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Remarks to Delaware Latino Political Action Committee

Inaugural Event
Wilmington, Delaware
January 26, 2003

Rhode Island Latinos Political Empowerment: How Did Life Change as a Result of the Rhode
Island Latino PAC.?

Thank you for that very nice introduction and for inviting me to visit with you today to speak
about our accomplishments in Rhode Island and how the Rhode Island Latino PAC (RILPAC)
altered forever the political landscape of a state very similar to YOURS.

First however, let me state that I am privileged to represent and work on behalf of a dedicated
group of Hispanic volunteers that through their perseverance, foresight, labor, and commitment
formed the Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee. Not only did this group of people
change the political power structure in Rhode Island for the better but also through its other
activities and the activities of its members, it continues to build social capital and strengthen the
bonds that unite us all as Latinos and Rhode Islanders.

In brief, my message to you today is that the group that created the Rhode Island PAC in 1998 is
no different from YOU and that YOU have it within your grasp to change the political landscape
for Hispanic Delawareans forever in ways that you can only imagine. But for certain, in ways
that will benefit Latinos and all Delawareans – SI TIENEN GANAS Y CORAZON! And
remember, it does not take an army to get this movement started. Only a few of you, gradually
joined by others, will make an enormous difference.

But let me go back in time briefly to 1996. At that time, many of the state’s Latino leaders
started to meet informally at the home of Dr. Pablo Rodriguez in what was to become a bonding
experience for Hispanic Rhode Islanders. As Latinos, we found comfort in gathering and
celebrating our diverse cultures and heritage. As you do, we enjoyed homemade foods and
drinks, made new acquaintances, and had a wonderful time.

Over time, these gatherings became a venue for building a strong Latino network in the
community. Some built business relationships. Some of our nonprofit leaders were able to
connect with Latino professionals that were able to expand on the resources available to help our
community. Still others became interested in the political arena, and it is because of this last
group that the RI Latino Political Action Committee became a reality.

We came to two important conclusions at that time. First, that our community was growing and
making its presence felt by virtue of its numbers and spending power. Second, that despite our
many positive contributions to the social and economic fiber of Rhode Island, we remained
outsiders with no influence on the important political processes of the state – in a word, invisible.
That invisibility extended to decision-making tables, education and ever-important access to
capital to drive our economic engines.
Regrettably, Latinos were often stereotyped as lazy, freeloaders, and criminals with no right to
the American Dream. We were, for all intents and purposes, Rhode Island’s economic and a
political underclass1. Moreover, our limited participation in the political processes of our state
made it easy for these stereotypes to be perpetuated and for our community to maintain its
invisibility. Clearly, it was time to wake up, get with the program and drive some change. That is
where Hispanic Delawareans find themselves today – at an important crossroad.

To the PAC, getting with the program first meant that we had to ensure that Latinos saw
themselves as stakeholders in the future of Rhode Island. And conversely, that Rhode Islanders
of all stripe embraced the notion that their success was closely tied to the success of Latinos.
This in turn meant that Latinos had to be brought into the mainstream of the state’s political and
economic processes and that simultaneous efforts at educating Latinos and the general public as
well as collaborating with multiple communities within our state had to take place.

The vehicle to accomplish this goal was the Rhode Island Political Action Committee. RILPAC
was born on August 20, 1998. The original mission of RILPAC was to ensure that candidates to
political office in Rhode Island were aware of Latino issues and that as a community; we were
informed about the candidates themselves and their views toward us. In addition, we sought to
inject ourselves into the political agenda of the state through political action, advocacy and
education.

There were many challenges on the road to success. These included raising money, motivating
volunteers and engaging the community on a broad scale. It was important that we publicly
demonstrate our ability to rally voters and raise money. We did this and more.

As a result of the efforts of the PAC, the political landscape of Rhode Island underwent a
significant transformation. Most notably, Latino voter participation increased to 38%2 in
Providence’s hotly contested local primaries in the 2000 elections, dwarfing the statewide
turnout of about15%. In 2002, Juan Pichardo was elected as the first Latino state senator. Latino
political appointments subsequent to the 2002 election include, among others, Nellie Gorbea as
Director of Administration for the Secretary of State, Aida Patricia Crosson as Director of the
Victims Unit, Office of the Attorney General, Gonzalo Cuervo as Director of Communications
for Providence Mayor David Cicilline, Ernesto Figueroa as Director of Vital Statistics for the
City of Providence, Patricia Martinez as Director of Community Relations for Rhode Island
Governor Donald Carcieri, Nancy Garcia Ponte as Assistant City Solicitor for the City of
Cranston and just last Thursday Dr. Jose Gonzales was elected Vice Chair of the Providence
Democratic Committee in recognizing that the Latino political empowerment has arrived. For the
2002 election, candidates endorsed by RILPAC won 7 of 8 primaries and 8 of 9 general
elections. We believe these are significant accomplishments over a very short period of time.

How else did life change after the PAC? Well, before the PAC, political candidates made little to
no investment in the Latino community. Generally, they recruited Latinos as campaign
volunteers but not as paid staff. Post PAC, Melba Depeña was hired as Field Director for the

1
Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, MD August 20, 1998
2
Providence Journal, September 17, 2000
Secretary of State campaign and successfully elected Secretary Matt Brown, Gonzalo Cuervo
was hired as Director of Minority relations for the campaign of Providence newly elected Mayor
David Cicilline and we saw the creation of Latino Campaign Committees for all statewide
campaigns. RILPAC was also involved in a campaign for Central Fall’s City Council in 2001,
and the endorsement of two Latino candidates for Central Falls City Council that resulted in the
election of the city’s first Latino elected official. Finally, RILPAC has worked with the Latino
community of Woonsocket RI to help them organize a campaign of the city’s first Latino at-large
candidate.

In closing, let me say that the Rhode Island Latino PAC has been a breath of fresh air to the
state’s political process. The seeds planted by its activity will bear economic fruit in the years to
come in the form of greater access to capital, increased educational and employment opportunity
for our children, access to better paying jobs, a greater say on how the state’s resources are
deployed and integration of Latinos into the economic and political fiber of the state.

Do not let this opportunity slip through your fingers. The time to act is now because if not now
when, and if not you, whom?

Thank you once again. Best wishes for success and don’t give up the fight! And let me assure
you that as our Mexican brothers and sisters found out in their defeat of the French, SI SE
PUEDE!