By Patricia Hodge
Comprising for 29 percent of the population living in the Mid-City section of San Diego, Latinos account for a significant portion of people who live in that area. Although the percentage is growing, only a small number of Latino individuals serve as community leaders and few participate in the decision-making process on issues that specifically affect them.
The scarcity of Latino leaders in Mid-City’s civic and political structures sparked the development of Latinos y Latinas en Accion, a leadership development training program specifically designed for Latino men and women. According to one member, Latinos y Latinas en Accion is “a way of learning to acquire the skills needed to help the community”.
Conducted though Mid-City Community Advocacy Network, (Mid-City CAN) and sponsored by the Waitt Family Foundation, Latinos y Latinas en Accion was formed in early 2003 with the goal of uniting Latinos to change their community.
“I like the program because we connect with other groups to become united” says Laura, Latinos y Latinas en Accion member.
The program is unique because each of its current 10 members is a community resident. This structure supports Latinos y Latinas en Accion’s aim to empower community residents to become active leaders in creating better lives for themselves, their families and their community.
Marta, member of Latinos y Latinas en Accion, explains “We want to be involved in the San Diego society and not be isolated from the world”.
The first ten program meetings were held in members’ homes. These house meetings, with their intimate and accommodating atmosphere, were used as a tool to conduct needs assessments and allowed members to identify potential leaders within the group before moving on to the leadership training.
After completing thirteen formal training sessions, held at the City Heights Community Technology Center, Latino y Latinas en Accion members gained the knowledge and skills in community organizing to address such issues as oppression and specifically how it impacts the Latino community.
“This is an opportunity to do something, especially for Latinos”, states a member of the program. While another adds, “We are involved in the community and focusing on the needs of the community”.
In addition, topics of media advocacy, policy change and community activism were covered, all of which are critical to gaining a greater voice in the community.
The program trainings are progressively moving towards long-term goals created and set forth by its members. After surveying a variety of Latino residents about their needs, Latinos y Latinas en Accion was able to narrow its focus to three major issues: immigration rights, violence & substance abuse prevention, and technical bilingual adult education with childcare opportunities. Of these, adult education with childcare was chosen as a first campaign topic giving the group a defined focus.
Currently, members are meeting to research existing adult education programs available in the community, along with the integration of childcare. More input from social service agencies, existing collaborations and community residents will be needed to create a comprehensive service approach. Latinos y Latinas en Accion representatives also participate in other local organizations in order to promote cohesion among agencies and services. For more information please contact Aixa Quiros at 619.283.9264.
Patricia Hodge is an intern with the Mid-City Community Advocacy Network’s Partnership for the Public’s Health (PPH) Initiative. She recently completed her Masters in Public Health at San Diego State University. The PPH Initiative is working with residents to address policies related to public health issues in the Mid-City community of San Diego.