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The Hispanic Boom…U.S. Latinos Biggest Minority Group After Unstoppable Population Growth

The Hispanic Boom

Tugging at the heart, Hispanics determined to help each other succeed

Marketta Gregory

December 23, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Democrat & Chronicle. All rights reserved.

As a youth counselor Juanita Alvarado visited many Rochester homes where domestic violence was rampant, just like it was in her native Puerto Rico.

One Rochester 5-year-old started telling his friends at school that he hated everyone. What Alvarado learned was that the child had seen his mother stab his father.

Other children told Alvarado that they could make more money than she does by selling drugs like their parents.

"Domestic violence is destroying society," said Alvarado, who has weathered her own tough spots.

It's a topic that is not openly discussed in the Puerto Rican culture, until people like Alvarado step forward trying to make a difference.

She's hoping for funding in 2004 to help her create a Christian-based program for victims and those who abuse, and she's dreaming of a day when she'll have a resource center, male role models to work with families, and a shelter.

That's how many programs for Hispanics get started, said Julio Vazquez, president of the Ibero-American Action League. One person sees a need and then steps in to fill that gap.

Or, in Alvarado's case, five women around her kitchen table saw a need and decided that if change was to happen for Hispanics, it would start with them.

Hispanics helping other Hispanics succeed in the United States is as old as immigration and as fresh as Alvarado's Touched by Angels Initiatives.

And the programs range from teaching Mexican dances to maintain cultural roots to educating Hispanics about multiple sclerosis.

Like many minority groups, Hispanic immigrants have followed a cultural assimilation pattern in which one family member moves to a place in the United States, like Rochester.

Once that person has a job and an apartment, other family members follow and share housing until they are similarly established.

In the '50s and '60s, some Hispanics were doing the same thing for people they hadn't met before. "People really look after each other," Vazquez said.

His colleagues at the Ibero-American Action League see their jobs as a calling and as an opportunity to contribute more to their community.

"They go beyond what the job descriptions are," said Vazquez, who oversees the variety of services the league offers, ranging from parenting training to translating services for area Hispanics. "We get paid for 35 hours a week, but we work 50 and 60 hours making sure that everybody else is taken care of."

The league, established in 1968, is one of five main organizations that helps Hispanics, Vazquez said. Others include Puerto Rican Youth Development, Catholic Family Services, the Salvation Army and the Health Association.

Often when new programs are started, such as the Touched by Angels Initiative, they network with one of the main umbrella groups. Alvarado, for example, is taking training offered by the Ibero-American Action League.

Rural Opportunities Inc. also helps Hispanics, especially migrant workers, with employment, housing, economic development and health and safety. About 87 percent of those it serves are Hispanic, and its board of directors is 51 percent Hispanic, said Velma Smith, executive director and a former migrant worker from Arkansas.

Many of the people in the Rural Opportunities program qualify for public assistance, Smith said, but very few apply for it. Some are leery because of their citizenship status, but pride is the biggest reason they don't accept welfare, she said.

"I think that says something about the population," Smith said. "They will work. That's why they are here. They're not here for handouts."

Farmworkers are so isolated that they are going to support one another, she said, adding that there's also a mistrust of the "system."

People need to feel welcome at social services agencies, Vazquez said, and that's not always the case when there's a language and cultural barrier.

Carmen Garcia and her ability to speak Spanish have already set at least one person at ease at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society of Upstate New York. Garcia is serving an internship at the society, and one Hispanic woman made it a point to stop and talk with her about programs the society offers.

Garcia, of Puerto Rican descent, would like to see that happen more often and is working to get information about the MS Society into the hands of Hispanics in 2004.

"MS attacks everyone," Garcia said, but too few Hispanics are taking advantage of the services the society offers.

She'd like to start support groups for Hispanics and make sure people know that the society offers brochures in Spanish.

Alvarado plans to put domestic abuse posters - written in Spanish - in hospitals and is offering videotapes and manuals for churches and spiritual leaders.

She wants victims to know they are not alone and that she speaks their language.

Sylvia Trujillo Davis knows about isolation. She grew up in Texas, the daughter of a Texan and a Mexican.

When she visited her cousins in Mexico, they made fun of her and called her "gringo." When she traveled with her parents, who were migrant workers, people saw her as Mexican.

"I was torn between two cultures," said Davis, youth coordinator for Hispanic migrant ministries at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester.

