While Hispanic population is growing in Ohio, it hasn't kept pace with representation in state government or decision-making roles among the area's corporations. The city and county of Lorain has the second largest number of Latinos in the state, outside of Cleveland. And their work to become a united political and economic front, while not easy, is beginning to reap some rewards. 90.3's Yolanda Perdomo reports on what some community leaders are doing to have their say when it comes to public policy.
Yolanda Perdomo- At the Puerto Rican Hall in Lorain, more than 60 people got together for a dinner and discussion on getting funding for neighborhood programs. A table by the door had several handouts and pamphlets. Everything from the history of Puerto Ricans in the area to information on local and national social service agencies. Daisy Maldonado is with the Grassroots Leadership Development Program, a non-profit that trains future Latino leaders. She concedes that it's hard to motivate some Hispanics because of a history of taking care of your own first.
Daisy Maldonado- Latinos are not the kind of people who go out and do community service, and are community involved. That's something we were not raised doing. I mean my mother and my father didn't do, so I didn't do it - that was something that I learned as an adult. But what we try to do is try to really empower the Latinos and tell them that yes, your voice does count. And if you're living here, you might as well try to do anything to make policy work for you for your community, for your neighborhood, for your schools.
YP- Maldonado says the perception is that Hispanics as a group don't necessarily have diverse issues and concerns. Buy she says, that's not true. Issues can vary, depending on which country they came from. And more often than not, this lack of common ground doesn't allow Latinos to come together as a voting block or as a giant economic player.
DM- I think that we become sedentary. And unlike Mexicans who have to have a green card and unlike other Latin countries where you need a green card or visa to get over, Puerto Ricans came over on Eastern Airlines. We lived good here. We don't have to sign any visa papers. We don't have any limits from our time. And we don't think we have to do anything to better ourselves because we're here. And unfortunately that's the mentality. Not for everybody. Again, the more educated ones, and the ones that really want to reach out and change their community don't think that way.
YP- Maldonado is in charge of a 9-week Latino leadership training program, that teaches Hispanics how to become more involved by serving on boards, giving them an opportunity to directly address city, county, and school officials about their concerns. But this year, it was canceled because of a lack of interest. She plans on starting it again early next year. Lorain council member David Flores says there was a time when Hispanics were somewhat hesitant about getting involved in community events outside their own Latino circles. But that's changing.
David Flores- It used to be a big stumbling block. Now they can't use that excuse because some of those agencies know that there's a lot of Hispanics out there. They know there's a lot of leaders out there. They're coming to us and saying 'we want a Hispanic on our board.' So we give them names.
We all are doing something to perpetuate justice and equality for the Hispanic community.
YP- Michael Ferrer is on the board of the Hispanic Fund, formed a few years ago to unite Latino organizations to work together to raise money for community programs. A Lorain native, Ferrer wants Hispanics to not only become politically active, but to participate in non-Latino groups.
Michael Ferrer- We have a spending power of $300 billion. If we were to come together, which we are starting to, watch out. Because we can elect the mayor of the city, we can elect the judges, and leadership is saying forget about me right now, let's think about us.