The leaders of the District’s Latino organizations told D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton on Sept. 16 the coronavirus pandemic has had a profound effect on them and their ability to serve their constituents.
“There is rampant gentrification taking place now, even as the pandemic continues,” Rebecca Medrano, the executive director at the GALA Hispanic Theatre, said. “There are a lot of people in the street right now. A lot of people are using drugs. We need jobs for youth. Young people worked part-time jobs after school before the pandemic to help their families but they lost those jobs due to COVID. We have tried to fill in the gaps for people, particularly young people by offering jobs and the chance to express themselves through the arts.”
Each year, during National Hispanic American Heritage Month, observed from Sept. 15-Oct. 15, Norton holds a session of her Congressional Latino Council. Latinos constitute 12.23 percent of the District’s population, according to the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau report. During the session, the council members tell the delegate the issues their constituents face. This year, the coronavirus dominated the discussion.
Paula Fitzgerald serves as the executive director of Ayuda, a nonprofit that provides legal, social and language services to low-income immigrants living in the District and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Fitzgerald said since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, there has been an increase in homelessness and domestic violence among Latinos.
“Many Latinos work at low wage jobs to provide for their families but when the pandemic set in, they either lost those jobs or had their hours reduced,” Fitzgerald said. “Many Latinos are essential workers at their jobs so they couldn’t take time off because they had to serve the public. As a result, many of them got COVID.”
Fitzgerald said affordable housing for Latinos had been an issue before the pandemic and the situation has worsened. She said some Latino immigrants are apprehensive about approaching the federal and District governments about assistance due to their legal status.
“They want to be treated with dignity as they seek financial assistance,” Fitzgerald said.
She noted Ayuda distributed over $500,000 of assistance during the pandemic because many of their constituents didn’t qualify for federal stimulus checks.
Latin American Youth Center
Lupi Quinteros-Grady, president and CEO of the Latin American Youth Center, which caters to the needs and works to educate and develop youth of color, mainly Latinos, said the pandemic “has definitely been a journey to continue to adapt and be flexible.”
“We have advocated for children and their families to get the coronavirus vaccine but we are facing vaccination resistance,” Quinteros-Grady said. “With all we are dealing with during this pandemic, this is unknown territory for us.”
Quinteros-Grady said LAYC-served families deal with such challenges as food insecurity, obtaining rental assistance and accessing laptops for school. She said fundraising for rental assistance has occurred because of the District government’s seemingly uneven response for tenants who face eviction.
Latino Economic Development Center
Marjorie Nemes-Galarza works as the interim executive director and CEO of the Latino Economic Development Center. She told Norton “COVID threw us for a loop like everyone else.”
“Since the pandemic, we have distributed $50 million to small businesses and households,” Nemes-Galarza said. “We have offered eviction prevention services in addition to our housing counseling program and tenant organizing team. We noticed as the pandemic has continued, people have gotten into debt. They got into debt because their incomes were reduced and bills such as rent, utilities and credit card bills had to be paid. We set up a program to help minority citizens pay down their debts.”
Norton thanked the members for their participation.
“In the District we are rich in Latino organizations,” the delegate said. “I am pleased that provide important services for their constituents.”