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Get Involved: It Solves More Than Problems

By Mark Pino

February 1, 2004
Copyright ©2004 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

Single-member districts and getting Hispanics elected to office are the talk of Osceola. What else would you expect in an election year, in a county where a dominant minority has no elected officials and lacks clout?

Doing away with at-large voting won't necessarily guarantee Hispanics a seat on the School Board or County Commission.

I do believe it would be easier for Hispanics to get elected under a single-member system. Maybe. It all depends on how the districts were drawn -- and that power is always in the hands of those who rule, barring intervention by some outside force, say the federal government. Waiting for the Department of Justice is wasting time better spent getting involved in the community.

Hispanics and others without clout could do better by taking the offensive, getting up to speed on the issues, serving the community and winning the confidence of all voters. That's what every candidate should do.

Too many people in Osceola, not just Hispanics, are disengaged from decision-makers and their decisions.

Hispanics, a diverse group of people who fall under an artificial label, face added obstacles of language and culture. Plus, Hispanics are not one united group with the same goals. Latinos could do themselves a favor if they recognized that various groups under that broad banner agree more often than they disagree on key issues.

It's fine to be proud of where you come from -- be it Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, the Dominican Republic or wherever. It is a starting point. Building on cultural similarities would allow different Hispanic groups to forge alliances. Our roots should be something that unites us, not divides us.

Meanwhile, we all must engage our leaders -- the same ones who oppose single-member districts. Such opposition makes me laugh, because county commissioners and School Board members pretend that we have a single-member system. Every voter in the county elects you -- making you responsible to all.

Back to what we can do.

*Register to vote. Study the issues. Vote. If you don't vote, you cannot change things. An uninformed vote maybe be more dangerous than not voting.

*Volunteer. If you're a parent, do something to help your kids. Read to your children. Help them prepare for the FCAT. Bigger picture: Work with the school advisory council, tutor kids or be a mentor. Too overwhelming? Play to your strengths -- even if it's something simple, such as collating papers for a teacher. There are a bunch of options, and volunteering doesn't have to be about kids. Seniors need help too. So do the disadvantaged and abused. Many groups offer training, so you don't have to start off as an expert. Eventually that may lead to better understanding of the issues or ignite a passion to do more.

*Check out our current leaders and the issues. Are leaders missing issues important to you? Let them know. Get involved. Officials routinely struggle to fill positions on volunteer boards. The same people get tapped over and over because they're available and willing to serve.

Chances are good that you won't be overlooked if you step forward. Hispanics -- or anyone else -- should not complain if they aren't willing to join the fray. If you extend a helping hand, someone is going to take it and say welcome aboard.

See, it's not all about politics and elections. It's about making a better community that belongs to all of us.

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