Political power, health and future of Latin Americans in Pennsylvania discussed at statewide convention
As political lines are literally redrawn and vaccination efforts provide a possible turning point in the COVID-19 pandemic, Commonwealth Latinos seek to ensure a fair and just future.
The Pennsylvania Latino Convention in Reading took place September 28-30 and covered more than two dozen topics such as poverty, voter engagement and health. Over 300 people attended the convention.
Norman Bristol, president and founder of the convention, said organizers understand that Latinos have different needs and come from a wide variety of backgrounds. The convention was meant to accommodate them, he said.
“We have over 25 workshops here based on that diversity,” Bristol said. “Some local communities, they have local problems that are completely different; Reading and Pittsburgh, they probably have completely different issues.
No workshop or roundtable focused solely on immigration issues, an intentional decision, Bristol said. Organizers asked presenters to incorporate the needs and challenges of immigrants into their presentations, as a single session on the topic wouldn’t do it justice, he said.
“The only way we’ll be able to approach the ratio is to have this dynamic and robust conversation from all of these angles,” Bristol said.
” Big change “
With the release of the 2020 census data, Pennsylvania begins the process of redesigning its congressional districts.
Over a million Latinos now live in the state, according to the 2020 US Census, but only three Latinos sit in the legislature of the 253 member states.
Experts argued that Latinos across the country were underestimated for fear their immigration information would be used against them – noting former President Donald Trump’s failure to ask a citizenship question at the census.
Fulvia Vargas-De Leon, a lawyer at LatinoJustice, said that while the number of Latinos in the Commonwealth is at an all-time high, that doesn’t necessarily mean their interests are protected.
“There is a lag between our population increase and the fact that we still have very low representation at the electoral level to effect a big change,” said Vargas-De Leon.
Other representatives of civic groups called for easier access to postal voting, encouraged people to contact elected leaders about gerrymandering, and stressed the need for more Latinos to run for office.
Compared to whites, Latinos nationwide are more than three times more likely to be hospitalized and twice as likely to die from COVID-19.
Raffy Luquis is Professor of Health Education at Penn State. He said experts are finally recognizing the systemic marginalization of Latinos and other communities of color in healthcare.
“Racism is a health problem, a public health problem,” Luquis said. “The Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention), the National Institutes for Health and several other federal organizations see racism as the number one issue they are trying to get things done on. “
Dr Johanna Vidal-Phelan, a pediatrician at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, presented projections on how serious the pandemic would be if people were not getting vaccinated and wearing masks.
She also said Latinos have been vaccinated at a faster rate than whites in recent months, noting that targeted outreach and encouragement from trusted community leaders has helped.
Party and Politics
The workshops also addressed LGBT issues, youth leadership, housing, mental health and education.
The convention featured a gala that honored people who are the first Latinos elected to their posts, such as Reading Mayor Eddie Moran and Berks County Commissioner Michael Rivera.
Bristol said work on the convention continues with a report on a white paper that will draw on workshops and participant feedback. This report will be provided to state legislators and local leaders.
“The biggest outcome of the convention will be a policy document that we write, based on the policy recommendations that take place in all the workshops,” Bristol said.
There is no decision yet on where the annual event will take place in 2022.
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