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Hispanic Leader Leaving Valley Lebanon Latino Leaders Work To Fan Political Fervor Prospect Park Councilman Faces Guard Duty In Iraq
Hispanic Leader Leaving Valley
Luis A. Ramos Will Take Berwick Post With PPL Corp.
By Dan Shope Of The Morning Call
April 30, 2004
LUIS RAMOS has been active in Latino business groups and more recently as a member of the Empowerment Team, a task force studying how to help the Allentown School District make an academic recovery.
Luis A. Ramos, a longtime leader of Lehigh Valley business, education and community groups, is moving to Berwick.
But he isn't leaving PPL Corp., where he has worked for 30 years. And he isn't giving up on the Allentown School District, where he worked on the Empowerment Team, a community group that drafted the plan for the district's academic recovery.
Ramos, 53, is replacing Herbert D. Woodeshick, the veteran community representative and spokesman for the Susquehanna nuclear power plant in Columbia County. Woodeshick will retire June 30.
Ramos has spent 30 years with PPL, where he most recently was manager of community affairs, a role that helped make him a leader in the region's growing Latino community.
He was a founding member of the Hispanic Business Council, a wing of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce formed in 1987. The council promotes educational opportunities for Latinos. It recently merged with the Latin Alliance, another Latino community organization, to become the Latino Leadership Alliance. Ramos was chairman of the council for several years.
"Luis Ramos was a pioneer with respect to promoting Latino business," said Tony Iannelli, president of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber. "He really felt the more he could do to promote education within the Latino community, the better prepared that community would be to prosper in the Valley."
Ramos expects to become involved in the Hispanic community near his new home.
"Berwick is 85 miles away, and there's a fast-growing Latino community in nearby Hazleton," he said Thursday at PPL headquarters in Allentown. "But I will still have roots here. I will miss Allentown and the Lehigh Valley."
Attorney David Vaida, chairman of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of the Lehigh Valley, said it's a loss for the region.
"Luis is an important advocate for the Latino community," he said. "We are sorry to see him have to devote less time to our community.
"We are, of course, happy that he is able to enhance his own position in the company."
Ramos moved from Puerto Rico to Bethlehem's South Side at age 7 in 1956. He mixed with other sons of Bethlehem Steel workers and gained a love for soccer and education.
Ramos graduated from Liberty High School and Lehigh University, where he received a degree in management science.
He became a referee and worked professional soccer games, a role that would fit him in the community as a consensus builder. His love for soccer will be challenged in Berwick, one of the nation's traditional football towns.
Ramos is a member of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education. He was appointed by U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum to the U.S. Senate Republican Task Force on Hispanic Affairs.
He is on the board of the Minsi Trails Boy Scout Council and is a trustee of DeSales University.
He has received the Distinguished Service Award of the Lehigh Valley Chamber, the Lehigh University Volunteer Service Award, the Minsi Trails Boy Scout Council award and the Community Fabric Award from Northampton Community College.
The one activity he couldn't leave behind was Allentown education.
He made the decision to keep working with the school district after a recent meeting with friend Dr. Mark J. Young.
Young was a physician from Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network who also devoted much of his spare time to improving Allentown's public schools.
Young, 52, died Saturday after collapsing during a tennis match.
"Before this happened, we had a long talk," Ramos said. "I decided to continue with the schools. Mark was so supportive of my move. The loss of him is huge."
Reporter Jean Bonner contributed to this story.
Lebanon Latino Leaders Work To Fan Political Fervor
MONICA VON DOBENECK
July 7, 2004
Arquelio Martinez looked glum as he sat at the 6th Ward polling place in April. In the hour he had been there, only one person cast a vote.
Martinez, a constable and the only elected Latino in the county, was frustrated. The 6th Ward, a largely Latino enclave, traditionally has the lowest voter turnout in the county.
Martinez, who majored in political science, served in the National Guard and has been voting since he was 18, recognizes this community's potential.
The Latino vote has been called a sleeping giant in American politics. Considered a must-win swing vote this year by Democrats and Republicans, Latinos command political clout. From 1972 to 2000, Latino voter registration increased by 202 percent, according to The Almanac of Latino Politics.
Lebanon defies that trend.
Latinos serve as city church leaders and heads of social agencies. One Latino works on the 40-member police force. And the school district has 29 Latinos on staff, including teachers, a principal and teacher aides. But Latinos have yet to flex their political muscle in Lebanon.
In the last election, only 11 percent of 6th Ward voters went to the polls. What's more, no Latinos have ever sat on the City Council or school board. That despite the fact that Latinos account for about one-fourth of Lebanon's population.
