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Latinos meet with Rilling, Himes

Norwalk Hispanic leaders meet Wednesday with Mayor Harry Rilling in City Hall. (Contributed)

NORWALK, Conn. — Latino community leaders met Wednesday with Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling and Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King for a roundtable discussion.

“Leaders from community organizations, the Hispanic Chamber, Attorney’s, politicians from both political parties, teachers and community organizers shared their experiences and concerns while working in the community,” a press release said.

“I see a need to build a greater relationship so that we can educate our community around federal immigration issues,” Lucas Romero, President of Peruanos Unidos de Connecticut (PUC) is quoted as saying in the release.

“I agree, said Brenda Cerezo, President of Comite Civico Ecuadoriano, “the biggest concern now is immigration.  The immigrant community is looking for a specific stance from the City.”

Rilling explained that the City of Norwalk has certain protocols and does not work with ICE, the release said, quoting Rilling as saying, “We want our residents to feel comfortable in Norwalk and to be able to report crimes and to know they can have a relationship with our police department. We are not in the practice of asking for someone’s immigration status.”

The Hispanic community sees an opportunity to get involved and serve, the release said, quoting Redevelopment Agency Chairman Felix Serrano as saying, “We should hold a forum at the South Norwalk Community Center (SoNoCC) to educate our community what it means to serve on a board that is appointed by the Mayor.”

There was a bit of frustration around school gyms and fields.

“We need to streamline a process so that everyone knows when fields are open and what gyms are available, said Aleyda Caceres, Founder of Norwalk Community Soccer Club, in the release. “Our club has hit roadblocks and have followed all the right procedures to obtain space for our kids to play soccer and stay off the streets.”

“We could have a better process if there was more of a relationship between our community and City Government.  We want to know who are the key stakeholders at Norwalk Public Schools and City Hall so that when we have issues, we can go directly to them,” said Keily Calderon, Secretary of Latinos Unidos of Connecticut (LUC), in the release.

Rilling shared the sentiment and suggested ongoing quarterly meetings to create an agenda of issues that need to be addressed, the release said.

Other topics came in dealing with the Hispanic business community.

“There seems to be a gap in communication of what is available to business owners.  It doesn’t seem like our people are getting the information to help their businesses grow,” said Mariella Castagnet, President of the Greater Norwalk Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GNHCC), according to the release

Anthony Pena, owner of City Market, Key Foods, suggested the group look into the types of foods provided in the school system and agreed that communication and delivery of information is critical to Hispanic business owners, the release said.

Brien McMahon High School Spanish teacher Yanetsy Diaz gave a voice to her kids that are living in fear, the release said.

Rilling is working to find the right policy on the topic of Immigration issues, the release said.

“We are figuring out the right approach and balance to address fears that exist in the community,” Tatiana Mendoza, President of Parents of Students for a Dream (PS4D), said, according to the release. “As a City, we do not want to create unnecessary attention to our undocumented population.  ICE is not currently in Norwalk, but that does not mean they cannot come to Norwalk, being that their office is only in New Haven.”  We have a big issue with our kids graduating high school and then getting stuck when trying to further their education.”

Towards the end of the meeting, SoNoCC Chief Operating Officer Katherine Villanueva stressed the importance of programming that will help children, adults and bridge the gap between the Hispanic community, the release said.

Warren Peña, Common Council member Eloisa Melendez and Democratic Town Committee Chairman Edwin Camacho, organizers of the event, expressed gratitude for everyone’s participation and the Mayor’s willingness to engage in tough discussions that affect everyday life in the Hispanic Community, the release said.

“We heard much about our children, building a tighter relationship with the City and Board of Education, our business community, immigration issues and programs to meet certain needs.  We look forward to working together and continuing the discussion,”  SoNoCC Board Chairman Warren Peña said, according to the release.

The conversation continues Thursday with U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich), for an early morning Latino Leader Roundtable in SoNo.

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