Metro

Panel encourages Latino leadership

The speakers emphasized the importance of Latino politicians representing diverse local populations

By
Staff Writer
Thursday, April 25, 2013

Six of Rhode Island’s prominent Latino figures condemned the lack of Latino leaders in the state, where 38 percent of Providence residents and 60 percent of Central Falls residents are Latino, at a panel discussion Wednesday afternoon.

The speakers — who included politicians, community leaders and academics — shared stories about their careers, their struggles and their advice for future Latino leaders.

“I’m worried so many elected officials are worried about keeping their jobs instead of doing their jobs,” Providence Mayor Angel Taveras said.

Central Falls Mayor James Diossa said when he returned from college, he realized the city was falling apart because Latino residents were not proportionately represented among the city’s elected officials.

Disossa said this discrepancy inspired him to get more involved in the community. After serving as a city councilman for almost three years, Disossa ran for mayor in 2012.

“When I ran for mayor, people thought I was only going to represent Latinos, but I was going to represent all people,” he said.

Both Professor-at-Large Ricardo Lagos Escobar, former president of Chile, and Taveras commented on Disossa’s problem, saying Latino politicians need to be very broad in their goals and appeal to everyone.

“I do not let people define me solely by my ethnic background,” Taveras said, adding that he found it difficult to break away from Latino stereotypes during his mayoral race.

The panelists also emphasized the importance of education for Latinos who want to succeed in electoral politics.

“The first thing I did here was educate myself,” said Cano, Latino Public Radio board member and the first Latina elected to the Pawtucket School Committee.

After realizing there was a very large Latino population in Pawtucket who were not represented, Cano decided to run for a position on the school committee, she said. During her campaign, one of her biggest challenges was her accent, Cano said.

“Even though we’re very diverse (as a city), a lot of people don’t embrace diversity, so when I was knocking on doors and they would look at me, they would close the door and say, ‘You’re wasting your time’,” she added.

Pablo Rodriguez, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and one of the founders of the Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee, said Latino politicians must realize, “the way to improve the lot for Latinos is to improve the lot for the entire community.”

The proper “framework of mutual opportunity is one that lets you make friends out of enemies and allows you to create allies out of people that otherwise would not even listen to you,” Rodriguez said.