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Recap: 2019 Summit on Latinos in New York City

by Centro Staff


On Tuesday, June 10, the 2019 Summit on Latin@s in New York City was held. The third annual event, which aims to create a working agenda to drive policy change for the 2.5 million Latinos living in the city, took place at Lehman College this year. Panelists and attendees included a diverse array of Latino community stakeholders, including elected officials such as Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who is also co-chair of the Black, Latino/a, and Asian Caucus.

The Hon. Corey Johnson, Speaker of the New York City Council, was the first to offer his remarks. “We would not be the greatest city in the world if it was not for the Latino community, if it was not for the diaspora that exists here in New York City,” he remarked.

Leaders from the three sponsoring CUNY research institutions (Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Dominican Studies Institute, and Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute)  spoke on the purpose of the annual conference. “We seek to strengthen the ties of our communities and alliances with other New Yorkers,” said Centro Director Edwin Melendez, echoing the words of his colleagues. “Today, Latino unity is more important than ever.”

Economic development was the first panel of the day, with much of the discussion centering on how to support Latino small businesses As Accion NY CEO Paul Quintero shared during his presentation, the vast majority of businesses in New York City have less than 20 employees. These small businesses, in turn, can foment job creation in Latino/immigrant communities. Yet many Latino small businesses, according to Quintero, face challenges such as limited access to credit, poor record keeping, non-bank friendly industries, and lack of collateral, among others.

Baruch College professor Hector Cordero-Guzman outlined local job creation, local job hiring, funding, and investment in workforce development and workers’ rights, as some of the priorities for policymakers going forward. “We’re seeing a lot of economic development in New York City, but not a lot of community development,” said Cordero-Guzman. Henry Garrido added that economic empowerment for the Latino community must also provide workers with a voice to help find collective solutions.

The second panel featured a group of Latino elected officials. “What kind of fingerprint are we leaving behind in the city?” asked New York City council member Ydanis Rodriguez. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer furthered this sentiment, stating, “NYC is home to 2.5 million Latinos and counting, they are a part of our DNA...”

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. then joined the summit and addressed attendees during the lunch break. His message was clear: while Latinos must develop strategies to meet the needs of our communities, those strategies do not have to be exclusively for the benefit of Latinos.

Afterwards, a panel on immigration was held. Cira Angeles, spokesperson and representative of Livery Base Owners, emphasized changes to the transportation industry in recent years and the consequences for taxi drivers---many of them immigrants---and the communities they serve. One solution to the advent of ride share apps has been to obtain small business contracts from the city for non-medical transport (e.g. Access-A-Ride). She went on to advocate for legislation that would specifically help taxi drivers, rather than broader legislative packages. Just this week, following the release of a bombshell New York Times investigation into predatory loan practices within the taxi cab industry, drivers will receive some kind of debt relief---in addition to loan safeguards. The recent passage of the Green Light bill by the New York State Assembly offered another glimpse into the role legislation can play in alleviating the burden of Latino/immigrant communities. The proposal would grant undocumented immigrants the ability to obtain driver’s licenses.

Maria Lizardo, Executive Director of the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation, spoke on issues of gentrification and displacement around the city. She proposed, among other things, making sure the city funds right to counsel for tenants sooner rather than later in communities where the policy would be most effective. Tenant organizing, holistic solutions to rampant homelessness, and the continuation of social services such as social program referrals, adult literacy education, and domestic violence prevention were some of the other proposals Lizardo outlined.

The debate over a potential citizenship question to be added to the 2020 U.S. Census was also briefly discussed, given the impact this would have on undocumented immigrants and Latino communities. “New York State stands to lose billions of dollars and representation,” said Lizardo.

Centro education researcher and at-large member of the New York State Board of Regents Luis O. Reyes kicked off the education panel with a presentation on the history of the struggle for bilingual education, beginning with the story of visionary Boricua leader and founder of ASPIRA, Antonia Pantoja. Dr. Reyes then outlined some of the obstacles that have arisen since the 1970s, when the movement first took off. There is still much work to do, but today, there are hundreds of language programs, with evidence that bilingual students perform favorably when compared to their peers.

Dr. Edwin Melendez ended the program with an overview of some of the proposals that have come out of prior Summits. They include a directory of organizations and elected officials, a calendar of events, a blog, a newsletter, employment and grant opportunities, academic exchange, and a Data Hub of New York City by neighborhood, which Dr. Melendez previewed during his presentation. According to Dr. Melendez, a webinar and the launch of the data hub should be available by December of this year.

“We’re going to continue to build off the momentum of this summit, just as we have done in years past,” Dr. Melendez said. “The goal is still the same, to help unite Latinos in this city, but I’m proud to move forward with my colleagues to reach this goal.”

As always, a full report of the proposals and recommendations discussed by panelists and attendees alike will be released in the coming weeks.