Remarks to Delaware Latino Political Action Committee Inaugural Event Wilmington, Delaware January 26, 2003 Rhode Island Latinos

Political Empowerment: How Did Life Change as a Result of the Rhode Island Latino PAC.? Thank you for that very nice introduction and for inviting me to visit with you today to speak about our accomplishments in Rhode Island and how the Rhode Island Latino PAC (RILPAC) altered forever the political landscape of a state very similar to YOURS. First however, let me state that I am privileged to represent and work on behalf of a dedicated group of Hispanic volunteers that through their perseverance, foresight, labor, and commitment formed the Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee. Not only did this group of people change the political power structure in Rhode Island for the better but also through its other activities and the activities of its members, it continues to build social capital and strengthen the bonds that unite us all as Latinos and Rhode Islanders. In brief, my message to you today is that the group that created the Rhode Island PAC in 1998 is no different from YOU and that YOU have it within your grasp to change the political landscape for Hispanic Delawareans forever in ways that you can only imagine. But for certain, in ways that will benefit Latinos and all Delawareans – SI TIENEN GANAS Y CORAZON! And remember, it does not take an army to get this movement started. Only a few of you, gradually joined by others, will make an enormous difference. But let me go back in time briefly to 1996. At that time, many of the state’s Latino leaders started to meet informally at the home of Dr. Pablo Rodriguez in what was to become a bonding experience for Hispanic Rhode Islanders. As Latinos, we found comfort in gathering and celebrating our diverse cultures and heritage. As you do, we enjoyed homemade foods and drinks, made new acquaintances, and had a wonderful time. Over time, these gatherings became a venue for building a strong Latino network in the community. Some built business relationships. Some of our nonprofit leaders were able to connect with Latino professionals that were able to expand on the resources available to help our community. Still others became interested in the political arena, and it is because of this last group that the RI Latino Political Action Committee became a reality. We came to two important conclusions at that time. First, that our community was growing and making its presence felt by virtue of its numbers and spending power. Second, that despite our many positive contributions to the social and economic fiber of Rhode Island, we remained outsiders with no influence on the important political processes of the state – in a word, invisible. That invisibility extended to decision-making tables, education and ever-important access to capital to drive our economic engines.

Regrettably, Latinos were often stereotyped as lazy, freeloaders, and criminals with no right to the American Dream. We were, for all intents and purposes, Rhode Island’s economic and a political underclass1. Moreover, our limited participation in the political processes of our state made it easy for these stereotypes to be perpetuated and for our community to maintain its invisibility. Clearly, it was time to wake up, get with the program and drive some change. That is where Hispanic Delawareans find themselves today – at an important crossroad. To the PAC, getting with the program first meant that we had to ensure that Latinos saw themselves as stakeholders in the future of Rhode Island. And conversely, that Rhode Islanders of all stripe embraced the notion that their success was closely tied to the success of Latinos. This in turn meant that Latinos had to be brought into the mainstream of the state’s political and economic processes and that simultaneous efforts at educating Latinos and the general public as well as collaborating with multiple communities within our state had to take place. The vehicle to accomplish this goal was the Rhode Island Political Action Committee. RILPAC was born on August 20, 1998. The original mission of RILPAC was to ensure that candidates to political office in Rhode Island were aware of Latino issues and that as a community; we were informed about the candidates themselves and their views toward us. In addition, we sought to inject ourselves into the political agenda of the state through political action, advocacy and education. There were many challenges on the road to success. These included raising money, motivating volunteers and engaging the community on a broad scale. It was important that we publicly demonstrate our ability to rally voters and raise money. We did this and more. As a result of the efforts of the PAC, the political landscape of Rhode Island underwent a significant transformation. Most notably, Latino voter participation increased to 38%2 in Providence’s hotly contested local primaries in the 2000 elections, dwarfing the statewide turnout of about15%. In 2002, Juan Pichardo was elected as the first Latino state senator. Latino political appointments subsequent to the 2002 election include, among others, Nellie Gorbea as Director of Administration for the Secretary of State, Aida Patricia Crosson as Director of the Victims Unit, Office of the Attorney General, Gonzalo Cuervo as Director of Communications for Providence Mayor David Cicilline, Ernesto Figueroa as Director of Vital Statistics for the City of Providence, Patricia Martinez as Director of Community Relations for Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri, Nancy Garcia Ponte as Assistant City Solicitor for the City of Cranston and just last Thursday Dr. Jose Gonzales was elected Vice Chair of the Providence Democratic Committee in recognizing that the Latino political empowerment has arrived. For the 2002 election, candidates endorsed by RILPAC won 7 of 8 primaries and 8 of 9 general elections. We believe these are significant accomplishments over a very short period of time. How else did life change after the PAC? Well, before the PAC, political candidates made little to no investment in the Latino community. Generally, they recruited Latinos as campaign volunteers but not as paid staff. Post PAC, Melba Depeña was hired as Field Director for the
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Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, MD August 20, 1998 Providence Journal, September 17, 2000

Secretary of State campaign and successfully elected Secretary Matt Brown, Gonzalo Cuervo was hired as Director of Minority relations for the campaign of Providence newly elected Mayor David Cicilline and we saw the creation of Latino Campaign Committees for all statewide campaigns. RILPAC was also involved in a campaign for Central Fall’s City Council in 2001, and the endorsement of two Latino candidates for Central Falls City Council that resulted in the election of the city’s first Latino elected official. Finally, RILPAC has worked with the Latino community of Woonsocket RI to help them organize a campaign of the city’s first Latino at-large candidate. In closing, let me say that the Rhode Island Latino PAC has been a breath of fresh air to the state’s political process. The seeds planted by its activity will bear economic fruit in the years to come in the form of greater access to capital, increased educational and employment opportunity for our children, access to better paying jobs, a greater say on how the state’s resources are deployed and integration of Latinos into the economic and political fiber of the state. Do not let this opportunity slip through your fingers. The time to act is now because if not now when, and if not you, whom? Thank you once again. Best wishes for success and don’t give up the fight! And let me assure you that as our Mexican brothers and sisters found out in their defeat of the French, SI SE PUEDE!

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