‘Town hall’ meeting connects N.Y. Latinos

ROCHESTER — Ibero-American Action League was one of several agencies across the state that took part in a historic town hall meeting last month that connected Latino residents from Buffalo to Long Island.

During the first-time event Sept. 27, the groups gathered in various community centers to discuss economic development and job creation for Latino populations throughout New York. Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, chairman of the state Assembly’s Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, organized the meeting that was conducted via video streaming by HITN-TV and Time Warner Cable.

"This is not the first and last" of these kinds of gatherings, Ortiz said from Brooklyn’s Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow center for disadvantaged youths. "We are working together to accomplish the dreams we all want; to (create) jobs and … opportunities not for only for ourselves but for our children."

Ortiz added that information from all the participating groups and agencies would be included in a position paper that would be presented to the state Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force.

Assemblyman Phil Ramos from Long Island also encouraged the Latino organizations in the cities represented during the town hall — including Buffalo, Rochester, Amsterdam, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Long Island — to submit their priority capital projects to the task force as well.

"We need to identify what projects we want done," he said.

Many times those projects aren’t being completed because of a lack of funding, or because funding is stalled in Albany due to the lack of Latino representation on regional economic councils, participants said. Boosting minority representation on these councils was recommended as well as creating bilingual apprenticeship programs, providing micro business loans and partnering with the private sector.

The need for more funding for capital projects and programs — which could provide more jobs — raised such questions from Barbara Fachini, who works for Ibero’s family services unit, as where the money is going to come from, she said. All of the groups were given time during the town hall to independently discuss challenges faced in starting up businesses, what regulatory reforms are needed and how to better prepare Latinos for the workforce.

As to the question of job creation, many participants agreed the answer lies with boosting small businesses. However, Fachini and George Díaz, who also oversees the "Families for the Future" at Ibero, said that complex state regulations pose a lot of challenges for entrepreneurs. Those challenges are exacerbated for the many families Fachini said that she encounters who have moved to Rochester from Puerto Rico.

"I can see how frustrating it is," she said. "They can’t take the GED in Spanish. They have to be in ESL (English as a second language) classes for months. And if you have no high school (diploma) and no GED, where are you going to work?"

Díaz added that the state should create more incentives for businesses to develop and reduce the many forms currently required that are difficult even if one does not have a language barrier.

"There is a lot of meticulous paper work" required from businesses, he noted. "(Plus), there’s a lot of expenses."

"How many jobs have we lost because of how high taxes are?" Fachini concurred.

The state regulations create a society where the "average Joe" faces struggles to start a business, she added. Add in the language barriers and many Latino newcomers are at a loss, Fachini said.

Many new families "fall through the cracks and end up here (Ibero) looking for our services because they can’t get through the red tape," she said.

Such feedback is what state officials, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, need to hear, the assemblymen taking part in the town hall meeting noted. By creating an ongoing dialogue and raising the profile of Latinos among state leaders, the initial town hall meeting will have served its purpose, Ortiz said.

"Collectively, we can bring attention to the needs of the Hispanic community," Ramos remarked.

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