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Latino awareness and businesses growing in Findlay; area high school receives Mexican exchange teacher
By Alan Abrams La Prensa Senior Correspondent

   

Findlay, Ohio is rapidly becoming the epicenter of an explosion in Latino awareness, ranging from the Marathon Pipe Line LLC division of Marathon Petroleum Company-sponsored Hispanic Heritage Month program through the University of Findlay’s annual Gift of Hope Hispanic Scholarship Benefit Dinner.

In addition, the city’s Liberty-Benton High School is enjoying a six month visit by a Mexican exchange teacher, one of only 13 Mexican teachers in the U.S. under the prestigious Fulbright teacher exchange program. And that’s just the tip of the taco.


L-R: Don Bozell (pres. of Marathon Pipe Line) addresses the Findlay audience with Eduardo Ramírez (MPL engineer), Freddy Gutiérrez (MPL operations tech), & Dr. Alberto González (BGSU Vice Provost, Academic Services)—Ted Schultz Photo
 

Findlay-based Marathon has been celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with various events including display of art by the talented Emanuel Enriquez (Bowling Green) and Francisco Torres (Defiance), and others.

On Sept. 21, the program presented guest speaker Dr. Alberto González, Vice Provost for Academic Services at Bowling Green State University, who presented a program he titled: “Hispanic Links to Professional and Personal Success.”

The program began with brief comments by two Latino employees of Marathon Pipe Line LLC: Eduardo Ramírez, originally of Colombia and now an engineer in the Power and Controls Group, and Alfredo “Freddy” Gutiérrez—a popular Tejano radio disc jockey for BGSU’s WBGU 88.1FM and WFOB 1430AM in Fostoria, and formerly with WRED’s El Mundo Musical. Gutiérrez is also a DJ at community and family celebrations.

He has worked for Marathon for 15 years as an Operations Tech. Formerly based in Woodhaven, he now works in the Findlay terminal. Originally from Brownsville, Texas, he came to Northwest Ohio in the early 1970s. He is a past winner of the coveted Diamante Award. “Marathon is creating a space for Hispanics in the future,” Gutiérrez told the audience.

So why a diversity program in Findlay, Ohio? Because as one executive put it, “it can influence the ability to be successful as an industry.” Indeed, Marathon Pipe Line LLC and its parent company MPC have a strong commitment to encouraging diversity in the workplace. The company sponsors various cultural awareness celebrations throughout the year, has a diversity management director, and a company-wide Diversity Council.
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Dr. González is also a past recipient of the Diamante Award. Prior to joining BGSU, he taught at Texas A&M and the University of Minnesota. .

After congratulating Marathon and its Diversity Officers’ Committee, González quickly won over the audience by explaining that Hispanic Heritage Month is the one time of the year when he can successfully explain that his trademark moustache is an Emiliano Zapata moustache and not the “Fu Manchu” moustache for which it is usually mistaken.

Dr. Alberto González of BGSU at last week’s Marathon HHM event—Ted Schultz Photo

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He explained that when you talk about cultures, you are talking about things that are alive, not static, things that are changing, “Cultures are based on shared information. The problem occurs when people don’t share the same knowledge...We have to figure out when does our knowledge overlap and when does it differ. And what can we do about it?” said González.

He then presented examples of new ways of looking at the same things, focusing upon a graphic of a cube with a circle within it. “The cube doesn’t change, but how we look at it does,” he said, exhorting the audience to “tip the cube when we think of Hispanic cultures.”

He presented other examples to make his point that Latinos “were not clinging to the old ways.” He said that although many of the old rituals and behaviors still exist, they do not do so at the expense of newer things. “We’re not clinging to a culture apart from the North or the mainstream.”
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On the issue of education, González said, “We value and aspire to greater education. We want to be successful. We want to be educated.” He showed the audience the oft-quoted statistics from the 2002 Pew Report showing the disparity between Latinos and the general population in terms of higher education.

Later, he used more examples to show the importance of Latino contributions in popular culture and presented a series of “Skills for success in intercultural conversation,” including ad admonition to “Try to look beyond surface conditions such as dress, customs and environmental conditions."

González prepared and distributed a two-page sheet of books, videos and CDs he suggested his audience rent and read to better understand Latino culture. La lista, which he headed as “Dr. González’s Idiosyncratic List of Latino y Latina Experiences” ran the gamut from books by Sandra Cisneros and Ruth Behar to the films El Norte, Mi Familia, and Selena. The CDs included works by Shakira, Gloria Estefan, and Selena.


Marathon’s Gutiérrez

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Surprisingly, his list of movies omitted any works by the highly acclaimed Mexican director Robert Rodríguez. Asked after his talk about the omission, González acknowledged that “the films of Rodríguez do show a lot of compassion.”

   

Across town at Liberty-Benton High School, José Velázquez sat at his desk in the language lab to talk about his impressions of the United States. A language teacher in México, he is one of only 13 teachers from México placed at schools across the United States by the Fulbright Teacher and Administrator Exchange Program.

He has only been in the U.S. for two months. “I came here on July 17, and we spent two weeks in Philadelphia at Messiah College where we took an orientation course to understand the culture, U.S.-American ways, and the United States. Then we spent a week in Washington at the headquarters of the Fulbright program where there were gathered teachers from 24 different countries.”

