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Hispanics reflect on gains and setbacks of 2004

Posted January 02, 2005 by publisher in Cuban Americans.
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Yvonne Wingett | The Arizona Republic

It was a bittersweet 2004 for Arizona’s Latinos.

They lost as much as they gained and still struggled with the basics but believe they have much to hope for in 2005.

Rising stars advanced, new leaders emerged and the entrepreneurial spirit grabbed hold of many of the state’s 1.3 million Hispanics who transformed storefronts into carnicerias, bakeries and clothing shops. The growing economic and political impact of their community brought new profiles of hope, perseverance and increased opportunities for their children.

By some accounts, it was their year: Local groups organized a forum for the Democratic presidential candidates, arranged international gatherings and put themselves on the national map.

But 2004 also left Latinos with raw anger, doubt and frustration with themselves and fellow Arizonans. A new law stemming from Proposition 200 took hold last week. The measure revealed internal strain among Hispanics. It left immigrants confused and disappointed with what they believe is the state’s intolerance of them. But many Hispanics voted for the initiative, then cheered its way through courtrooms and to the law books.

Meanwhile, high dropout rates persisted, elected representation on Phoenix City Council remained absent and infighting within the community persisted.

“Despacio pero seguro,” or slowly but surely, Hispanics feel they will bridge differences, resolve their identity crisis and convert their numbers into political power. Many Hispanic leaders and residents question whether it can happen in 2005.

It can, some say, if they end tension between Latinos who have lived in the state for generations and immigrants and those split on party lines. They couldn’t in 2004 and then missed opportunities to get a head start on fighting Proposition 200, elect Latinos to public office and advance credibility of prominent organizations such as Arizona’s chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

“The theory is: One Latino goes up, another Latino tries to bring us down,” said Hispanic public consultant Mario Diaz. “It’s the unspoken reality of the Latino community. Latinos have to try to work together. With the lessons learned in 2004, 2005 is truly going to be the year of the Latino.”

Many predict this year’s budding generation of young leaders will take them there. Hispanics in Phoenix haven’t elected one of their own to public office in more than a decade. But Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon filled his administration with competent, well-regarded Latinos and created advisory groups to address concerns.

And politically sophisticated twenty- and thirty-somethings, including Michael Frias, Bettina Nava and Lydia Aranda wielded influence in campaigns, public affairs and business. Their fresh ideas, combined with the knowledge of longtime activists and leaders, could create a potent force in 2005. So could Hispanic business owners. The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, created to strengthen economic opportunities, grew its membership by 35 percent this year. Leaders of the organization predict a rise in Hispanic-owned businesses and increased participation in major commercial construction projects.

They foresee more Hispanics latching on to Leonor Treviņo’s idea and capitalizing on the Valley’s diverse market. Since Treviņo opened Cafe Latino on Seventh Avenue near Camelback Road in March, the bakery and restaurant have flourished. The Mesa Latina has built a base with many ethnicities, serving up cuisine from Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala.

“It’s going well,” Treviņo said.

But the year wasn’t as kind to Hispanics like 35-year-old Aureliano Dominguez. Proposition 200 hit his family hard psychologically, he said, arousing fears of deportation and discrimination. And sluggish taco sales forced him to cut the hours at El Caprichoso taqueria near 24th and Van Buren streets.

“The mobile vending industry has been impacted by so many factors,” said the immigrant from Sinaloa. “The economy has been slow, therefore businesses have had to close. There’s more downs than ups this year.”

But the ups of 2004 give Hispanics like Dominguez promise for 2005. He’s proud of his place in the community, the role he has assumed as leader of the taco vendors. His Mexican restaurant, Ma Ma Politas, at 20th and Washington streets is thriving. Besides, he said, it’s impossible for things to get any worse.

“Despacio pero seguro,” he said. “I’m very, very hopeful. “We contribute to the economy. Mexican restaurants are opening up. We’re getting more credit. We’re buying homes. So many more Latinos are getting recognition.

“So many things happened this year. I’m hoping for the best for next.”

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