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El Pueblo held its first Noche Latina at the North Carolina State Fair on Oct. 16. Onstage at Dorton Arena, the acts represented the variety of cultures and backgrounds that fall under the Latinx umbrella. There was a Mariachi group and a traditional Azteca dance group. There were Venezuelans and at one point there was a Caribbean feel. El Pueblo itself is run by people from a slew of backgrounds: Argentinian, Cuban, Mexican, Salvadoran.
“We do try to emphasize the idea that it is not in any means a monolithic culture,” said William Saenz, El Pueblo’s communications coordinator.
Cultural celebrations like the new Noche Latina and the longstanding Fiesta del Pueblo, which celebrated it 25th year on Sept. 23, are only one arm of El Pueblo. Nationwide, people of Latino and Hispanic descent (some of whom have adopted the gender-neutral term Latinx) are among the fastest growing minority groups, and El Pueblo’s focus is advocacy for Wake County’s Latinx communities. Yet it’s not enough to speak for these groups, Saenz explained. The group enables people to speak for themselves on issues that affect them directly.
“We want the community to be the force of change,” he said. “The way we do that is informing them on basic issues and then teach them, here’s the ways you can act upon that: visiting the General Assembly, leading protests, doing interviews.”
It bears mentioning that as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, El Pueblo does not make candidate endorsements. Yet as an issue-based nonprofit, the organization adopts a major role in activism and in advocating for issues that affect the Latinx community. When bills related to immigrant rights appear in the General Assembly, for instance, El Pueblo organizes protests and canvassing campaigns. Rather than adopt a “We think this is wrong and everyone should agree” stance, Saenz said, El Pueblo enables those affected by laws that may impact their access to Medicaid, say, or a college education to advocate for themselves. It coaches those who may not feel comfortable canvassing or approaching elected leaders to do so with confidence.
“We have a two-day retreat in January where we bring all of our community leaders together along with our board and all of our staff,” said Mary Jose Espinoza, El Pueblo’s civic engagement organizer. “We get to do all of these trainings with them, but also get to hang out and do karaoke and share space with one another.”
Among the issues, El Pueblo is currently advocating for is in-state tuition for all residents, regardless of documented status. Saenz also pointed out that undocumented residents no longer can get a driver’s license, which opens up a whole slew of issues. If you live here but have no license, you can end up stopped and ticketed repeatedly because you are not legally allowed to drive your family around, say, or because you also can’t purchase car insurance without a license. Saenz and Espinoza mentioned the deportation pipeline, too, and laws that send undocumented immigrants out of the U.S. after minor infractions. Deporting people who have lived in the U.S. since childhood could land them in a country where they know nobody and have no idea how to navigate. These are major issues that El Pueblo has been working on for years, Espinoza says.
“We’re still going to be dealing with issues,” Saenz said. “Many of our youth and colleagues cannot afford to go to college because of the current setup, so we still need to be lobbying Gov. Cooper for instance to get behind these issues [and] supporting organizations such as Farm Labor Organizing Commission, or FLOC, which does a lot of work with migrant workers.”
Another initiative specific to 2018 was a major campaign to mobilize Latinx voters, Espinoza said. Election turnout tends to be low for this group, she said, and she wants to see this rise. Even so, Saenz picks up, the Latinx community doesn’t owe candidates anything. It’s on candidates, he continues, to understand the Latinx communities in their districts and to represent them as much as any other population. “It’s up to them to be able to actually say, ‘I’m going to advocate for your family to make sure y’all can stay here and don’t live in fear,’ ” Saenz said.
And while the 2018 midterm elections are over, El Pueblo’s work is not. The leadership retreat is approaching in January, while the organization keeps a busy calendar, with some sort of public action at least monthly. And then there’s the annual Fiesta del Pueblo, where anyone can come to see music and art, but also learn from the nonprofits whose booths are set up.
“We work very hard to build up [visibility],” he said.
Address: 2321 Crabtree Blvd., Suite 105
Raleigh, N.C. 27604
Contact: Angeline Echeverría, 919-835-1525 ext. 103 or firstname.lastname@example.org
How to help: Donations provide food, childcare and transportation to and from El Pueblo’s office for Latinx families and community members who attend its programs.
$25 would cover the costs of food so that three participants have adequate nutrition during leadership trainings
$50 would cover the costs of childcare for three hours so that parents who participate can focus on becoming leaders
$100 would support community leaders’ outreach efforts at two community events
Volunteers are needed at El Pueblo’s programs for youth and adults, including at Pueblo Power, which enables youth to become leaders through education on issues that are most affecting the Latinx community; the Community Leadership Council, which empowers adult Latinx individuals to create events, rallies and messaging that best addresses their needs; and PARE (Program of Assistance, Resource and Education) for Latina women who have been directly or indirectly affected by domestic violence and sexual assault.