Connecticut Latinos Gaining Influence in Politics, Media and Economics
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She does point out, though, that—not surprisingly—Puerto Rican students aren’t identifying with issues related to gaining legal citizenship status that often obsess other Latino students.
“Any campaign that would cover immigration issues in the Latino community would need a broader political vision to attract Puerto Ricans,” she suggests. “But then, every town and city in Connecticut is different politically. Hartford has one of the largest Puerto Rican populations anywhere outside of the island itself, and they are part of the power structure. But in Waterbury, which has a large Latino community, it’s a struggle just to get a Latino on a city board, any city board.”
From her experiences working with Latino nonprofits, Glasser has found that cronyism, long a tradition in the Brass City, is “alive and well.” “If you don’t know someone on the inside, then you’re pretty much squashed,” she says.
The numbers bear this out. Latinos now comprise 31.2 percent of Waterbury’s population, yet there’s not a single Latino member on the Board of Aldermen and only one on the Board of Education. In the past year, efforts to get a new school building named in honor of a notable Latino have yet to bear fruit.
But political apathy may also play a role. Rodriguez has noticed that “by and large” the Latino community is not deeply involved with the local political scene in the towns and cities where they live. “I go to countless meetings of local political bodies, as part of my work with Connecticut Voices for Children, and I’m often the only Latino in the room,” he says.
Overmyer-Velázquez is a member of the school board in West Hartford and adviser to the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission (cga.ct.gov/lprac). The LPRAC has lately been in the news as Gov. Malloy has proposed folding the commission into a larger entity for budgetary reasons. But the commission is the single most important and unifying connection the Latino community has to their state government, says Overmyer-Velázquez, who adds that with the populations increasing, the shrinking of the department makes no sense.
“The commission is the go-to place for information, resources and surveys, and it’s the best way to track legislation that has an impact on the lives of Latinos in the state, issues like in-state tuition, roadside checks by police, health and education,” he says.
Overmyer-Velázquez cites a recent news event that points up some of the issues facing Hispanics here. It involved St. Rose of Lima Parish, a church in New Haven’s Fair Haven community led by Father James Manship, whose congregation includes 19 different countries of origin. Though not a Latino himself, Father Manship served as a catalyst for bringing the problems faced by the state’s Latino community to wider notice.
In February 2009, while investigating allegations by members of his congregation that a cadre of East Haven police officers were systematically harassing Latino (mostly Ecuadorian) businesses and residents, Father Manship videotaped such an encounter. The officers confiscated his camera and then, absurdly claiming they thought he had a gun, arrested him. The arrest was on the front pages of newspapers across the state and even made national news. A class-action lawsuit was filed against the town and the Department of Justice investigated the possibility of criminal civil-rights violations. Ultimately, four officers were arrested and charged with harassment in January 2012, at which point East Haven Mayor Joe Maturo made things worse with ethnically insensitive remarks about “tacos” when asked about the pattern of harassment against the Ecuadorians in his town.
“It seemed to me that, in the past, Latinos only got coverage in the traditional media with stories on crime or immigration,” says Diane Alverio, publisher of CTLatinoNews.com, an English language website that covers local news and issues in the state. “The mainstream media were not reaching Latinos, most of whom prefer getting their news and information in English.”