Isle’s Hispanic community organizes

LIHU’E — About 25 Hispanic residents gathered for a town meeting recently to

look at ways of promoting the Hispanic culture on Kaua’i and to mobilize

politically to have their needs met by government officials.

They plan to

form a Hispanic council to convey their concerns to officials, use the media

to convey positive images of their culture and register with the U.S. Census

Bureau this year to bring federal dollars to Kaua’i.

“Our children demand

that we be here,” said Eduardo Valenciana, who hosted the meeting at the

Lihu’e Lutheran Church. He is owner of Tres Hermanos de Kaua’i and editor of

El Jardin newspaper, published on Kaua’i.

Valenciana said the meeting was

held to bring awareness that Hispanics are moving to Kaua’i and are visiting

the island in greater numbers than any other ethnic group.

The county

boasts 5,000 Hispanic residents, he said. Many have moved to Kaua’i because

they see the island as a “safe place to raise their children,” Valenciana

said.

Audience member Oliva Villagomez, a single mother said she and her

four children moved from Los Angeles to Kaua’i because she wanted to raise her

family in a drug-free environment.

And, Valenciana said, the economics of

Central and South American are continually improving to the point that there is

now a middle class that likes to travel.

Valenciana said he has a

difficult time convincing Kaua’i County to spend money to court Hispanic

travelers.

Kaua’i Hawaii Visitors Bureau officials have said the

Hispanic market is a new and viable market, but one that will take time to

develop.

When Hispanic visitors come to Kaua’i, they will be sightseeing

without much help from government, Valenciana said. “There are no Spanish

(language ) signs at the (Lihu’e) Airport,” he said.

The needs of Hispanic

residents also aren’t being fully met at this time, Valenciana said.

None

of the county agencies —fire, police and other agencies — has

Spanish-speaking personnel, he said.

In an emergency, translators would

not be readily available to help Hispanic residents who don’t speak English

well, he said.

If services for Hispanics aren’t improved, Hispanics will

vote for officials that will listen to them, Valenciana said.

Audience

members Villagomez , Luis Hernandez and others said they hoped Monday’s town

meeting will serve as an impetus to get more Hispanics involved in the

political process.

Villagomez said she has had trouble getting the state to

release a $1,000 in monthly child support payments and hopes political

pressure wielded by the group will help her.

Hernandez said red tape has

prevented a Hispanic resident from getting married on Kaua’i.

Hispanics are

becoming a larger part of American society and their needs should be met,

Valenciana said.

He noted:

* By the year 2005, Hispanic Americans will

be the largest minority in the United State.

* By the year 2050, one in

every person in the United States will be Hispanic.

* The ten top radio

stations in the United States play Spanish music.

* Mexico has culturally

claimed the Southwest United States.

To assert their presence on Kaua’i,

Hispanics should register with the U.S. Census Bureau by April 1, said Oscar

Reconco, a community partnership specialist with the Los Angeles office of the

U.S. Department of Commerce of the Bureau of Census.

Having Portuguese

residents identify themselves as Hispanic rather than Caucasian will help bring

millions of federal dollars to Kaua’i, Reconco said.

Many Portuguese in

Hawaii, Valencia said, decided not to be identified as Hispanics in the census

figures in the past apparently because they didn’t want to be connected with

negative images that were used to portray Hispanics in the past, Valenciana

said.

“Because of stereotyping, we have a cultural group that doesn’t want

to be recognized with Frito Bandito or Speedy Gonsalez,” Valenciana said. “But

that is gone. We have wonderful representatives.”

They include newsman

Gerald Rivera, singing star Ricky Martin and boxing champion Oscar de la

Hoya.

Should there be a record of a large Hispanic population on Kaua’i,

“there will be better benefits for the community, better roads, jobs,

hospitals,” Reconco said.

Reconco said he and Wanda Hanson, a Bureau of

Census representative from Honolulu, were on Kaua’i to encourage more Hispanics

to participate in the Census 2000.

Any information that is collected is

confidential and is protected by federal law, Reconco said.

“We aren’t here

to report to the U.S. Immigration Service. We aren’t here to report to DHS

welfare, and we aren’t here to do the housing project,” Hanson said. “Our

biggest job is to get people counted so that federal dollars can be allotted to

the states that deserve them.”

A U.S. Census employee who releases

confidential information could face a five-year prison term and a five-year

prison term, Reconco said.

The meeting was videotaped by Ho’ike and will

be televised at 4:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. from March 3-5, according to Mike

Stevens, a Ho’ike spokesman. Individuals interested in getting more information

about the meeting can reach Valenciana at tresbros@Yahoo. com.

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