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Governor appoints OCHLA Commissioner from rural NW Ohio

By La Prensa Staff

In what may be a first for the Northwest Ohio Latino community, the governor has appointed a second commissioner from the region tom the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs [OCHLA].

María Pedraza Martínez hails from Hamler, a small town in rural Henry County, but she caught the attention of Ohio’s governor as an advocate for issues important to the Latino community—giving Northwest Ohio one rep with rural roots and another who can represent urban interests.

“I’m really excited. I’m excited to get to work and do some work in our rural area because I’ll be covering this corner of the state,” she said. “The farmworkers will be coming and I just want to make sure the kids are getting the information they need, especially with education.”

 

María Pedraza Martínez

“We are excited that the commission has recognized the growth of the Hispanic population of Northwest Ohio, demonstrated by the new commissioner,” said OCHLA commissioner Dr. Greg Guzmán, who has represented metro Toledo for the past few years.

Ms. Martínez credits the growing rural Latino population to large dairy farms that have taken over the landscape near the Ohio-Indiana border. Those so-called “megafarms” still require a large migrant workforce, many of whom settle into permanent jobs eventually.

“It does allow us to cover a greater span of all of Northwest Ohio, which is really comprised of upwards of 16 to 18 different counties that include both urban and rural,” said Dr. Guzmán. “Not only is the urban population at the center of the Latino growth present, but you’re seeing the rural population grow as well. The additional commissioner allows us to serve both needs.”

Ms. Martínez, 58, is the daughter of migrant workers who worked the fields of Paulding County before settling in Ottawa. She now works as a librarian in the Continental school district and as a monitor for the online learning of at-risk students to ensure they can graduate.

Much of her professional history, though, has been spent working for Pathstone in Liberty Center, with the children of migrant farmworkers. Ms. Martínez ran a program called Youth Experiencing Success (YES), a federally-funded effort formerly known as Rural Opportunities. She also has worked for the Ohio migrant education program, as a job coach, and as a housing coordinator based in Napoleon and Defiance. She’ll serve on OCHLA’s education committee.

“Education was one of my biggest things that my parents always impressed on me,” said the Pandora-Gilboa High School graduate. “They said, ‘You have to graduate. You have to be better than we are. So that’s something I’ve always been passionate about.”

The stability of family life for Latinos is just as important to Ms. Martínez, who is approaching her 40th wedding anniversary. She has two grown sons in their mid-30s and six grandchildren between the ages of seven and 16.

Part of her work history involves educating migrant farmworkers about the H2A guest worker visa program. Her parents were among the early members of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). Ms. Martínez studied bilingual education at the University of Findlay and hopes to use those skills to bridge gaps between farmworker families and available services. In particular, she wants to ensure migrant children are receiving a proper education while in Ohio.

“They’re coming here to work. They’re not coming here to send their kids to school,” she said. “A lot of times the kids are being bounced from Florida to Michigan to Texas, Ohio, Indiana, the family unit is going to work to make some money and we’re going to pull you out of school.”

For example, Ms. Martínez may quickly become an important link in FLOC’s work to vaccinate migrant farmworkers this spring and summer against COVID-19. FLOC plans to use its mobile clinic that has traveled the migrant camps in past summers as a traveling vaccination center. The work of educating farm families on the merits and safety of the COVID-19 vaccine likely will fall to OCHLA and other trusted organizations in order to gain their acceptance. That won’t be an easy task at all.

While the governor’s appointment became official March 3, the pandemic prevented Ms. Martínez from getting onboarded by OCHLA staff until last week. But she will hit the ground running, attending her first commission meeting via Zoom April 13.

Other commissioners include: chairman Manuel López of Springfield; vice chair Dr. Elena Foulis of Columbus; secretary Beth Guzmán-Bowman of Columbus; José Feliciano, Jr., of suburban Cleveland; Michael Florez of Cincinnati; Mary Santiago of Lorain; Rev. Juan Campbell of suburban Youngstown; Anthony Simms-Howell of Cincinnati; and Dan Molina of Loveland.

 

 

 
Copyright © 1989 to 2021 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 03/30/21 16:37:21 -0800.

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