I’ve been to a lot of business conferences. But up to last week, I had only gone as a grunt — one of those guys who represent the sponsoring company and whose job it is to hook up the PowerPoint demonstrations, tear down the rooms, and occasionally, tell the speakers what to say (yup, I’ve written a few presentations for zero credit).

So it was great to finally go to a full-fledged, hobnobbing, networking-frenzy, whip-out-those-business-cards kind of conference where I was an actual attendee.

The event was Hispanicize 2011, which may sound like a sci-fi feature about cyborg Latinos, but is actually the “premier marketing event devoted to … brand marketers, bloggers, non profits, and marketing agencies focused on Hispanic public relations and social media.”

Basically, if you write about, or market to, or spend a lot of time thinking about Latinos, you would be a fool to skip this conference. So for three days, I hit the convention floor, went to breakout sessions, and networked with my fellow Hispanics and the people who love us.

It resembled many other business conferences, in that there were plenty of people in suits, and talk about monetizing this or that, and decent swag for the taking. But few other conferences have this much hugging. Really, you can’t get hundreds of Latinos together and expect everyone to stick to handshakes. Damn it, we like to hug, professional attire or not.

This was especially true when I met those individuals who had, to this point, only existed to me as online presences, or email buddies, or frequent commenters. There is no term for the discombobulating sensation of speaking face to face with people you have gotten to know through their writing, or via their comments. It is, of course, a brand-new emotion fit for the twenty-first century, and eventually, we’ll come up with a phrase to cover it.

In any case, my main reaction was to become a bit overwhelmed at the brilliance on display. My natural cynicism couldn’t dismiss some of the great ideas I heard. And my self-confidence (or is it arrogance?) took a backseat when I talked with some of the people who are leading the Hispanic community out of the dark ages.

The last major event was a keynote speech by Edward James Olmos. The Oscar-nominated actor gave an intense, freewheeling, intellectually challenging talk that covered his belief that there is only one race (that would be the “human race”). It also referenced the Mexican drug war, the documentary Inside Job, the value of the Swiss franc, and the fact that Harvard scientists have reversed aging in mice…Really, it all added up somehow.

I met Olmos after his speech and talked to him for approximately 9.7 seconds before a Battlestar Galactica fan interrupted me. But it was ok.

I gave him my card.