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La Liga de Las Americas

HAC: A viable community resource or a victim of Carty II’s policy of benign or benevolent neglect?


Commentary by Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent


Once upon a time in Toledo, Ohio, during the reign of the noble Carty I, the city not only had a vibrant Hispanic Affairs Commission (HAC) but, ultimately, under the leadership of Mayor Jack Ford, an Office of Latino Affairs.


Robert Torres, who later served as Director of the Office of Latino Affairs, recalls “The City of Toledo was a model for communities like Cleveland and Columbus.”


Toledo’s Latino community could point with pride to the fact that although they only represented 6-7 percent of the city’s population, they had such outstanding representation in politics and in education and from within the mayor’s office.


“Those were the golden days,” says Torres, “with a promise of even better days to come.

Noble Carty


“It is sad to see we took a step back. There is no longer an Office of Latino Affairs, although the legislation still stands,” he adds.


Things changed for the worse during the current era of Carty II, who unceremoniously removed Torres from his position. This position remains unfilled.  


La Prensa tried repeatedly to ask Mayor Finkbeiner to talk to us solely about the HAC and the Latino communities. We even got to the stage of negotiating with his spokesman Brian Schwartz and agreeing that the interview would be conducted over the phone for no more than 15 minutes. But the mayor would still not honor our requests for an interview.


Thus, we rely upon Torres, and others, to put the matter in its proper perspective. We asked Torres why he thought his office was abolished, and this was his reply.


“A simple response would be that it was a byproduct of the budget and the finances of the city, a victim of the decreasing budget of the city,” says Torres, who still serves the community as a member of the Toledo School Board.


But to paraphrase the immortal words of John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, that would be one way to say it.


And, of course, el alcalde and his cientifícos were able to find the funds to refurbish his office with a $10,000 shower and almost $39,000 in a flower fund to vegetate the city.


Torres believes we need to seriously look at the priorities of the city and assess its reactions. As he points out, “In times of small budgets, both the BCR and the Department of Recreation have taken a hit.

“We are committed to economic development in the Latino community. And we are upbeat about it. We want the Hispanic Affairs Commission to be a rallying point for the community. If you do not get a response elsewhere, go to the commission.


“The current status of Latinos in Toledo is not a crisis situation, where we may not have the tools to address issues. In fact, there hasn’t been a better time. Adelante, which has become a Latino Resource Center, is flexing its muscle. Viva South is not just about housing but about economic empowerment, especially through its proposed credit union.


“And there’s the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of NW Ohio and the Association of Latino Contractors playing a vital role in the construction of schools, city/county infrastructure and arenas.  The future is bright for us, but we need to stop asking others to do for us and just start to do it ourselves.

Robert Torres

“We can create an impact in the community as other groups have done in history. The issues are there, and the numbers don’t lie. Progress has been made in the administration, but it has been more through the county than the city,” says Torres, pointing to the success of county auditor Anita López.


Is the solution to have a County Office of Latino Affairs?


And, of course, there are a variety of businesses and organizations throughout the city and county that service the Latino communities including: the Spanish American Organization, Latinos Unidos, East Toledo Family Center, Unison, El Camino Sky, El Camino Real, Casa Fiesta, La Mexicana, San Marcos, the United Way, ACP, Voces Latinas television and the Buckeye Cable System, and viable high school organizations established at St. Francis de Sales High School (LASSO), Waite High School, and Whitmer High School, to name a few. 


Has the once powerful HAC been reduced to the status of a gelding by Carty II? The HAC is not even listed on the City’s Web site, as it formerly was.


David Ibarra, the current chairman, concedes that “We’re not where we used to be.”


Certainly where Toledo’s model was once looked upon with envy by Cleveland and Columbus, today, the tendency is to just look away.


“We haven’t been a priority,” admits Ibarra, adding “there would have been more attention paid in previous years.


“We shouldn’t be a political football. We get names of appointees to the commission and then they don’t even want to serve,” says Ibarra.


So let’s hark back to the glory days of the HAC and its accomplishments as outlined by Torres and its first chairman Baldemar Velásquez of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC).

“The whole concept of the Hispanic Affairs Commission was a great credit to people in the community like Arturo Quintero, Baldemar Velásquez, the late Judge Joseph A. Flores, and Sylvia Muñiz-Mutchler,” recalls Torres.


“I remember starting in 1996 when we used to have Saturday morning meetings with Carty and discuss the issues that were impacting the community. I give the mayor a lot of credit. When the legislation came up, there was a lot of opposition from the BCR and the African-American community who asked ‘why do we need to have a separate commission for Latinos?’


“Council did support it, but reluctantly. It was a hard sell. But it was supported [by a 10-2 vote] and on Oct. 8, 1996, the commission was created. The language basically said that while we support the formation of the commission, it was to have no business and no administrative structure. In effect, they supported it in name only,” remembers Torres.

Baldemar Velásquez


One of the first issues that the HAC took on was that of under-education in the community and the high student drop-out rate for Latinos. In 2002, a breakthrough study titled “Report on Education of Hispanic Students in Toledo” was conducted with Toledo Public Schools, with Torres, Margarita DeLeón, Velásquez, Muñiz-Mutchler, and Louis Escobar, all playing key roles.


The HAC also obtained the $25,000 in funds to do a survey of the Toledo Latino communities by a Chicago-based firm, but, unfortunately, the survey only included the old Southside of Toledo, where less than 30 percent of Latinos reside. As evidence by a recent study by Univision (commissioned by the Buckeye CableSystem) and also by Waite High School, the majority of Latinos reside in the East Side.  


“The HAC was the catalyst for Adelante and the Sofia Quintero Art & Cultural Center, especially in terms of delivering services,” says Torres, reflecting upon HAC’s legacy.


Velásquez, who turned over the role of chairman of HAC to an interim chairperson before Ibarra assumed the responsibilities, remembers those Saturday morning restaurant meetings with Carty I as well.


He believes that the highlight of HAC’s accomplishments occurred during the campaign, spearheaded by Ibarra, to have the Mexican Consular ID accepted by both the City of Toledo and, subsequently, the Lucas County Commissioners.


Velásquez still chuckles when he recalls the opposition of then-commissioner Maggie Thurber to the proposal, which eventually passed by a 2-1 vote.  This came after a last minute attempt by extreme rightwing and anti-immigration groups to attack the proposal on an AM-radio-morning talk show.


When Jack Ford became mayor, he appointed Torres as Director of the Office of Latino Affairs within the Economic and Community Development department to provide administrative support to the commission. The Toledo City Council passed the resolution on Sept. 16, 2003 by unanimous vote.


But, alas, with the election of Carty II, it has been downhill for Latinos and the Latino communities.





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