Esther Guzmán, Director of Community Action’s West Ward Neighborhood Partnership, has been an activist for many years, working with Bethlehem’s Police Department, assisting many other non-profits and training the community in cultural sensitivity. As National Hispanic Heritage Month wraps up, Esther submits the following post:
National Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from September 15 to October 15 to celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of persons whose ancestors came from Spain, the Caribbean, Central and South America. The observation started in 1968 when President Lyndon Johnson declared a week of celebrations. It was enacted into law on August 17 and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan to cover a 30 day period.
There are 3 million Latino-owned companies with over $500 billion in revenue; and Latinos have a buying power estimated at $1.2 trillion annually, according to the latest Nielsen report.
These numbers are, indeed, impressive; but Latinos still suffer from wage discrimination, redlining when buying a home or getting insurance and experience less advancement in the work place.
At Community Action we have been challenging these forms of discrimination by offering first-time homebuyers classes for 20 years, helping more than 1,200 Latino families buy their first home. We fought predatory lenders who targeted Latinos and tested real estate agents and determined that disparate treatment was pervasive, finding they were less willing to schedule appointments with Latinos, steered them into specific areas or were flat out denied information on financing options. Through our Financial Services program we make sure that future buyers, not only Latinos, understand their rights as first time homebuyers. We educate renters on fair housing laws.
Through The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund, over $500,000 in loans have been made to Latino small business owners so that they may increase their inventory, hire additional employees and overall improve their businesses.
We have provided food, via Second Harvest Food Bank, to local food banks and other local agencies, we provide shelter for families that are struggling with personal and financial challenges; we provide information on healthy eating through our Cooking Matters program and weatherize hundreds of homes to help them save money on their energy bills.
One-third of our employees are Latino; we offer information in English and Spanish in all our programs and we are constantly challenging those that discriminate in any shape or form against Latinos.
At our subsidiaries, the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem and the Community Action Development Corporation of Allentown over 200 Latinos that want to start a business have participated in our “Start Your Business” classes, 61% of them have started their own businesses.
All of us at Community Action are working hard to ensure that the promise of America is extended to all of its people. We take this opportunity to congratulate all our Latino staff and program participants in the celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month.