At Capitol, Connecticut Latinos celebrate heritage and outline priorities
Sandra Ferreira-Molina said when she was 6 and her family immigrated from Colombia to the U.S., her parents “knew they were coming to the land of opportunity, and so as I sit here, I feel privileged.”
Her mother would look at opportunities in America, like kids getting cheese and bread in school, and wonder how they could be brought back to their home country. Ferreira-Molina didn’t know if she could bring things back but committed to doing the best she could for families here in Connecticut.
“You sometimes can’t be part of the system; you have to be outside of it, to ensure that communities have a voice at the table,” said Ferreira-Molina. “Communities do have a voice, and we just have to hear them.”
She is the deputy CEO of Latinos for Educational Advocacy and Diversity, and was one of several Latinos in education, health, housing, finance and politics to speak Thursday at a roundtable at the state Capitol celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. The Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, Equity and Opportunity (CWCSEO), a nonpartisan agency within the legislative branch, held the event.
Leticia Colon de Mejias, interim chair of the commission’s Latino & Puerto Rican Sub-Commission, noted that Latinos make up 17% of the state’s population but there’s confusion about: “Who are the Latinos and Latinas in Connecticut?”
She noted that Latinos and Latinas come from 33 countries and have different hair, dialects and foods, with some from islands and some from continents.
The sub-commission held listening sessions over the last 12 months to identify its priorities.
These include an equity-based and transparent state budget process, opportunities for homeownership as opposed to just vouchers, equity in education funding, prioritization of mental health care, police reform, and representation on state boards and commissions.
Colon de Mejias said CWCSEO wants to expand housing programs such as Time to Own, a new state program offering forgivable down payment assistance.
Connecticut Department of Housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera-Bruno said 297 borrowers have been approved and are in the process of closing, 25% of whom are Latino, and the department is processing 544 other applications.
In speaking Thursday, Rep. Hilda Santiago, D-Meriden, discussed her recommendations for what the state should do with its $4.8 billion surplus.
She said she’d like to see more money spent on education in places where it’s needed, housing, health care, broadband technology, and advertising the state’s free community college program, “because we don’t have enough young people that are applying for this, especially in the Latino community. The word is not out there.”
The event was an opportunity for the public, including students visiting the Capitol, to see Latinos in various leadership roles.
CWCSEO Executive Director Steven Hernández said it’s “important that young people see themselves at the front of the room” and at the top of the organizational chart. An example at the roundtable was Hartford Public Schools Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, who immigrated from Puerto Rico to Hartford at age 9.
“As a product of the Hartford Public Schools district, I have a duality that informs my leadership every single day,” she said, “the fact that it was inspired by not only educators, but educators that looked and sounded like me and understood where I was coming from.”