the second Hispanic Cabinet member in President Barack Obama's second-term Administration.
The President said "the American people will have a fierce champion who understands what it means to start a small business, and who has a proven track record of helping other small businesses succeed."
Contreras-Sweet founded and has served as chairwoman of ProAmérica Bank, a community bank that primarily serves small- to medium-size Latino businesses in Los Angeles. In 1999, she became California's first Latina Cabinet secretary, heading the Department of Business, Transportation and Housing under former Gray Davis.
Word of her confirmation was announced at the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) conference in Washington. Luis Vazquez-Ajmac, the president of Maya Advertising who has known the new Cabinet secretary for a decade, said "when you've got someone in the trenches, that's good for America."
New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez stated he was pleased at her "swift" confirmation, supported by both parties and praised her "vast experience."
Contreras-Sweet said in a 2013 speech, "my journey is probably very much like those you are helping here today." Her mother worked at a chicken packaging plant, and she worked her way through school.
Hector Barreto, SBA Administrator under George W. Bush, heads the Latino Coalition, a non-profit composed of Hispanic business owners. He said of her confirmation that his organization "looks forward to working with her and the agency to expand opportunity for small business, the backbone of our economy.”
-Additional reporting by Jessica Montoya Coggins in Washington, D.C.