Pérez had finally found a place where he fit in, after being discouraged to speak Spanish in school and teachers referred to him by the name Raymond. That led him to more deeply discover his Chicano roots.
He also admitted he fit in well at Bowling Green State University once he joined the Latino Student Union, where LSU members organized a campaign for student rights, including a sit-in at the university president’s office. Nearly two dozen Latino students were arrested, including Pérez. They became known in local lore as “the BG 23.”
“We were protesting what we researched and had defined as institutionalized, de facto racism,” he recalled. “We did the sit-in and refused to leave until the president agreed to meet with us and to disassemble this institutionalized racism.”
Pérez stated the police showed up in riot gear to quell what he called civil disobedience. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) provided the student protestors with legal representation—and even subpoenaed the university president.
“In essence, we won our case. It was one of some amazing things we did as students at BGSU,” he said. “That’s what helped us get into a lot of the roles and positions that we’re in now.”
His tenure at and thoughts of Adelante, Inc.
Pérez looks with a bit of sadness at Latino student union groups at universities across the country now, because “they have become so complacent.” He attributes that to the advisors of those groups, guiding them to assimilate to the campus culture.
“They really have no idea who they are, all the injustices that are still in their lives, in their parent’s lives, in their community’s lives,” he lamented. “They don’t recognize it. They don’t know how to recognize it, so they don’t know how to fight it.”
Nearly 20 years ago, Pérez was instrumental in helping to form the organization that became Adelante, Inc. The nonprofit started as a way to deliver substance abuse services to Latinos, especially in an era of heroin addiction. Jack Ford, who was then the director of SASI, helped create Adelante.
The agency thrived under former director Sonia Troche’s 6-year tenure, but in recent years and after Ms. Troche’s departure, has lost a lot of its funding and suffered through a rapid succession of administrators and leadership challenges.
Pérez is no longer affiliated with Adelante, stating that until recently, the nonprofit organization had lost its way with a “top-down approach,” instead of seeking directly the evolving needs of local Latinos to lift them up.
However, he is confident new executive director Guisselle Mendoza can return the agency to its roots.
“It’s great to see a Latina who is now the executive director. To me, that has a lot of benefits. Number one, she’s bilingual,” he said. “The other thing is she’s been with the organization for a number of years, so she understands how the organization operates and she understands that for Adelante to be successful, you have to meet Latinos where they are at in the community, find out what Latinos are thinking and feeling—and from there, develop your social, political, and economic agenda for Adelante.”
Pérez recalled that it took “holding officials accountable, holding funders accountable, and holding a lot of people accountable” in order to create Adelante. He stated the agency “hasn’t progressed” as he would have liked according to its original vision as a “fighting, progressive machine” for the needs of Latinos in its service territory, instead becoming a social service organization.
Pérez candidly stated that he measures the “progress” of Latinos by poverty, education, home ownership, and “having equity and financial resources that provide security in our lives.” He also sees political clout as a measuring stick “to determine our own destiny through our voices and votes.”
“When I do the research and look into it, I still see high levels of poverty and low education,” he said—even speaking about cities like Lorain, Cleveland, and Columbus, where the Latino community is more organized and mobilized around common agendas.
“They may be on the right road and able to bring 100, 500, or 1,000 people together, but if you’re not able to show you’re moving up in education, employment, and economic parity, then you’re not really making a difference.”
Don’t look for Pérez to slow down or speak up less when it comes to advocating for Latino issues. The passion and fire still is very much alive, especially after he recently read another book on Chicano history. So immigration, access, and equality all will remain on his radar as he tries to help organize the Latino community.
“We haven’t really evolved much at all. We’re just barely existing,” he said. “We haven’t learned about who we are or where we came from. We’re still trying to figure out where we fit in.”