Lebanon's "is probably the largest Latino community in Pennsylvania that doesn't have representation," said Rafael Collazo, former regional director of the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute. "We need to be at the table, and they are starting to understand that."
In Martinez's native Puerto Rico, interest in politics is widespread and passionate, he said. He wants to spark some of that passion in this city.
In the past year, Martinez has registered 24 Latino voters, a seemingly insignificant amount, but, as he sees it, the start of a turning tide.
"It's only a matter of time," he said.
Martinez said he hopes the debate over the war in Iraq will draw Latinos to the polls in November. That, in turn, will make elected officials take note of a potentially powerful voting bloc, he said.
"We have to make the government know Hispanics are important," Martinez said. Language still a barrier
Latinos began arriving in Lebanon in the 1950s, lured by work at tobacco, tomato and poultry farms.
In 2000, 4,019 Latinos lived in Lebanon, about 16 percent of the population, according to the census. Latino leaders, though, said the numbers are higher. They pointed to the Lebanon School District, for instance, where more than a third of all students identify themselves as Latinos -- up from 23 percent only six years ago.
But a convergence of factors -- language barriers and unfamiliarity with issues among them -- have stalled the Latino empowerment here, according to Latino leaders. The lack of a community center and an entrenched government have contributed to the marginalization.
There is another hurdle.
Judy Torres, who sits on the city's crime commission, said Latinos traditionally focus on family first, church second. Politics is not a priority, said Torres, who also is a victims' services coordinator for the Sexual Assault Resource Center.
In 1995, Luis Acevedo ran for the City Council, one of only two Latinos who have run for office in Lebanon in the past decade. Despite a door-to-door campaign, he lost.
"I ask people all the time why they don't vote, and they all give me the same answer," Acevedo said. "They don't get anything from the city, so why should they bother? I tell them if they don't vote, they don't have any right to complain, but they don't want to get involved. They don't even register."
Hispanic Outreach Director Lucy Flecha said language is a formidable obstacle for many Latinos. In the 2000 census, only 57 percent of Lebanon's Spanish-speaking population said they could speak English well. Consequently, many are unfamiliar with government officials and processes, Flecha said.
Nonetheless, many Latinos said politicians are invisible in their community. Few ever go into the Spanish-speaking community, Flecha said.
That wasn't the case with former Mayor Jackie Parker, who, according to Acevedo, was popular with Latinos. Parker maintained a visible profile in the city and was usually at crime scenes and disturbances.
Had the Latino community cast a bloc vote, Parker might not have lost her last election, Acevedo said.
"We have 8,000 Spanish people. If half had voted, it would be a different story," he said. Signs of change
Dalila Neatrour takes advantage of her audience over the airwaves. Neatrour is director and president of the nonprofit Latino American Media Organization of Pennsylvania, which owns Radio Omega, a Latino radio station that reaches thousands of listeners every day. From this forum, Neatrour issues get-out-and-vote pleas.
The pleas -- like the music and talk -- reach a diverse audience. The station's board of directors has members from Panama, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Peru and New York City. They all speak the same language, but they don't necessarily share political views, Neatrour said.
A Hispanic center would bring cohesion to the community, Neatrour said.
Chris Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, said it's only a matter of time before Lebanon Latinos become a political force.
"As they become more ingrained in the local culture, you will see signs of increased political clout in the next decade. It's hard to ignore that segment once it's that large," he said.
Borick compares Lebanon to Allentown, where the Latino community grew from 11 percent in 1990 to 24 percent in 2000. Allentown has two Latinos on the City Council.
There are signs of change. Latinos in Lebanon are increasingly investing in retail stores, restaurants, grocery markets, bakeries, party shops and beauty salons. More are volunteering with social agencies. According to Flecha's estimates, almost one in four Latinos in Lebanon owns a home.
"Compared to a few years ago, a lot is happening," Flecha said.
The Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce started a Latino Leadership Program six years ago and has graduated about 50.
One of them is Torres, who moved to Lebanon nine years ago from Puerto Rico. She has volunteered for the migrant education program, Hispanic Outreach and the Lebanon County Crime Commission.
Lebanon may have the advantage of looking to other Latino communities in similar, traditionally conservative central Pennsylvania cities -- Lancaster, Reading and York. Lancaster, which boasts a 25-year-old politically active Spanish-American Civic Association, has two Latinos on the City Council.
York, which has a Latino population similar to Lebanon's, has evolved into a relatively active community in the past five years, according to Alex Ramos, executive director of the York Spanish- American Center.
Latino leaders registered 2,500 voters in the past two years, mostly by going door to door, Ramos said. A Latina currently sits on the school board, and Latinos are running for the City Council.
