0

Hispanic leaders urge involvement in county politics

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Members of the Hispanic community in Lovejoy have been urged to make their voices heard in county politics.

On Tuesday, during a forum for the Hispanic community, residents were urged to register to vote, do research on the people running for local offices, and become more informed about the school system's accreditation crisis

The town hall meeting, which was held at the Lovejoy Recreation Center, drew about two dozen Hispanic residents, Democratic party officials, community activists and various office-seekers. The school system's accreditation crisis and upcoming board of education elections were the major issues addressed.

The forum's participants were Maggie Martínez, one of the coordinators for the event, Jerry González, the executive director of Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO), and Patricia Pullar, a member of the Clayton County Board of Elections. It was moderated by Michelle Thomas, a candidate for the Clayton County Clerk of Courts post.

"What brought us together is a concern for this community, because of the accreditation issue," Martínez said. "We need to look for peace, and ways of working together to resolve this issue ... The responsibility does not only fall on the board members, but on all of us."

González said there were 93,000 registered Hispanic-American voters in Georgia last year. But, he added, there are an estimated 100,000 Hispanics in the state who are not registered to vote even though they are U.S. citizens and eligible to vote.

Another issue facing Hispanics, like all voters, is a high number of people who are registered to vote, but a low amount of people who are showing up at the polls on election day. González said it important to get more Latinos involved in elections, particularly local ones, because they are impacted by the outcome. He said they can be marginalized by elected officials, if their voice is not heard.

"All politics is local," González said. "It is important for you to be informed about the people who are running for office. Educate yourself on their positions on the issues, and engage them after the elections ... Show up and vote, but do not just vote for whomever. You have to do your home work on the people who are running for office."

Pullar said it is especially important for Hispanics to participate in the 2008 county elections because they will make, or break, Clayton County. "This is our last chance to get it right with the school board," she said. "We cannot continue to jeopardize the education of our children,because they are our future."

Martínez read each of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' (SACS) nine mandates for improving the school system -- in both English and Spanish. She then went through a list of who is currently occupying each seat on the board of education and who the candidates are, who are running for those seats.

Voters will elect people to fill seven board seats on July 15, but recall efforts have been launched to remove the people occupying the other two seats. Martínez told the audience members they need to vote for candidates who are "professionals that know about education, administration, budgets, legislation and the parliamentary process."

Daisy Alvarado, a Lovejoy resident of 17 years whose daughters attend Lovejoy middle and high schools, said she attended the forum because her family is concerned about the school system's accreditation, and how it will affect the education her children are receiving. Her oldest daughter, Yuleana, is a junior at Lovejoy High School, and possible affects of an accreditation loss have been weighing on the pupil's mind.

"If that happens, she may not be able to get into college," Daisy Alvarado said.

Martínez said there will similar forums to educate Hispanics in Forest Park and Morrow in the coming weeks, but dates for those have not yet been finalized.