LULAC has more than 700 councils operating nationwide. The Columbus council, #39005, was created on October 2005 when William Meléndez, its current president, and Josue Vicente, its vice-president, got together and saw its need in Columbus. The Columbus council currently counts 34 members, but Meléndez and Vicente expect membership to increase rapidly.
According to LULAC-Columbus, its mission statement is “advancing the economic condition, educational attachment, political influence, health and civil rights of the Hispanic population of the United States.”
In order to achieve this goal, Meléndez said his group “will focus on education, pre-k up to higher education.” He stated that this must be done in order to reduce the dropout rate for Latinos (which he quoted at 80%), especially at the critical transition point from Middle to High School.
Focus areas for LULAC-Columbus
LULAC Columbus will have four major focus areas: Education, Health Care, Immigration, and Expansion.
Regarding education, Meléndez, at a recent gathering, spoke of working to reduce the dropout rate in the Latino community. He spoke of the need to include parents in the education progress and the need for bilingual teachers that can help bridge the gap between children with different levels of English proficiency.
They want to see Latinos who will graduate five to six years from now functional in professional fields.
Meléndez and Vicente want to improve a student’s motivation—to lift up their hopes and show students they can accomplish anything.
Vicente discussed the importance of ending the dependency of Latino organizations on other organizations in order to provide services for the Latino community. He said that it was important for Latino organizations to be self-sufficient and self-reliant.
For example, he spoke of the limited services churches sometimes provide because they don’t have trained personnel to deal with the issues of the Latino community and this greatly undermines the level of service. LULAC also wants to work with the American Red Cross by training members of Latino organizations on basic health prevention measures.
Both Meléndez and Vicente plan on recruiting active members. Vicente stated that to achieve these goals they will use “LULAC’s national presence and influence.”
He spoke of putting Columbus on the map as a Latino city, because “everything has to do with numbers.” According to Vicente, in the 2000 U. S. Census, the Columbus Latino population was undercounted.
LULAC will focus on recruiting Latino and Anglo members and on spreading the message that LULAC’s national presence is here to support existing organizations, not replace them.
They plan on focusing on the positive aspects of co-existing with other organizations, emphasizing constructive criticism, learning from each other, encouraging healthy competition, and stop infighting.
LULAC is collaborating with the Ohio Hispanic Coalition (OHC) to celebrate El Día de Los Niños. They also plan to cooperate with the Latino Empowerment Outreach Network (LEON) and Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS).
Challenges for LULAC
When asked why it took so long to activate a LULAC council here in Columbus, Vicente said the reason was a lack of “planning for the future” on the part of organizations here in Columbus and the fact that with the rapid growth of the Latino community in the last decade, organizations were just reacting to that increase rather than having a planned response. It was pure “reaction, not action,” he said.
The challenge of anti-immigrant, racist and other terrorist groups can be met by building a better relationship with the important lawmakers and legislators of Columbus such as Ohio Senators and the Columbus City Council.
Meléndez and Vicente agreed that some of the challenges LULAC-Columbus faces are “our own people and anti-immigrant groups. Overcoming a sometimes defeatist attitude on the part of Hispanics is one of the biggest challenges,” they said. “That is why we have to maintain an active presence.”