NORWALK, Conn. – Six or seven weeks of effort bore fruit Sunday in a forum at the South Norwalk Community Center where about 100 people listened to speeches delivered mainly in Spanish.
SoNoCC deputy director Pat Ferrandino called the full house in the center’s multipurpose room “a very good start” for the newly formed Latinos Unidos de Connecticut (LUC).
“This is a movement that is beginning here but we hope can spread throughout Connecticut so the voices of the Latino can be heard as one and carry some more weight when it comes to issues involving Latinos so the representatives in Hartford are also very aware.”
George Caceres of the Norwalk Community Soccer Club described himself as one of the founders of LUC, which sprang from an idea hatched in January, he said.
“Let’s face it,” Caceres said, after the event. “The Greek community is organized. The African-American community is organized. The Italian community is organized. The Hispanic community has a chance to organize like any other community. We are neutral, we are no member of any party. We’re not Republicans, we’re not Democrats or Independent.”
“The purpose of today’s meeting is to form a way for the Latino community to organize,” said former council member and community leader Warren Peña, president of the SoNoCC Board of Directors, as he served as an informal emcee. Peña introduced the distinguished members of the crowd, including Mayor Harry Rilling, state Sen. Bob Duff (D-25), state Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140), Second Taxing District Commissioner and Norwalk Housing Authority board President Cesar Ramirez, Redevelopment Agency Chairman Felix Serrano, Councilwoman Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) and Board of Estimate and Taxation member and Democratic Town Committee Chairman Edwin Camacho.
One of the goals is to increase Latino representation on Norwalk’s boards and commissions, Peña said. “I know the mayor is working very hard to make those boards reflect the demographics of our community,” Peña said.
The different pockets of the very diverse Latino community need to work together to help reduce the achievement gap at Norwalk Public Schools, to help undocumented workers and do something about affordable housing, Peña said.
“We have to build relationships,” he said. “We have to build relationships with elected officials. We have to build relationships with each other. We have to build relationships with our small business owners within our community. Why? They create jobs. Why do we partner up with our elected officials? Because we can have access. They can essentially understand what is going on with our community and, trust me, they want to know what is going on and what are the things that are going on within our community…. The purpose of this meeting today is to energize you.”
The LUC executive board is temporary, he said, and will be replaced during an election.
Much of the talk after that was in Spanish. LUC temporary President Gustavo Salas, ex-president of Taller de Danzas Latino Americanas “Los Cuatro Suyos” and ex-president of de “Peruanos Unidos de CT,” said he needed to resort to his native tongue to express himself and then spoke at length, gaining an emotional reaction, as shown in the video below.
“He said our people didn’t come to this country as tourists,” Melendez explained. “We had a dream for a better life. … We didn’t come here to just hang out. Whatever country we are from, we came here. This country is generally the country of immigrants and we are proud of immigrants, we are part of emigration. We are part of the workers. We are part of the community and that is what it is all about.”
A man Ferrandino described as the president of a Bridgeport Mexican-American organization said he supported the new group, Ferrandino said.
Luis Cadena, owner of Why Not Silvia’s hair salon, said many Hispanics are educated and need to work together, Ferrandino said.
“This is a meeting of the community to unite in understanding of what is needed so that they become civically more engaged in the process and that they understand the need to push an agenda that relates to their specific needs and the issues related to education, to closing the achievement gap, to better jobs, better opportunity,” Ferrandino said. “Even access to economic opportunity in financing. We are very entrepreneurial as a group.”
A woman leaving the building after it was over said, “We are going to vote for whoever is going to help us. They offer good things, we will go for it.”
“That way they cannot say we are dividing the community, because it’s not true,” Caceres said. “We are not against anybody. The doors are open for anybody who wants to help. That’s the key for any organization.”