D.c. Latino Leaders Seek To Break Glass Ceiling (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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D.C. Latino Leaders Seek To Break Glass Ceiling

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and with the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, today we're bringing you a show we're calling Latina D.C. Washington's Latino population has been slowing growing over the past decade, from less than 8 percent back in 2000, to just about 10 percent today. Many suburban communities have also become Latino strongholds. Thirteen years ago, for instance, you could find about 100,000 Hispanic residents in Montgomery County, Md. Just two years ago that number had reached more than 165,000, and today Montgomery County is home to about a third of all Latinos in the state.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:44
So today, we're dedicating our show to our region's complex diverse Latino community.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:51
We'll look at the role Latinos play in the arts scene.

MS. NATALIA MIRANDA GUZMAN

00:00:54
Everybody comes here. I think that's the power of this theater.

SHEIR

00:00:57
And we'll hear how Virginia's gubernatorial candidates are engaging with Latino voters.

MR. REINCE PRIEBUS

00:01:02
I think part of the problem with our party is that we show up once every four years, five months before an election, and expect to have success.

SHEIR

00:01:08
We'll also meet a transgender Latino, who's reaching out to some of the city's most marginalized residents.

MS. RUBY CORADO

00:01:14
LGBT homelessness, I lived it myself, even after I had a lot of economic opportunities. And it can happen.

SHEIR

00:01:28
But first, in Prince George's County, Md., Latino leaders are protesting the lack of Latino representation on the newly reconstituted Board of Education. Latinos comprise about 25 percent of the county's school population, and more than 16 percent of the county's total population. So these leaders are demanding that a task force examine whether Latinos are appropriately represented in the school system and in county government.

SHEIR

00:01:50
Here in D.C., we've had several Latinos serve as deputy mayor, but you won't find any Latinos on either our State Board of Education or City Council. And the lack of Latino representation on the latter, has been especially vexing to D.C. native Joshua Lopez, whom I recently met a cafe on 14th Street Northwest.

MR. JOSHUA LOPEZ

00:02:09
For years people have been saying, hey, we need a Latino on City Council. We need more of a presence. I said, look, you know, I'm just going to run. You know, if we don't do it now, when are we ever going to do it?

SHEIR

00:02:19
That was back in 2010, when Lopez, whose parents hail from Guatemala, was just 26 years old. Lopez has been interested in politics since he was a teenager.

LOPEZ

00:02:28
You know, I was outraged at the level of violence going on in the community. I wanted to do something about it. I started going to community meetings.

SHEIR

00:02:35
And that's where he met then-council member Adrian Fenty, for whom Lopez would eventually work, when Fenty became mayor. Fast-forward to December 2010, and Lopez found himself announcing his candidacy for an at-large position on the City Council.

SHEIR

00:02:48
Can you talk about some of the points on your platform?

LOPEZ

00:02:50
I’m a big supporter of educational reform. You know, I went to DCPS. Good government, good representation, having someone that's going to be, you know, representative of D.C. issues, Latino issues, young people issues, you know.

SHEIR

00:03:03
Lopez ran against nine other people, and wound up receiving about 3,000 votes, or 7 percent of the total. While he didn't win the at-large seat, he did win the distinction of being one of the only Latinos ever to run for City Council.

MS. SONIA GUTTIEREZ

00:03:16
Carlos Rosario ran for the City Council. That was during the '80s or late '70s. And we didn't have enough political clout in the city to get a Latino elected.

SHEIR

00:03:29
And Sonia Guttierez, president and founder of the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School, remembers those days well. Back then, D.C.'s Latino community was in its infancy. Gutierrez, who was born in Puerto Rico, came to town in the early 1970s, and says the community was basically in survival mode.

GUTTIEREZ

00:03:46
In the '70s, there was a group of us, under Rosario's leadership, that were establishing community agencies because the main thing was to try to meet the needs of the people. And the needs were education, you know, for adults, education for children, health.

SHEIR

00:04:04
So, thanks to this so-called Old Guard or vieja guardia, you saw new agencies crop up, like the Spanish Education Development Center or SED Center, and the Program of English Instruction for Latin American or PEILA, which would eventually become Carlos Rosario. Later on came organizations like La Clinica del Pueblo and Mary's Center.

GUTTIEREZ

00:04:22
We were making sure that they would run with the limited funding we had, but also that we would stay alive. At the same time, all of us were very involved politically. Because Carlos Rosario always told me, from the beginning, if you love this program, and you want it to survive, you have to become politically involved, because in this city everything is controlled by politics.

SHEIR

00:04:48
In those days, political involvement meant some hands-on work with legislation.

GUTTIEREZ

00:04:52
We wrote the legislation that established the Mayor's Office of Latino Affairs. I still have cassettes of when Jose Gutierrez was dictating the legislation to me and I was taking notes and everything.

SHEIR

00:05:04
But the old guard's primary political activity was advocating and lobbying on behalf of the Latino community. Not running for city office.

GUTTIEREZ

00:05:12
We were running these agencies day and night, Saturdays and Sundays, we were working for the community. We had no life.

SHEIR

00:05:19
That's why, as Gutierrez puts it, there eventually arose a kind of void.

GUTTIEREZ

00:05:23
There was not someone charismatic like, say, Carlos Rosario. And there were others within the group that were, but we were really extremely busy. So I think that even up to now that void has not been filled.

MR. JOHNNY YATACO

00:05:40
La vieja guardia, which is the old guard, they are now either retired or they're working for nonprofit organizations. And they're, you know, they're making a good living there, and they're comfortable.

SHEIR

00:05:49
Johnny Yataco is the founder and publisher of the weekly newspaper, Washington Hispanic.

SHEIR

00:05:54
Do you see any up-and-coming young rising leaders in the community?

YATACO

00:05:58
Not in D.C. If you look at Montgomery County, if you look in Arlington, we do have good Hispanic representation, but not in D.C. So I think we need to change that.

SHEIR

00:06:09
And one way to do it, Yataco says, is to encourage young Latinos to get involved in politics. He'd like to see more organizations like the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, agencies that seek to mentor and groom Latino youth as leaders. Angela Franco runs the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. And she says it's crucial to get all members of the Latino community not only to take on more leadership, but to increase involvement in the city as a whole.

MS. ANGELA FRANCO

00:06:34
Hispanics are go-getters. We have a strong personality and are entrepreneurs by heart, especially on the business side. So representing a city is having the community side, also having the business side, understanding the political side. It's just really having an understanding of what the city is.

GUTTIEREZ

00:06:53
You also need to be very, very knowledgeable of what the issues are, how to deal with them effectively.

SHEIR

00:06:59
Again, Sonia Guttierez.

GUTTIEREZ

00:07:01
You need to know how the system works and you need to be able to represent everybody in the city. Not just Latinos.

SHEIR

00:07:10
And that, says Joshua Lopez, is something he kept in mind during the 2011 election.

LOPEZ

00:07:14
I ran to be a good legislator. I didn't run to be a Latino on the Council. You know, that's very important to me, but if you're going to be an elected official, you have to represent everyone.

SHEIR

00:07:23
As for whether Lopez will try again to be an elected official…

SHEIR

00:07:26
Are you going to run again?

LOPEZ

00:07:27
I'll definitely keep that option on the table. My former mentor told me, you don't need to be an elected official to help people. So whatever role I take on in the future, you know, I think I'll have a hands-on approach to trying to get things done in the community and in D.C. and in general.
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