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Maria Contreras-Sweet, founder and chair of a Latino-owned Los Angeles banks, was named by President Barack Obama Tuesday to head the Small Business Administration, positioning her to become the second Hispanic in his Cabinet.
"I've searched for an exceptional person, someone with a proven track record," said Obama, who added she has experience in the public and private sector and "understands entrepreneurs."
The 58-year-old founder of ProAmérica Bank emigrated from Guadalajara, Mexico, with her mother and siblings when she was 5. Her mother worked at a chicken packaging plant. Obama recounted how her grandmother had told her if she worked hard she could grow up to be an office secretary.
"That's what America is all about - fulfilling the vision of her grandmother in ways that are not entirely expected," said the president.
The mother of three started her career in state government, working in the California Assembly speaker's office while in college. After working in companies and opening a consulting firm, then-Gov. Gray Davis appointed her the state's first Latina Cabinet member.
Obama had two Latinos in his Cabinet in his first term. Both have left. The current Labor Secretary is Thomas Perez, who is of Dominican descent.
Hector Barreto, who headed the Small Business Administration under President George W. Bush, praised the nomination. The SBA is the largest guarantor of small business loans and supports a network of training and development centers, Barreto said.
If confirmed by theSenate, Contreras-Sweets faces a tough poltical climate. "Nobody is against small business, but everyone has different ideas on how to do it," Barreto said.