Organizations Strive to Give Latinos a Voice on East End

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Minerva Perez
Minerva Perez
Minerva Perez

By Stephen J. Kotz

A month after being named the executive director of the Organizacion Latino-Americana, or OLA, the East End Latino advocacy group, Minerva Perez has hit the ground running.

This week, Ms. Perez will join with a group of other Latino advocates to press their case on a number of key issues, from workers rights, to driver’s license reform, with New York State lawmakers on Long Island. Later, she will take part in a meeting with Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and the family of Lila “Esperanza” Aucapino, whose death by suicide last year led to charges from the Latino community that police had not taken her disappearance seriously and failed to keep the family informed of developments in the case. In the meantime, she is busy organizing classes for youths and a performance next month at Guild Hall in East Hampton based on a play she wrote.

It’s all part of OLA’s mission to serve as an advocacy, arts and educational organization for the growing Latino community on the East End, Ms. Perez said.

“Within each of those three categories, there is significant work to be done,” said Ms. Perez. “I want to be involved in things that are vital to our community.”

Not only is the local Latino community “a hard working group of people who are constantly being maligned and scapegoated,” but it is much more diverse by age, education and economic class than many East End residents may realize, she said.

Although many Latinos are successful business owners and their children make up a sizeable portion of the East End’s school enrollments, it is still a largely invisible segment of the population when it comes to the political world, she said, with no Latinos in elective office in either East Hampton or Southampton town.

“A lot of them may not be able to vote right now, but they are surrounded by people who can vote, whether it is their kids or relatives,” she added. “To assume they have no voice is to make a big mistake.”

That is a divide the newly formed Latino Advisory Committee in East Hampton Town is hoping to bridge.

“Our goal is to inform and integrate the Latino community into the local government process and provide a link for that community to town government,” said Maritza Guichay of East Hampton, who is serving with Angela Quintero as co-chair of the group.

East Hampton formerly had a Latino advisory committee about a decade ago, but it became inactive, according to Ms. Guichay, who noted that it was Supervisor Larry Cantwell who reconstituted the group last month.

One of its first orders of business, she said, would be to hold a workshop at Town Hall on March 18 at 6:30 p.m. on the town’s new rental law for Spanish-speaking residents, which will be presented in English with Spanish translations.

She envisions the committee holding public forums about once every other month on a variety of local government issues including code enforcement. “We need to get informed about our lives and our responsibilities,” she said. “It is a two-way street.”

Ms. Guichay said the group has a Facebook page, Latino Advisory Committee, and those interested in attending the rental registry workshop can call her at 631-352-0666.

At OLA, Ms. Perez, a native of Miami who studied theater at New York University and ran a small theater in the city before moving east in 2001, said she will embrace the organization’s role as a sponsor of the arts by moving beyond its sponsorship of an annual film festival featuring Latino films.

OLA was founded by Isabel Sepulveda, who for many years served as its de facto director, but she said in a recent interview that Ms. Perez would bring new energy to the organization. “Many of us in OLA believe that arts is an excellent way to build bridges and Minerva has a very strong background in the arts,” she said.

On April 2, OLA will present “Soy Maria, Soy Mujer,” a spoken word and live music performance based on a play Ms. Perez wrote several years ago while working at the Retreat, East Hampton’s domestic abuse shelter, about a victim of domestic violence and her survival and triumph. OLA is also offering art for children, English as a second language, and other classes. Ms. Perez is also working on readying OLA’s new website, olaofeastendlongisland.org, for launch.

“I don’t want OLA to try to recreate the wheel,” she said, noting that many other organizations also provide needed services to the Latino population. “But we can link people together who are doing this good work and bring up the level of discourse.”

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