Now she helps other children of migrant workers feel like they have a place to belong. She's in charge of Corazún Mexicano (The Mexican Heart), which teaches young people the traditional dances of Mexico.

Mixed in with the colorful costumes are talks about problems the young people are facing in school and in life.

"It's a neat way for teenagers to come together," Davis said. "They end up resolving their own problems."

Resolving the problem of small numbers of Hispanic lay ministers in the local Roman Catholic diocese is the focus of El Instituto de Pastoral Hispana (The Hispanic Pastoral Institute) of St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry.

The institute has been functioning for more than a decade, but it mainly offered adult education-type classes. In January, the focus will shift to pastoral training, giving participants practical ways to serve the world.

It's part of a national grass-roots movement to "make Hispanic ministry what it should be," said Deacon George Dardess.

"We don't empower people enough, especially laypeople," he said, adding that he hopes the two-year institute helps with that. The first year focuses on building community and the second year brings in practical field work, including field trips to a variety of places of worship.

The notion of the church as a pyramid with decisions flowing downward is changing, Dardess said.

"The Hispanic community needs to take charge of itself and not rely on Father or Sister to take care of everything," he said.

"All have a role to play."

Alvarado has found her role, her life's purpose. Her heart kept being tugged in the direction of helping, but her mind repeatedly said that the job of fighting domestic violence was too big for one person.

Finally, she ran out of excuses and began.

"Even if I just save a life or two, I will have done my job," she said.

About this series

This is the last in a monthly 12-part series the Democrat and Chronicle has published focusing on the triumphs, issues and challenges facing the Hispanic community in the Rochester area.

For more information

  • Corazún Mexicano - (585) 637-0126 or (585) 637-3714.
  • El Instituto de Pastoral Hispana - (585) 271-3657, ext. 284. Cost is $30 per class.
  • Ibero-American Action League - (585) 256-8900.
  • National Multiple Sclerosis Society of Upstate New York - (585) 271-0801.
  • Rural Opportunities - (585) 340-3334.
  • Touched by Angels Initiative - (585) 288-5118 or (585) 802-1673.

U.S. Latinos Biggest Minority Group After Unstoppable Population Boom

December 31, 2003
Copyright © 2003 AFP. All rights reserved.

MIAMI (AFP) - America's Latino community emerged as the largest US minority in 2003, with 39 million people and rising on an influx of immigrants, in a demographic shift with far-reaching economic and political effects. 

The number of Latinos has surged from 22.3 million in 1990 to 38.8 million in 2002, according to the Census Bureau. The figure for 2003 is expected to top 40 million.

That means 13 percent of the US population has Latino origins.

Over the next two decades, as immigrants have more children on US soil, the number is expected to near 60 million people, said Jeffrey Passel, a demographer and recent author of a study by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Between 2000 and 2020, the number of second generation Latinos in US schools will double, and the figure in the country's labor market will triple, said the study released in October.

Despite the formidable demographic weight of Hispanics in the United States, they have yet to find equivalent economic or political power, according to Antonio Jorge, economics professor at the International University of Florida (FIU).

Two thirds of US Hispanics are Mexicans. Another 15 percent come from Central America, 10 percent from the US territory of Puerto Rico, and four percent from Cuba.

The wealth generated by US Hispanics is calculated at 800 billion dollars -- more than the gross domestic product of Mexico or Brazil but only seven percent of America's GDP.

The Hispanic population here is young -- one in three are younger than 18. They tend to have little formal education and modest incomes, according to the Census.

One in three have no medical insurance, and one in eight are in the country illegally.

Average earnings are lower than those of non-Hispanic Americans. Latinos also have only small connection to national politics.

None of the 100 US senators is Hispanic, and only about 20 of the 435 representatives in the lower house of Congress are Hispanic -- possibly because as a block, voter turnout is low.

About six million Latino voters cast ballots in the 2000 presidential election won by President George W. Bush. Pollsters predict more than seven million will vote in next year's polls.

"Most of them are Democrats," said Jorge, noting that Republicans were making "a noteworthy effort" to capture the Latino vote, and with some success.

Actor and moderate Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger won the governor's seat in California, a state with a large Latino population.

Latinos could also play a key electoral role in Florida, the state that controversially decided the outcome of the 2000 vote.

The 400,000 staunchly anti-Castro Cuban voters in the state cast their ballots en masse for Bush, contributing to his razor thin victory by just a 500-vote margin.

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