A group of D.C. Hispanic community leaders accused the District government yesterday of giving the burgeoning Latino community short shrift in hiring and in providing a wide range of social services.
The Hispanics said that while they compose at least 10 percent of the District's 623,000 residents, they routinely receive only a fraction of that or nothing in the municipal government's funding for services for the handicapped, children and families, the elderly, health care, economic development and job training. In addition, the Hispanic leaders said that Latinos make up less than 1 percent of the District government's work force.
"We are tired of being served with nice words and hope," Marcelo Fernandez-Zayas, director of bilingual education for the D.C. school system, said in releasing a report analyzing city services to Hispanics.
The group, calling itself the Ad Hoc Coalition for a Latino Community Agenda, prepared the report after consulting with 30 Latino community organizations and numerous individual Hispanics.
Enrique S. Rivera-Torres, the leader of the group, said that in the past the Hispanic community here "has basically received patchwork relief" from the District government. In the meantime, he said, Hispanic community organizations have not been able to provide the increased services necessary to cope with the sharp increases in the Hispanic population, which is growing by 10,000 a year, many of them newly arrived illegal aliens from Central America.
"We're feeling [the shortage of services] is of crisis proportion," Rivera said." There has to be an enhanced sensitivity on the part of the District government to the Latino population."
The report, in part, grew out of Hispanic concern about the demotion and eventual firing of Jose Gutierrez, once a cabinet official for Mayor Marion Barry and the highest-ranking Hispanic in the D.C. government. Barry had requested the report and, according to Rivera, "acknowledged the need for District government to become more responsive to Latino needs and concerns."
The Hispanic group gave the report to Gladys W. Mack, a Barry aide. Annette Samuels, Barry's press secretary, said the mayor had not seen it yet and that "after we've reviewed it, maybe we'll have some comment."
Rivera said that "I can only go by what Barry says, that his interest is genuine, that the District government has neglected the Latino community and that he will act when he knows our concerns."
The Hispanic group's report said the District government could make a "significant and swift impact" with four measures: promoting Latinos to fill policy-making jobs in the District government, making "bilingual, cross-cultural expertise the cornerstone of a Latino program" in the city, requiring the Human Services and Vital Statistics departments to identify Latinos and other ethnic minorities, and regularly monitoring the city's performance in providing services to the Hispanic community.
"We wish to stress the fact that our community is not seeking handouts from the District government, or seeking to become helpless wards of the city," Rivera said. In addition, he said the report "should not be viewed as a set of demands upon our city government, but rather as a collection of ideas on what we need to do to begin to correct the problems faced by Latinos in our city."