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La Liga de Las Americas

Senator Sherrod Brown gets an earful from Toledo Latino community leaders


By Alan Abrams

La Prensa Senior Correspondent


Toledo, Oct. 8, 2007: Accompanied by a bevy of aides, Ohio’s junior U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown sat down on Columbus Day (observed) with many – but not all - of the leaders of Toledo’s Latino community to hear what’s on their mind.

Senator Sherrod Brown addressing Lourdes Santiago and others

What the Ohio Democrat heard ranged from important concerns about issues such as education, health, economic development, and immigration reform down through one local business owner’s complaints about crime and street prostitution in the South End of Toledo.


Toledo councilman Mike Craig sat in on the community meeting, saying he was there to hear their concerns.


Participating in the informal meeting at FLOC headquarters on Broadway were David Ibarra, chairman of Toledo’s Hispanic Affairs Commission; Bob Salazar of Prudential Insurance;  Celso Rodríguez , publisher of El Tiempo and president of Viva South; Lourdes Santiago, acting commissioner of purchasing for the City of Toledo; Rico Neller of La Prensa; Diana Ortega of the Aurora L. González Community Center;  community activist Robert Torres of the Toledo School Board;  Joe Balderas, executive director of the Sofia Quintero Art & Cultural Center; Bob Vásquez, executive director of the 12, Inc; Sonia Troche, executive director of Adelante, Inc.; community activist Margarita  DeLeón; bank executive John Escobar; Roberto González of the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office;  business leaders Hernan Vásquez and María Rodríguez Winter; Cesario Durán of FLOC; Stephen Vásquez of the United Way; and Dennis Wisebaker, executive director of Viva South.


Brown began the meeting by asking everyone to list their areas of concern.  When he got to Torres, he was told that the area’s only Latino representation in Ohio’s General Assembly was the late John García, a Republican member of the state House of Representatives.  It was Garcia who helped secure the initial crucial funding for Adelante, which was created by Jack Ford previously.


Santiago, a former Toledo Council member, told Brown she was concerned about “racial profiling because of the immigration issue.” She would later expand her comments to include the State of Ohio’s requirement that driver’s license applicants present a Social Security card. The Social Security number is printed on the license unless the applicant objects.


After hearing the concerns of the attendees, Brown focused upon the issue of education, and the controversial federal No Child Left Behind Act found both supporters and detractors.


Troche lamented the lack of bilingual programs and services in the schools, while Ibarra, a principal in the Washington Local Schools system, told Brown “schools are struggling” with the No Child Left Behind provisions.


 “There has to be other aspects of accountability other than just testing,” said Ibarra. He also stressed the need for a “community-based effort” to improve the schools

Balderas echoed many of Ibarra’s sentiments. “I’m not fond of testing,” he said, adding that the process boiled down to “how many facts can you remember on test day?” Balderas added, “We need more teachers that think outside the box.”

Sherrod Brown, Steve Vasquez and Sonia Troche

Torres told Brown, “We need to engage parents in the educational process,” and Salazar asked and answered that thought with, “Where do you find teachers? Their parents.”


Stephen Vasquez added, “Too many Latino kids are written off,”


Brown asked for the percentage of Latino students in the Toledo school system and was told six percent, with less than one percent of Latino teachers.  That gave Ibarra the opportunity to hammer home a staggering point when he said, “There are more teachers of Spanish than there are Latino teachers.”


After Brown raised a question about so-called pay day lenders affecting the community, Santiago talked about the damage wrought by predatory lenders, such as the recently disgraced Westhaven Group and John and Scot Ulmer.


Rodríguez asked whether certain amounts of federal funding could be earmarked for the Latino community even while recognizing it lacks political representation. That gave Torres another opportunity to invoke the memory of García when he told Brown, “Our Democrats have not stepped forward to support our community economically.”


At least two of the roundtable participants, Celso Rodríguez and Hernan Vásquez, are active in the Republican Party.


Torres was the only speaker to include both East and South Toledo in his statements. Many of the speakers present centered upon South Toledo in their comments.


Senator Brown promised that two of his staffers, Diane Wilkinson and Leon Mason, would come to Toledo to meet with the group “before the end of the year.”


Brown had earlier visited the East Toledo Family Center, another center that serves the Latino community in East Toledo, which has the largest Latino population in Toledo.






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