By George Fernandez
Porra Porra! Cheer Cheer!
Gov.-Elect Shapiro, you have demonstrated a great commitment to Pennsylvania through your hard-fought campaign and now is the time for all constituents to unify in support of the aligned vision of creating a strong and healthy Commonwealth.
I may be just one voice among the Latino population in Pennsylvania, but I speak from experience and understanding of the unique issues facing our community.
During your campaign, you did a commendable job engaging the Latino community. You came to where we are, and took time to understand our culture, contributions, and challenges – all of which greatly impact every facet of Pennsylvania. And you made promises that inspired hope.
Hope is something we hold onto dearly because it has been and always will be the strength and success of the Latino community. I write you this open letter with hope that you take time to read these words and consider their important message, but also so that all of Pennsylvania can do the same.
To address these deeply rooted issues, it will take more than one man or one administration, but it is certainly a start. And with the support of whole communities, I know we can work together to bring to life the changes you promised.
As a young kid from the Dominican Republic, I saw my mother burdened by every obstacle you could imagine. She was a single mother, a survivor of domestic violence, supporting three children yet not qualifying to receive any social or human services assistance because we weren’t yet U.S. citizens.
I recall a hot summer day, I went door-to-door around our apartment complex in Harrisburg selling my little sister’s Disney books my mom had just bought off an infomercial. I came home with over $1,200 in checks from my work and recall the immense pride and satisfaction that came from the ability to help my mom pay our past-due rent.
Our family worked hard to become U.S. citizens and to move ourselves from poverty, but it seemed that with every two steps forward, we would be met with a barrier that would knock us a step back. Through the many trials we endured, my mom instilled in me that the hardest part isn’t “getting there” – it’s maintaining what you’ve promised to deliver and continuing to do it with humility and grace.
With that said, Gov.-elect Shapiro, you should feel great pride to have earned the privilege to become Pennsylvania’s next Governor. Now you have the stage to deliver on your many promises with the same humility and grace as you demonstrated during your authentic and humanizing campaign.
As your administration works swiftly to map out your initial actions for when you assume office next year, I hope to impart useful insight into the current state of the Latino community in Pennsylvania so that you can ensure we are built into your plan with intention and care.
From the 2010 Census to the 2020 edition, Pennsylvania’s multiracial population has increased by 226 percent.
Specifically, the Latino population has grown by 45.8 percent. By the 2040s a multicultural majority will represent Pennsylvania. And among this growing population, Latinos are opening businesses at a faster rate than other communities of color. We are the swing voters, and the essential workers who will fill the talent shortage pipeline for professional jobs in education, healthcare, and finance.
Addressing the biggest needs of the Latino community will be the key to unlocking economic development in Pennsylvania. This fall under eight pillars, all of which support the foundational needs and values of the Latino community, and truly every Pennsylvanian.
- Safe and Affordable Housing – Without the security of a suitable place to call home, a person cannot thrive in any other area of life. This crisis must be addressed through adequate funding and support for affordable housing programs.
- Bilingual Education Support – Access to bilingual-based education, for all ages and abilities, will bridge the language gap that contributes to the most significant barriers in the Latino community.
- Civic Engagement – Government needs to build trust through first listening and next engaging.
- Affordable Healthcare – This is a massive problem that continues to get passed down the line.
- Equal Access to Programs for Immigration Communities – Regardless of how much this community contributes to the Commonwealth, they continue to feel like outsiders.
- Policies that Address Social Determinants of Health – These barriers continue to marginalize the Latino community and can be effectively addressed through improved policies and funding.
- Preventative Health Education -There is still so much work to be done in the area of preventative health education for diabetes, tobacco, asthma, cancer, HIV, and aids programs, all of which are affecting the Latino community at disproportionate rates.
- Support for Holistic Forms of Medication – Cannabis and other forms of holistic medication should be made legal and accessible to those whose quality of life depends upon it! Access to health alternative health solutions should not be needlessly restricted.
I would also encourage you to look at the evidence-based success other states have had in issuing IDs and drivers licenses to undocumented families, allowing them to legally drive, open up a bank account, get a living-wage job that doesn’t pay under the table, and ultimately allows them to pay taxes and feel like a true citizen in the state they live, learn, work, and play.
On behalf of the more than one million Latinos in Pennsylvania, Bienvenidos Gobernador Shapiro, que Dios me lo bendiga (God Bless)!
And remember, the hardest part isn’t “getting here,” it’s maintaining what you’ve promised to deliver and continue to do it with humility and grace.
Please keep our interests and issues at the forefront of your first 100 days – and every day thereafter. Just as you leaned on the Latino community for support for your campaign, we look to you in return to keep our seat at the table. You will always have a seat at ours and to that point – I look forward to the opportunity to share a Latino American meal with you!
George Fernandez is the president & CEO of Color & Culture, a multicultural, multichannel full-service marketing agency that equips the public and private sectors to utilize cultural intelligence to make a more powerful reach into Pennsylvania’s increasingly diverse marketplace.
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