DAC has continually advocated for the political and educational advancement of the Latin community. Through their series of free workshops, they have tried to better inform the community on how the system works, and how they can use it for their advancement.
The forum, which drew a crowd of approximately 30 people, began around 11:30 a.m. at the school with a few opening words by DAC President Lucilo Santos.
"We are a political organization," said Santos. "We are currently giving seminars on government and politics to better inform the Latin community, and to educate the youth who may want a future in politics, especially on the Hispanic agenda."
In this particular workshop, the concentration was on the county government system, its various programs, and county agencies services. Leading the panel discussion for the forum were Sonia Rosado, Passaic County freeholder; Tomas Padilla, Bergen County freeholder; and Wilfredo Ortiz, deputy counsel to the Hudson County Board of Freeholders. West New York Commissioner Sal Vega, who is also Hudson County freeholder, was supposed to be the representative for Hudson County, but was unable to attend.
"Today we are going to learn what is county government and how residents can use it to their advantage, and what the difference is between state, county, and local government," said Santos.
The first to speak was Sonia Rosado, who is the only Hispanic on the Passaic Board of Chosen Freeholders. She went on to explain the inner workings of the county system, and what is each office's job. Although Passaic County's system is not quite the same as Bergen or Hudson, they both still have similar workings, which made the review useful and informative to the people in attendance.
"We're bringing information into the Latino community," said Rosado. "We're trying to bring the voice of what is government and its services."
Rosado explained daily administrations of Passaic, and how laws and resolutions are passed. She also touched upon issues of Senior Citizen services and economic development, which are very important issues for Latinos. "I think the Hispanic community doesn't use these services [offered for free by the county] enough," said Rosado.
Following Rosado was Wilfredo Ortiz. Ortiz explained a little bit about Hudson County's government workings, and the differences between Passaic and Hudson. One of the main differences is that out of the nine members on Hudson's Board of Freeholders, three are Hispanic, including Sal Vega and Union City Commissioner Tilo Rivas. As freeholder chairman, Vega is the Latino with the highest position in county government.
"I am counsel to the Board of Freeholders, and I am very proud to be a Dominican Gringo," said Ortiz jokingly. For the most part, the forum had been conducted in Spanish, but Ortiz addressed the group in English.
"By having Latinos in these positions, we are able to have a voice on the Board of Freeholders," said Ortiz. "It is important for Latinos to have a say [in their government]."
In Hudson County, Ortiz explained that the communities two main focus revolve around education and small business development.
"First of all we have two good school systems, High Tech High School and Hudson County Community College, where everybody from kids to adults to newly arrived immigrants can get a start in education," said Ortiz.
Through the county and state, many scholarships and Pell grants are available to Hispanic minorities, so they can go to school and have a promising future, but they need to utilize it.
The same thing is said in regards to different business grants and loans available to business owners or even someone with an idea to open a business in Hudson County.
"This is an area of county government that our community doesn't take full advantage of," said Ortiz. "This is something where I would like to see the community get involved. We are all business people."
Afterwards, Tomas Padilla delivered his own speech, which touched upon discrimination in the political arena, and the importance of unification in the Hispanic community in order to succeed.
"We all have to band together. All together we can accomplish so much more," said Padilla.
After the panelists concluded, a brief Q &A session was held to address any further concerns the group may have had, or things they were still unclear about. Following that seminar, and the group was given booklets of contact information for their county and state officials.
More involvement needed
A point that was stressed by the entire panel was the lack of Hispanic participation in government affairs. Members of the Latin community at times stay out of town and county affairs because they are not too familiar with what's going on, they said, or they feel like there is never any change. However, Rosado had stressed that if they want any changes in their community, they have to take an active role.
"If you don't speak up, the freeholders will maintain the status quo," said Rosado. "Hispanics are the least to speak up to the Board of Freeholders."
"When you are well educated in certain areas, you can do very well," said Santos.
"Three counties were represented here today, and it is very important that the Hispanic community is aware of all the programs provide by the local, county and state government," said Ortiz. "Lucilo holds these seminars statewide, and it's about the entire state."
The DAC's next meeting was scheduled for today, Feb. 13, once again at Rutgers Law School, 123 Washington St., Newark, where they were to host their fifth Annual New Jersey Conference on Dominican Affairs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. This focus on the Dominican community seeks to empower the youth, empower women, and economic constraints among other things.
For more information on future workshops and on DAC call Lucilo Santos at (201) 647-9274, Miguel Diaz at (201) 247-8793, or Laureana Organ at (201) 926-8151. Those interested can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.