Champion of Change Werner Oyanadel works tirelessly for the Latino community in Connecticut as the executive director for the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission. His drive for progress is evident in the way he seeks to change policies in the legislature, create programs and encourage educational opportunities for Latinos across the state. His involvement in several boards and committees brings Connecticut Latinos one step closer to his goal of leveling the playing field socially, economically and educationally.
How does the work you do for LPRAC help Latinos around Connecticut?
LPRAC’s mission is concise, but in my opinion very critical to improving/helping Latinos around our state. For instance, it has the responsibility to raise awareness of significant issues, or to recommend “new and enhanced policies, programs and services that will foster progress,” and to monitor and report on improvements in achieving health, education, safety, discrimination and economic self-sufficiency for the state’s Latino population.
What do you do outside of work to benefit the Latino community?
The work of LPRAC takes most of my time during regular work hours, after work hours and weekends – especially during the time that the legislature is in legislative session. However, until recently, I also volunteered my personal time mentoring a Hispanic boy from Hartford with the Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters. Furthermore, I was also a member of the federally recognized Connecticut Army National Guard as an Automated Logistics Specialist and a Hispanic Emphasis Program Manager. I received an “Honorable Discharge” for my military service after enlisting twice. Finally, I am very proud of my civic engagements on several boards and committees around the state. I am the liaison for LPRAC to the Racial & Ethnic Disparity Commission in the Criminal Justice System, the LPRAC representative to the Health Equity Commission, LPRAC representative to the Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, a member of the Connecticut Civic Health Advisory Group, and a former member to the Connecticut Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights.
What drew you to work for LPRAC? What difference do you hope to make for CT Latinos?
I studied Political Science at Central Connecticut State University when English was my second language. Even though it was very challenging for me both linguistically and economically speaking, I am proud of having obtained my BA in Political Science. Throughout my career in state politics I gained significant experience in the Connecticut General Assembly in areas of public policy, constituent services, and public administration. I also conducted extensive research on areas of immigration, education, and issues of poverty with an emphasis in the legislative process. LPRAC drew my attention because I felt that my educational background and my work experience in addition to my immigrant roots from Latin-America were an excellent match to this agency, which has allowed me to expand my interests in legislative advocacy, research and most importantly my interests in social change for the Latino community in Connecticut from a public policy perspective.
What are your biggest victories/successes with LPRAC so far?
- Alerting state government to the impact on residents here of a new law in Puerto Rico regarding birth certificates as a primary proof of citizenship for U.S. passports;
- Helping to initiate a probe by the U.S. Department of Justice into acts of racial profiling in East Haven;
- Developing socio-economic research to fill gaps in the state’s data collection efforts;
- Advancing initiatives that respond to drivers licensing, access to college education, diminishing racial profiling, and participation in the electoral and governmental process;
- Conducting legislative forums to advise policy-makers on mandated issues such as education, public safety, discrimination, self-sufficiency and public health; &
- Providing significant monetary scholarships to the Latino youth in our state.
Why do you think it’s important to give back to the Latino community? How would you like to see the Latino community move forward through your work?
The Latino community is a fundamental component of the fabric of the State of Connecticut. If we, as a society, are able to make significant improvements to our socio-economic status everyone will benefit from it. The growth of Connecticut’s Hispanic population – nearly 50 percent in the past decade – continues; unfortunately we live in a state where many people in our community is either underrepresented and/or underserved, in my opinion, it will take precisely the work of many people in our community, lawmakers, the general public, and precisely the type of concerted collaborative effort that LPRAC can help propel. That is clearly in Connecticut’s best interest, economic and otherwise. I envision my work at LPRAC as a conduit to that goal – a community that has ample access to job opportunities, quality education, and is truly self-sufficient.