The District of Columbia Commission on Spanish Affairs has undergone a name change and a reorganization which the new members hope will give the group a greater voice in addressing the problems of the city's Spanish speaking communities.
The name change to the Commission on Latino and Community Development, along with the swearing in last week of 15 new commission members, will help change the image of the old commission, members said.
But it is the removal of the Office of Latino Affairs from the Department of Human Resources to a position directly under the mayor's supervision that Latin leaders say will help solve the problems for some of the city's 50,000 Spanish speaking people.
Several Latin community leaders had complained about the status of the Latino Affairs office when it was under the Department of Human Resources, saying that it was "buried" and received little attention while there.
After seven years of low visibility not only within the district government but in the Latin communities as well, coupled with a low staff budget and the inability to take advantage of federal funds, the old commission was severely hampered in its effectiveness, Latin officials said.
"We didn't have the programs that we needed; we were unable to get federal funds for programs because we didn't know what was available," said Carlos Rosario, acting director of the Officer of Latino Affairs.
Rosario said the District's Spanish speaking people are mostly from South and Central America. The major Latin communities are Mount Pleasant, Adams-Morgan, Dupont Circle and Friendship heights.
"Under the new commission, we will have representatives from all the (city) departments at our meetings to work with us," Rosario said. "We will be able to begin developing good adult education programs and programs to teach our people skills . . . "
Named to the new commission were: Isbael Bayona, Dr. Ricardo Galbis, Pedro A. Lujan. Casilda Luna, Rev. Sean O'Malley, Aia Luz Berio, Lucy B. Caravajal, Dr. Lucy M. Cohen, Marcela Q. Davila, Josephine Ades Sanchez, Francisco Delgado, Rev. Julain Hernandez, Mary Ann Justiz, V. Hector Rodriguez, and Arturo Valle.
One of the big problems in developing comprehensive education, counseling and vocational training programs in Spanish-speaking communities is the fragmented efforts of several poorly funded groups, Latin leaders have said.They hope that the new commission will be able to better coordinate programs for the communities.
"For so long we have been second class citizens," said. Pedro Lujan, acting chairman of the commission. "No one speaks Spanish in the welfare department - no one speaks Spanish in the housing department. We want to participate in the government of this city, not be taken advantage of," he said.
"We hope this new commission will give us the power, in a united effort, to help the people," he said. "We will continue to lobby with the major and the city council to get what we need."