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The News Tribune

Family Links Sustain Latinos; Despite Diverse Interests, Careers, Cultural Ties Remain Strong


May 30, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The News Tribune. All rights reserved.

They are pastors and business owners, teachers and health care professionals, migrant workers and people who reach out to migrant workers. And that only begins to tell their story.

Latinos are the second-largest nonwhite ethnic group in Pierce County after African Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. They make up at least 5.5 percent of the population in the county and 7.5 percent statewide.

"We're a very diverse group of people in terms of what we do for a living, where we come from, what we do in society," said Arturo Biblarz, a professor at Pacific Lutheran University. Here are sketches from five of them.

Name: Angel Ortiz Hernandez

Age: 54

Hometown: Tacoma

Occupation: Managed care coordinator and outreach supervisor for Community Health Care

Education: Bachelor's degrees in anthropology and religion from the University of Washington; plans to return for a master's degree

Family background: Born in Puerto Rico, but family has been in the U.S. about 50 years; they moved from New York to Tacoma because Angel's brother was stationed at Fort Lewis

Challenges for local Latinos: "The big issue is for undocumented people. They're not even legally allowed to work here, not allowed to get education. The children do go to public schools but have no access to DSHS or higher education.

"We face obesity. This is an American problem. Tobacco smoking is also major problem, and it is higher in the Latino community. Not understanding the American health care system is an issue."

And strengths? "They help each other financially and help each other get around. They tend to be very friendly to each other. We're very patriotic and very loyal to the government.

"Our greatest strength is that we're family oriented and very focused on the family."

How are you connected with your heritage? "I promote Spanish dance in our community and have salsa dancing twice a month at the Abbey Ballroom."


Name: Giselle Arbulu Langevin

Hometown: Tacoma

Occupation: Bilingual employment consultant, Tacoma Community House (case management for Bilingual Employment & Training Services, serving the Latino population)

Education: A.A. in Human Services, Tacoma Community College. B.A., University of Washington Tacoma

Family: Divorced, one son; parents, three brothers and "numerous beloved cousins, uncles and aunts" live in Lima, Peru

Family background: Born in Chiclayo, Peru; came to the United States for college, got married and moved to Tacoma near Fort Lewis

Strengths of local Latinos: "As our community grows both in number and influence, our strength will be our commitment as a group to various causes like education."

How are you connected with your heritage? "I travel to Lima almost every year. I purposely read my favorite books in Spanish. I also cook traditional foods like ceviche and arroz con pollo. I like to attend as many Latino cultural events as I can and network with other Latinos. To me it is important that my son is exposed to the rich Latin culture."

Plans and hopes: "My plan is to run for office and represent Tacomans of all backgrounds. My hope for the future is that Latinos use their power to vote and become actively involved in civic participation."


Name: Felipe Chimal

Age: 42

Hometown: Tacoma

Occupation: Pastor, Church of God - Palabra de Vida (Word of Life) since 1997; bishop for five churches in Western Washington

Education: Educated and certified as a Church of God - Palabra de Vida minister and bishop

Family background: Married; 18-year-old son, 12-year-old daughter


"I was born in Mexico City and came here with one of my cousins in 1983. I met my wife here and decided to move and live here after that."

Most of his wife's family is in this area. His family lives in Jilotepec, Mexico.

Local Latinos' strengths and challenges: "They are hard workers. They have a desire to work and get ahead in life. That's a great power that I see, a great potential."

Dealing with language and technology can present challenges, he said, and his church has started computer classes. Chimal also is working on English language and youth outreach programs.

How are you connected with your heritage? Though church members are from many Latin countries, "When it comes down to fellowship as Christians it's very simple. We care for each other, help each other. We share, we celebrate (holidays) together."


Name: Arturo Biblarz

Age: 69

Hometown: Tacoma

Occupation: Sociology professor, Pacific Lutheran University

Education: High school in Venezuela; Ph.D in Sociology from the University of California Los Angeles

Family background: Married with married children and grandchildren; born in Bogota, Colombia; moved to Pierce County 27 years ago

Strengths and challenges of local Latinos: " We have a large capacity to be involved in the life of this community. ... Most of us are pretty hard working people, pretty ambitious."

"I think one of our weaknesses is also that kind of variety and diversity. It's very hard to bring us together in one united purpose."

How are you connected with your heritage? Biblarz has been active with Centro Latino, the Commission of Hispanic Affairs and Connexion Latina. He works on Latino issues at PLU and meets once a month for breakfast with Latino friends.


Name: Blanca Contreras

Age: 28

Hometown: Tacoma

Occupation: Part-time outreach worker, part-time receptionist, Centro Latino

Education: Graduated Stadium high school, some classes at Bates Technical College

Family background: Born in San Salvador, El Salvador, moved to Los Angeles as a girl and came to the Tacoma area with her family at age 10 or 11; single mother of a 6-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl.

Local Latinos' strengths and challenges: Language barrier, lack of information and "not knowing the resources available," she said. At Centro Latino, she helps clients with bills, driver licensing, insurance, court proceedings and other issues.

Strengths include large extended families, family bonding and the support of family and friends, she said.

How are you connected with your heritage? "I visit my family in town and out of town. I try to eat our customary foods, and I go shopping in the Hispanic stores that are around in the area."

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