Hispanic Heritage Week: Advocates Continue To Help Staten Island's Booming Latino Population
As NY1 continues to celebrate its 20 years of reporting about New York City, the station is taking a week-long look at how local Hispanic communities have changed in that time. Staten Island Borough Reporter Amanda Farinacci begins with a report on how the mission of a disbanded grassroots organization lives on to help the borough's rapidly growing Hispanic population.
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Back in the late 1990s, Staten Island was a much different place for its Latino population than it is now. Just over 40,000 Hispanics called Staten Island home, primarily Puerto Ricans migrating from the city's other boroughs.
They united in a grassroots organization called the Latino Civic Association.
"We wanted to address some issues and we wanted to bring services to the community," says Lester Figueroa, a former president of the Latino Civic Association.
To that end, the association was instrumental in organizing voter registration drives and worked to help stem racist acts after a series of bias incidents in 1997.
Over the years, the group's mission changed, with more focus on education, youth outreach and assistance for the wave of new Latin American immigrants flocking to Staten Island.
The group gave birth to El Centro De Hospitalidad, which began solely to provide temporary relief services to the large number of day laborers looking for work in Port Richmond.
El Centro recently expanded its mission and changed its name to El Centro De Inmigrante.
"We work in four main areas, which are education, advocacy and organizing, service provision and cultural activities," says Gonzalo Mercado of El Centro De Inmigrante.
The borough's Hispanic population has doubled since the Latino Civic Association was formed and it has grown more diverse.
Confident that its mission was complete, and with the success of El Centro, Figueroa and his fellow board members decided to disband their civic group in 2009.
While the Latino Civic Association is no longer functioning, organizers say there is always a chance it will reorganize, given the right issue to rally around.
"If we don't see the number of college-bound Latino kids increase, we will probably become involved again with the colleges and say, 'Okay, what can we do?'" says Figueroa.
That comes as good news to leaders at El Centro, who say they are always in need of a helping hand.