National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP)

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New York, NY 10011


Board of Directors
José R. Sánchez
Edgar DeJesus
Israel Colon
Maria Rivera
   Development Chair

Hector Figueroa

Tanya K. Hernandez
 Angelo Falcón

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Somos'  30-year 
N iLP Note: This past weekend, the NYS Puerto Rican/Hispanic Legislative Task Force, which sponsors the annual Somos El Futuro Conference in Albany every March, was held, celebrating its 30th anniversary. The theme this year was "A Legacy of Nourishing and Empowering Future Generations." Reflecting on this milestone, City & State Editor-at-Large Gerson Borrero wrote the article below expressing his thoughts on what he described as the meager accomplishments of the three decades of Somos organizing.
There was once a point when the Somos Conference was a major political networking event for Latinos throughout the State of New York. It brought together thousands of Latinos from Rochester, Buffalo, NYC, Yonkers, Brentwood and other parts of the state to weigh in on the state budget, meet with their state legislators, have our young people learn about the state legislative process and provide scholarships. For the more cynical, it was simply a way to lobby for their social program's state funding or to just party, as well as allow Anglo politicians to pander to Latinos.
Over time, Somos seems to have lost its steam. From those who attended this year, the perception was that attendance was down considerably and that the program and activities seemed unfocused and at some points conflicted with each other. There was, for example, no plenary session focusing on the main concern of the Latino community today ---namely,  the many threats posed by the Trump Presidency. There was also no serious discussion of the state's budget priorities, despite this being before the Legislature at the moment.
It appears that the time has come for the Board of Somos, chaired by the highly-regarded Paloma Izquierdo-Hernandez, along with the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Legislative Task Force headed by the equally well-regarded Assemblyman Marco Crespo,  to conduct a critical self-review with broad community participation on the future of Somos. Among the issues that such self-examination should consider should include:
1.  Developing more targeted themes for organizing, which this year could have been addressing the many challenges of a Trump Administration. This would give the many workshops presented a useful context for discussion. An overriding theme would be to see the Somos conference as an opportunity to help our Latino communities across the state to organize themselves and between each other during and after the conference. One possible product of the Somos Conference could be the publication of an annual statewide directory of Latino community organizations and elected officials that should be widely distributed to the Latino community.
2. Consider moving up the date of the Somos Conference to late January to allow it to serve as a community forum for a full discussion of the state government budget. As is currently the case, by the time Somos convenes in late March, the budget has already been passed or is in the final stages of adoption, not allowing for any serious public input. The Somos Conference should be a place where the Latino community is briefed on the budget by its state representatives and is provided an opportunity to comment and help set priorities.
3. In light of the extreme underrepresentation of Latinos in state government employment (despite being 18 percent of the population, Latinos are only 4.9 percent of the state government workforce), the Somos Conference should be utilized as the major state job fair. Instead of state agencies manning exhibition booths they should have their human resources staff present to interview prospective candidates for jobs within their agencies.
4. The Somos organization, a nonprofit, should be required to release a report on the results of the annual conference and to provide an accounting of its finances.  It would be useful to know, for example, how much money was raised for scholarships and who the recipients were. It would also be important to know how much different donors to the conference contributed.
Reflecting on its 30 years, the Somos organization and the Puerto Rican/Latino Legislative Task Force need to invest some time in rethinking its mission and purpose. Clearly, the election of Donald Trump raises the stakes for our community to the point where such organizing and advocacy opportunities that the Somos Conference presents cannot be wasted if our community is not only able to survive but also thrive.
If you would like to share any thoughts on this subject with the Chair of the NYS Puerto Rican/Latino Legislative Task Force, Assemblyman Marco Crespo, you can reach him at [email protected]. I am sure he would love to hear from you.
---Angelo Falcón

