Latinos Seek County Action

Latinos Seek County Action

Group to meet with county board, call for creation of Office of Latino Affairs.

Walter Tejada is Arlington?s first Hispanic County Board member. But was his election in November a victory for the Hispanic community, or merely a stepping stone?

That?s the question some leaders of Arlington?s largest minority group are asking as they get ready to bring a list of nine demands to the Board later this month. ?We?re going to present what we call the Latino Agenda for Arlington,?? said Jose Ramos on Tuesday, May 6.

The agenda was drafted by the Latino Arlington Committee, a group of business leaders and community activists. Francisco Henriquez, a member of the committee, said they are ?people who are interested in helping the Latino community in Arlington.?

The time is right to bring the demands to the Board, said Willians Silva, because ?we recognize that a Latino has been elected to the County Board and we hope that more Latinos will be elected to other positions.? Silva represents BUGATA, a local tenants? association.

While all nine demands are important, Silva said, the most crucial is the call for creation of an Office of Latino Affairs. reporting directly to the County Manager and working to ensure Hispanic residents have full access to county programs.

That demand is a legal imperative, said Teresa Martinez, a lawyer and Democratic candidate in the 49th District. When Arlington sends out information without ensuring that it?s accessible to Spanish speakers, she said, Latinos are not receiving their legal right to due process.

Vasquez echoed her sentiment. ?We?re not coming to beg,? he said. ?We have a right as residents, and we have civil rights.?

Organizers said this movement has been a long time coming. A 1997 forum hosted by the county?s Human Rights Commission revealed many Arlington Latinos felt marginalized. ?But here it is three years later? and we still find the barriers and obstacles,? said Vasquez. ?Three years later we still don?t see progress.?

Martinez said the seeds for a movement were sown even earlier, 20 years ago, when redevelopment began to claim many affordable housing units that Latinos depended on.

?What you?re seeing now is the children who were seven, eight, nine,? said Martinez, ?who are now lawyers, who are now businessmen, coming back to the community and saying we need changes.?

To combat the loss of affordable housing, the Latino Agenda calls for Voluntary Rent Guidelines similar to those in Alexandria. Other demands include a Hispanic liason to the Police Department, an ordinance forbidding police to ask people about their immigration status, and an ordinance allowing permanent residents to vote in local elections. Organizers have gotten 200 signatures on a petition supporting the demands.

Board members will meet with the organizers May 20.