Having command of Spanish and English means, for Latino women, a competitive advantage, several outstanding Hispanic figures from the political, activism and business spheres said Monday.

"Being bilingual is an incredible opportunity. I have two children and I'm concerned for both to speak Spanish as well as English, because that's going to help them in their professional careers just like it helped me," Lidia Soto-Harmon, CEO of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation's Capital, told Efe.

The majority of female Latino leaders participating in the 25th anniversary of the National Hispana Leadership Institute in Washington agreed.

"There are occasions on which speaking Spanish has negative connotations and that makes the second generations want to distance themselves from the language of their parents," said Soto-Harmon, something that has to be "avoided at all costs," since it would mean "that the doors to infinite opportunities would close on them."

Soto-Harmon was chosen to receive the NHLI's 2012 Regional Mujer Award.

In addition, this year's ceremony saw the following women receive the following awards - Univision Senior Vice President Ivelisse R. Estrada, National Mujer Award; California Congresswoman Grace Napolitano, Legislative Award; and activist and educator Maria del Rosario "Rosie" Castro, Chair's Award.

"We're part of a complex and diverse society, and so we should integrate ourselves and not remain isolated, something that only English can give us," the head of the NHLI board, Marieli Colon Padilla, told Efe.

"But, on the other hand, we can't renounce who we are, we can't renounce Spanish, which - besides - gives us a competitive advantage when one tries to prosper in the business sector or the public sphere," she said.

Being bilingual is something "fundamental," given that Hispanics will establish themselves as a bridge between the "Anglo" and Latino cultures, Colon said. 

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