At the Capitol, Connecticut Latinos celebrate heritage and set priorities

Sandra Ferreira-Molina said that when she was 6 years old and her family immigrated from Colombia to the United States, her parents “knew they were coming to the land of opportunity, and as I sit here, I I feel privileged.”

Her mother looked at opportunities in America, like children buying cheese and bread at school, and wondering how they could be brought back to their home country. Ferreira-Molina wasn’t sure if she could bring things back, but pledged to do her best for families here in Connecticut.

“Sometimes you can’t be part of the system; you have to be outside of that, to make sure communities have a voice at the table,” Ferreira-Molina said. “Communities have a voice, and we just need to hear them.”

She is the deputy executive director of Latinos for Educational Advocacy and Diversity, and was one of many Latinos in the fields of education, health, housing, finance and politics to speak at Thursday’s a roundtable at the State Capitol celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. The Commission on Women, Children, Older People, Equity and Opportunity (CWCSEO), a nonpartisan agency within the legislature, organized the event.

Leticia Colon de Mejias, acting chair of the commission’s Latino-Puerto Rican subcommittee, noted that Latinos make up 17 percent of the state’s population, but there is confusion over: “Who are Latinos and Latinas in Connecticut?”

She noted that Latinos and Latinas come from 33 countries and have different hair, dialects and foods, some from islands and some from continents.

The subcommittee has held listening sessions over the past 12 months to identify its priorities.

These include a transparent and equity-based state budget process, opportunities for home ownership as opposed to simple vouchers, equity in education funding, prioritization of health care mental health, police reform, and representation on state boards and commissions.

Colon de Mejias said the CWCSEO wants to expand housing programs such as Time to Own, a new state program offering reimbursable down payment assistance.

Connecticut Department of Housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera-Bruno said 297 borrowers have been approved and are in the process of closing, 25% of whom are Latinos, and the department is processing another 544 applications.

On Thursday, Rep. Hilda Santiago, D-Meriden, discussed her recommendations for what the state should do with its $4.8 billion surplus.

She said she would like to see more money spent on education in places where it is needed, housing, health care, broadband technology and advertising the free community college program. ‘State, “because we don’t have enough young people applying for this, especially in the Latino community. The word isn’t there.

The event provided an opportunity for the public, including students visiting the Capitol, to see Latinos in various leadership roles.

CWCSEO executive director Steven Hernández said it was “important that young people see themselves in front of the room” and at the top of the organizational chart. An example at the roundtable was Hartford Public Schools Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, who immigrated to Hartford from Puerto Rico when he was 9 years old.

“As a product of the Hartford Public Schools District, I have a duality that informs my leadership every day,” she said, “the fact that it was inspired not only by educators, but also by educators who looked and sounded like me and understood where I was coming from.

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