Growing up as the child of two migrant workers, Margie Gonzalez traveled from state to state with her family of 10. Following in the footsteps of her family, she eventually made the decision to settle in Idaho, and she has lived in the state for over 40 years.
Before Gonzalez became the executive director for the Idaho Commission for Hispanic Affairs, she witnessed the harsh nature of poverty during her family’s travels. Rather than simply be a bystander to the struggle, she chose to act.
“My father passed away 10 years ago, but one of the things that he always instilled in his children and grandchildren was to not ever forget where you came from,” says Gonzalez. “Never forget your own growth. And that’s something that I think continues to push me to strive for better for this community.”
Gonzalez has worked in nonprofit organizations for most of her adult life and became involved with the Commission nearly 21 years ago. It was roughly five years later that she took the next step in becoming the agency’s executive director, where her focus would become changing existing policy for rural communities.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes happen,” says Gonzalez. “I’m 60 years old, and my passion has been to always try to make some change with this population that grows dramatically. Coming to work for the commission gave me the opportunity to try to make some changes in policy, and we’ve done great work in reaching out to our rural communities.”
With that passion comes a focus on the most pressing issues in the community. Although much of the policy change has focused on farm workers in Idaho, Gonzalez is most proud of seeing the next generation of Hispanic leaders grow and watching Hispanic youth graduate from high school and go on to college. This pride is reflected in her life at home, as well.
The dedication that Gonzalez has to the Hispanic community in Idaho can be time-consuming, but that same devotion extends to those she loves. Between traveling for vacation and taking little moments for picnics at the park, she makes her four children and seven grandchildren a priority.
Although she often travels for work, Gonzalez finds the time to be a mother and a grandmother, as well as a champion for Idaho’s Hispanic population. Throughout the course of her long career, Gonzalez has raised the bar for advocacy and change for underrepresented populations in the state.
“It is very rare to find a leader as humble, yet as effective as Margie Gonzalez,” writes Michael Satz, associate vice president and executive officer for University of Idaho Boise. “Her energy, leadership, and personal drive have led to substantial improvements in cultural understanding in our state, and opportunity for our Hispanic population. That is an extremely difficult task to accomplish, but Margie has done just that.”
Margie Gonzalez is the executive director of the Idaho Commission for Hispanic Affairs, a position she has held for 16 years. Gonzalez’s greatest career accomplishments have focused on Hispanic youth and farm workers across the state, and she continues to make change.
Lobbied for legislation to benefit Hispanic farm workers
Over the course of her time as executive director, she has overseen a great amount of work surrounding Hispanic farm workers in Idaho, including minimum wage and housing legislation.
Created “Idaho at a Glance” annual report
Her office has become a clearinghouse for data on the Hispanic population. The resulting reports are published annually and give those who read them a glimpse into the Hispanic population in Idaho.
Compiled an action plan for Hispanic youth academic achievement disparities
After partnering with more than 35 stakeholders, she created the first three-year action plan to gather endorsements from the Idaho Department of Education and the Idaho Board of Education to address the issue.