A national organization has moved into Connecticut with the goal of helping to harness and mobilize the power of the state’s growing Latino population. The Hispanic Federation, which is based in New York and serves as an umbrella organization for over 100 Latino non-profits in the tri-state area, has established a new state office in Connecticut and has hired its first state director Ingrid Alvarez-DiMarzo, who until recently led the Hispanic Center of Greater Danbury.
There are already ten non-profits in Connecticut that are members of the Hispanic Federation, said Alvarez-DiMarzo, including Junta for Progressive Action in New Haven, Hispanic Center of Greater Danbury, Latino Community Services in Hartford and two state-wide groups – the Spanish American Merchants Association and Hispanic Health Council. More organizations are in the pipeline waiting for approval of their membership applications.
With an estimated 500,000 Latinos in Connecticut, representing about 14 percent of the state’s population – Connecticut already has the 17th largest proportion of Latinos in the nation. And the proportion of Latinos in the state is expected to grow in coming years, Alvarez-DiMarzo said, as the community is much younger – and is growing 12 times faster – than the general population.
With a closely watched gubernatorial election coming up in 2014, as well as many other high-profile state and national races, mobilization of the Latino community could make a difference in the outcome of several campaigns. Alvarez-DiMarzo said that’s why a primary focus of the Hispanic Federation will be to encourage this growing bloc of new voters by increasing voter registration and political participation in the state.
The federation’s president, Jose Calderón said his organization will help Latinos speak with a more unified voice by bringing non-profits to the table to try to come up with a common agenda.
Representatives from local member agencies will be invited to sit on sub-committees on issues like healthcare, education and immigration reform, in order to create a blueprint for the group’s public policy efforts. While the Latino community is diverse in Connecticut, there are some issues around which there is a common focus, said Calderón.
Alvarez-DiMarzo said she recognizes the need to represent the diversity of the Latino community in the blueprint – and not just based on what country people are from, but also their age, their legal status, and their economic status, amongst other factors. She is trying to bridge these differences by traveling around the state and talking to the people who are on the ground, working with Latinos in their communities.
The Hispanic Federation will also help local non-profits by raising money nationally, then passing that money along to its member organizations. Since its inception in 1990, the federation has given out close to $40 million in grants, said Calderón. That money is often provided for infrastructure development, which can be harder to raise money for than for programs, he said.
But he emphasized that handing out money is not the federation’s most important work. “The bigger piece is making sure they have a voice working on their behalf – working to get the government and corporations to invest greater resources,” he said.
While there is no fee for non-profits to join the Hispanic Federation, there is an application process and groups have to meet certain criteria to join, Alvarez-DiMarzo said.
The federation is also sponsoring a Hispanic Leadership Institute, in conjunction with the University of Connecticut, for individuals who work for a member agency. Students who are accepted into the program will attend ten seminars, where they will be taught by Alvarez-DiMarzo and UConn professors on topics like leadership fundamentals, and non-profit budgeting and management.
Calderón issued a call to those interested in Latino issues to get involved with the Hispanic Federation’s activities in the state. “We look forward to working with all the key stakeholders in the state,” he said. “We know that when we talk about addressing these issues it does take a village, it does take the efforts of a lot of different folks – not just Latinos, but people who care deeply about making sure the community grows.”
The other current Hispanic Federation Member Agencies in Connecticut are: Spanish Community Center of Wallingford, Arte, Inc in New Haven, South Norwalk Community Center and the Center for Latino Progress and San Juan Center in Hartford. Organizations with applications pending are: Bridgeport Caribe Youth Leaders, Spanish Speaking Center of New Britain, Greater Bridgeport Latino Network and Family Life Center in Waterbury.