He said the exchange program is co-sponsored by the Mexican Department of Education and its U.S. counterpart.
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José Velázquez

“This is my first time in the United States, and I am only here until January because this particular scholarship is for six months,” explains Velázquez.

How did the Liberty-Benton High School in Findlay have the good fortune of being selected as one of the 13 U.S. schools to participate in the program? “Five years ago, Mrs. Patti Spiegel, who teaches Spanish here, went to México in the same exchange program. She was very pleased with the program,” says Velázquez,

“I applied for the Fulbright program and I am very glad to be here. One of my goals in my professional life was to be here in the states where I can share my culture. By January, they will know a lot about my country,” adds Velázquez, who brought a Mexican flag with him to Liberty-Benton. It hangs proudly on the wall of his classroom.

A proficient linguist, Velázquez teaches Spanish and French classes at Liberty-Benton. And at home in México, he teaches English, French, Italian, German, and the native language of Otimi in the Cecati technical school in Tequisqulapan, Queretaro, located 15 miles from where he lives. There are eleven teachers at the school which also provides training in computers, typing, electronics and mechanics and other tools to help people start their own businesses.

Otimi is a language of México that has its own grammar, phonetics, dictionaries and books,” says Velázquez. His students range from elementary school students to adults.  He has been a teacher for 15 years.

“I love languages, it’s like a hobby to me,” he says. He studied language at the University of Queretaro located near the city he was born and in which he still lives, San Juan del Rio, in the state of Queretaro in Central México.

During his visit to Liberty-Benton, Velázquez is staying in Upper Sandusky where he and Ms. Spiegel teach English to Latinos as well as Spanish to U.S.-Americans every Tuesday night at an old Trinity United Methodist church, which has now become a Spanish church.

Velázquez is 38 and single. The son of José Velázquez, Sr. and Trinidad Velázquez, he has six brothers and one sister. Two of his siblings are architects, three are engineers in electronics, and one is studying medicine. Two of his brothers are in education, they teach English. His sister is interested in pursuing a career in gastronomy and is studying Italian and one brother is studying German. Both his parents are still living.

“We have a very close family,” says Velázquez.  “I’ve had a positive influence on my family. All of them speak English and are learning other foreign languages. All of our family is involved in languages. We had great support from our father. He’s a retired accountant, he was a bank manager for 30 years. He wanted us to become positive individuals and be successful in our lives.”

Velázquez said his goal is to continue to study languages. “I am now studying German, Portuguese, and Otami so that I can better understand the culture. Next year, he hopes to visit either Germany or France and test his language skills.    

He returned to Washington for a quick visit over the past weekend and has made side trips to Amish Country and West Virginia to enjoy the famous Whitewater Rapids.

“They say that the process of living in a new culture or country is difficult, but I am doing fine,” says Velázquez.  “I am so happy to be here. The teachers are so very helpful.”

   

The University of Findlay is playing host to the fourth annual Gift of Life Hispanic Scholarship Banquet, Tues. Oct. 11 at 6:00 p.m. in the Alumni Memorial Union’s Multipurpose Room. Keynote speaker Rubén Navarrette will discuss: “Take a Risk, Live your Dream: A Motivational Speech for College Students.”

Navarrette is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group and has appeared in 60 papers, including The (Findlay) Courier, as well as larger papers such as the L.A. Times and The Boston Globe.


Rubén Navarrette

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His first book, “Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano,” was published in 1993. A Harvard graduate and former radio talk show host, Navarrette regularly provides commentary on current affairs issues on CNN, CNBC, NPR, and “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” on PBS. He began his writing career with more than 200 freelance articles in publications across the country.

Tickets for the dinner are $30. The deadline for registration is Sept. 27. There is no cost for the lecture. For more information contact Ann Brossia at (419) 434-4794 or [email protected]

The Gift of Hope Hispanic Scholarship was established by The University of Findlay’s undergraduate language and culture program to assist its students. The scholarship is awarded to a Latino student who is a permanent resident of the United States or a naturalized citizen of the United States with a major or minor in a foreign language or with an endorsement in TESOL or bilingual/multicultural studies.

In addition, there are several other events of Latino interest on the Findlay horizon. The Black Heritage Library & Multicultural Center in Findlay is sponsoring a Mystery Multicultural Dinner and Program Thursday, Sept. 29 from 5:45 until 8 p.m. at the museum located at 817 Harmon Street. A $25 donation includes dessert and beverages. For more information, phone (419) 423-4954 or (419) 957-0590. The museum highlights Latino cultural events and celebrations throughout the year.

 Meanwhile, Mexican restaurants continue to thrive in Findlay with two new venues, La Charrita and Taco Loco, opening in recent months. The two new eateries join La Hacienda, Rancho Fiesta and the Mendoza Tex-Mex Grocery Store as weekly distribution points where La Prensa is available to the Latino population as well as Anglo readers. The weekly newspaper can also be found at other high traffic sites in Findlay including the University of Findlay and the Findlay campus of Owens Community College and Jeffrey’s Antiques off I-75.

 

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