"We're not there yet, but we've made strides," Ramos said. "We're very aggressive about this. To be successful, you need to get out the vote, and nobody's going to do it for you. Nobody's going to give you power; you have to take it."
Lebanon Latino leaders have staked their hope on the younger generation, which is largely bilingual and involved in schools.
Latisha Santiago, a member of the Lebanon High School student council who served as an interpreter on Election Day at the 6th ward poll, can't wait to vote.
"We need to raise a leader or leaders, someone who can aggressively -- but in a nice way -- pursue our rights," Martinez, the constable, said. "The current administration is not representative of what the city is right now."
Joe Morales, director of the adult education program for Intermediate Unit 13, said a greater Latino influence on Lebanon's future is "inevitable." He said it will take "strong, consistent leadership."
In the end, it will come down to the vote.
"There's no magic formula," said former United States Hispanic Leadership Institute member Rafael Collazo. "The local leadership has to put in the tedious effort to educate people one on one. It takes time, and it's not a glamorous process. It doesn't take a huge group, but they need to make the commitment."
Prospect Park Councilman Faces Guard Duty In Iraq
SUZANNE TRAVERS, SPECIAL TO THE RECORD
July 9, 2004
PROSPECT PARK - On June 29 the call came. The one Councilman Herb Perez - National Guardsman Herb Perez - had been anticipating, but his wife, Abby, had been dreading.
Perez could be going to Iraq.
The New Jersey National Guard needs to replace members of its B Company, which was deployed to Iraq in February. Four of its men were killed in June and others have been injured. A guardsman called to tell Perez they were looking for volunteers.
Perez, 40, a member of the 3rd Battalion of the 112th Artillery Division, is gambling that if he volunteers now, he may be sent to Iraq for only a few months, rather than the full year he is guaranteed to serve if he waits until the fall to be deployed. He put his name on the volunteer list last week.
"It's something we've been preparing for [for] a long time," he said this week. "I'm not going to say I'm not scared."
Perez's unit is slotted for deployment in October or November and is awaiting orders from the Army about where it will be sent, said Master Sgt. Jan Koedam of the 3rd Battalion, based in Morristown.
Perez said it could be Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or Iraq. Koedam said the group could be sent anywhere, even to an Army base stateside, but in the event Perez replaces someone deployed in February, he would have to serve out only the rest of that soldier's yearlong term.
"Right now everything is still unknown. We're waiting for an alert order to tell us when and where," Koedam said.
Perez, who works at Bassil Bookbinding in Little Ferry, is hoping to get more information when he attends his monthly drill this weekend. But he started mobilizing on the home front a year ago, when he picked up military identification cards that will allow his wife and daughters to shop on Army bases and receive medical care and counseling, and attend support groups while he is on active duty. When his unit was told two months ago it might be deployed, he started taking care of legal matters such as making sure Abby has full power of attorney.
Perez said he knew something was up when he came home from work last week and saw Abby's look of worry. There was a message on the machine, she said. It was the call for volunteers.
"I looked at him, like, 'No, no, no,'-" said Abby, 37, a teacher's aide at School 1 and an auxiliary police officer in the borough. In 20 years of marriage, they have never spent more than a week apart, she said. Their daughter, Lizette, 19, ran out of the room, then pleaded with her father not to go.
"I don't think it hit me as much as it hit my wife and oldest daughter," he said. "As human beings they had the normal reaction, because they know, if I go, what could happen."
He has told his younger daughter, Yasmine, 9, about the possibility of being in Iraq, but has not yet told his parents, who live in Florida. He'll wait until he receives precise orders before breaking the news, he said.
Perez enlisted in the Army at age 17 out of a desire for discipline and to serve his country. He was with a training unit in the Army Reserves for 23 years until December, when he joined the National Guard as a sergeant to work in logistics and small arms.
National Guard units can be called into service by the president and state governors. To accommodate the need for more personnel in Iraq, Perez's combat unit was reclassified this year from a field artillery unit to military police.
Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Paterson, he has never left the country. Perez, a first-term Democratic councilman, is running for reelection in November despite his likely deployment.
He said he has mixed feelings about going to Iraq.
"We're there to help the Iraqi people have democracy and give them a taste for what democracy's all about, and to have the right to a dissenting opinion," he said.
"Someone's got to replace our fallen comrades but, you know, it becomes scary," he continued. "A lot of Iraqis believe we're there to help them, but others have a difference of opinion. ... I don't want them killing me because they have a difference of opinion."
As for his wife, she said she's finding it hard to live with the uncertainty of when and if he'll go to Iraq.
"If he goes, he goes, but those are just words," she said. "Every time the phone rings, I'm like, oh, it's his time."