30 Years of Somos:
Has It Worked?
By Gerson Borrero
City & State (March 27, 2017)

One truly doesn't know what people are capable of. If you give them time - in this case, three decades - you could be pleasantly surprised, or you could be disheartened.
The theme for the 2017 Somos el Futuro conference in Albany is: "A Legacy of Nourishing and Empowering Future Generations." Really? What about hoy? After 30 years of the founding of Somos and New York state Assembly and Senate Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, I ask: Has it worked?
Without going too deep, I can tell you that I bore witness - yes, I'm that viejo - back in the 1980s, when seven puertorriqueños in the state Legislature - Assembly members Angelo Del Toro of East Harlem, Héctor Díaz, José Rivera and José Serrano of the Bronx and Brooklyn's Victor Robles, and state Sens. Olga Méndez of East Harlem and Israel Ruiz Jr. of the Bronx - were determined to convince their colegas in the Capitol and the power brokers within their own party that they were more than just tokens, beggars and annoying stepchildren in the state's political system. Every one of them was, after all, a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party, serving not only their constituents and his or her own personal ambitions, but also the future of Latinos in New York. These Puerto Rican pioneros in elective office knew then that someday there would be other Latinos elected in the Empire State.
Those New York Puerto Rican lawmakers no longer found it satisfactory just to be the elected representatives of their downstate districts. The seven políticos knew what was needed. Respeto from the ruling elite in government was a shared goal.
Yet not everyone took them seriously back then. (Some would argue that even today Latinos aren't given equal treatment and respect.) Though dynamic freethinking leaders within their own communities, on a statewide level they were - and still are - for the most part unwaveringly loyal Democrats who placidly went along without expecting or getting much in the way of rewards. They traditionally waited their turn, despite the fact that their party's largely unappreciative hierarchy excluded them from leadership positions in the state Democratic Committee. It still does.
It's always nice to be liked, as most of our politicos are. What's lacking is the elusive respeto and fear of our political muscle.
During that time, however, even as most state officials brushed off the rise of Puerto Rican power as insignificant, there was a willingness among savvier political leaders to at least listen to the clamor of these budding discontents. People like then-Assembly Speaker Stanley Fink and, to a lesser degree, Gov. Mario Cuomo, indicated that they took the Puerto Rican lawmakers more seriously. A source from the first Cuomo era in Albany - who spoke on background, as all Cuomo insiders, past and present, do most of the time - said that Fink in particular helped advance the lot of puertorriqueños in the state. "Fink never gets the credit for listening to what Puerto Ricans wanted and moving toward meeting those needs," the source told me at the time.
A lot has happened since the task force was established. I've witnessed, reported and opined about the potential of Somos (under its various names and epochs) and how it's come and gone. I've waited for 30 years to see state políticos from my community take what is never given: power!
It's always nice to be liked, as most of our politicos are. What's lacking is the elusive respeto and fear of our political muscle.
I've been privileged to have known and covered the first chairman, Angelo Del Toro. I've also witnessed Héctor Díaz, Roberto Ramírez, Peter Rivera, Carmen Arroyo, Félix Ortiz and current Chairman Marcos Crespo carry out their duties. Some of those chairs had successes, but most were plagued by the poor or nonexistent documentation of each conference's takeaways or the lack of a follow-up agenda for legislation change, bills to be introduced or a strategic plan for expanding the task force and Somos' reach. They all know they could've done better.
It's been treinta años of hearing about the need for patience with permanent government structures. I've heard excuses from eñangotados whose measure of success are the stipends they collect, the titles they're given, the invitations to the governor's mansion for political maneuvering and staple dishes from our exquisite cuisine on a Friday afternoon. They feel content with leaving with their panzas full while they get crumbs to take back to their districts.
Even among themselves and in dozens of conversations that I've been privy to at times - and repeated along these three decades - there's been a willingness to accommodate the agendas of those at the helm.
As the 30th Somos conference convenes, the question we must answer is: Has it worked?
I've already given you my answer. Think about yours and let the políticos know. Pa'lante mi gente.
The NiLP Report on Latino Policy & Politics is an online information service provided by the National Institute for Latino Policy. For further information, visit www.latinopolicy. org. Send comments to [email protected].