‘The biggest way to make a difference is to vote’: Latinx leaders tout clout, culture at start of Hispanic Heritage Month

    Latinx leaders from across Pennsylvania read, in Spanish, a proclamation from Gov. Tom Wolf declaring September as "Hispanic Heritage Month" in Pennsylvania (screen capture)

    Latinx leaders from across Pennsylvania gathered in the Capitol rotunda Monday afternoon to celebrate the tapestry of their heritage, one that stretches across the country, across a continent, and around the world.

    But they also came to reinforce their collective power.

    At nearly 1 million strong, Pennsylvania’s Latinx population is the fastest growing — and the youngest — demographic group in the commonwealth. And they have political clout.

    “No one will be elected governor of Pennsylvania or president of the United States without the Latino vote,” said Norman Bristol Colón, executive director of the state’s Complete Count Commission, which is charged with making sure that all Pennsylvanians are counted accurately in the 2020 census.

    And that means all Pennsylvanians, whether citizen, noncitizen, or asylum-seeker, Colón added.

    Though she spoke before Colón, the Rev. Bonnie Carmada, the director of Partnerships for The Salvation Army in Eastern Pennsylvania, reinforced that message, as she stressed the biblical exhortation to welcome the strangers living in our midst.

    But, she added, Pennsylvania’s Latinx citizens are hardly strangers.

    “We have been in Pennsylvania for many years,” she said, “depositing our love of God and love of each other on all Pennsylvanians.”

    Several speakers Monday stressed the contributions that Latinx Pennsylvanians have made to the public life of the state.

    Two of the day’s speakers, Education Secretary Pedro Rivera and Aging Secretary Robert Torres, are both the first Hispanics to serve in their respective positions. State Rep. Danilo Burgos, D-Philadelphia, is the first Dominican-American to serve in the 203-member chamber.

    “We are all public servants in one way or another,” Rivera said. “I’m proud to be here in recognition that our service, in very unique ways is celebrated … as we seek to motivate our community.”

    While some may only view Hispanics as entertainers or athletes, their contributions cut across disciplines, trades, and careers, Torres said in brief remarks. He mentioned such famed Latinx Americans as the late Jaime Escalante, a Bolivian-American educator from East Los Angeles whose achievements teaching his students advanced placement calculus were the basis for the 1988 film “Stand and Deliver.”

    “Latinos have been, and will continue to be, an integral part of the fabric of the United States,” Torres said.

    As a result of that legacy, several speakers, including Luz Colon, the executive director of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, said it’s crucial for that history to be passed on to the next generation of Latinx Pennsylvanians.

    “This is a chance to share our rich heritage and culture,” she said. “But we must also demonstrate accountability as leaders.”

    And one of the best ways to do that? By making sure Latinx voters turn out to vote this year and in the 2020 elections, and to ensure they are accurately counted in the next census, officials said.

    “The biggest way to make a difference is to vote,” Torres said.

    An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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