Latino Summit 2022

Twenty-two years ago, Juanita Perez-Bassler and Dr. Claudia Rueda-Alvarez decided to start an organization dedicated to supporting Latinx students living within the northwest suburbs of Chicago. These two visionary women began with a mission to improve academic achievement among Hispanic/Latinx students and to encourage the pursuit of higher education. They called their organization The Latino Summit. 

The Latino Summit is now in its 22nd year. We operate as a 501c3, serving over 500 Hispanic/Latinx students from 17 northwest suburban high schools yearly. Like our Latinx community, we are stronger than ever. 

Our annual event, which normally takes place in-person in November, will now be a hybrid event due to the pandemic. During the week of March 7th, participants will be engaging in various activities at local colleges or virtually through the Latino Summit app. Those participants looking for educational support will get the opportunity to learn about the college process and transitioning from high school into higher education. They will also get the opportunity to hear from current Latinx college students and professionals about their experiences.  

In addition to educational support and services, participants will also have mentoring and networking opportunities, and pursuits related to personal development and career goals. Though we direct many of our services to high school students, any Latinx community member interested in personal, educational, and career development may use the platform by registering for the event and downloading the app ((

We are a self-and grant-funded nonprofit volunteer organization. All of the funding goes directly to the students we serve. Therefore, you can also support our organization by volunteering to join our college student or professional panel, become a sponsor of our annual event, or donate to this worthy cause ( 

Pamela Fullerton is a bilingual and bicultural Latina Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor.

She runs Advocacy & Education Consulting, a professional counseling and consulting organization dedicated to ensuring social justice and advocacy through equitable access to mental health and educational-based services and supports.

Pamela specializes in trauma, immigration and acculturation, BIPOC experiences, career counseling, and life transitions.

Cover Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash

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Latino News Network chosen to participate in Democracy SOS

“We are thrilled to welcome the inaugural cohort,�reads the announcement by Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) and Hearken, sponsors of Democracy SOS. �Together, they will experiment with new ways to strengthen democracy by working with and for the communities they serve.�

The nine-month Democracy SOS fellowship will support reporters and editors in significantly strengthening journalism’s role in advancing our democracy through innovative approaches that build civic engagement, equity and healthy discourse.

Democracy SOS Fellowship

The Latino News Network (LNN) is one of 20 news outlets accepted to participate in the initiative. “Journalism plays a critical role in preserving democracy,� said Hugo Balta, Owner and Publisher of LNN. �I am grateful that our newsroom will have the support to continue producing coverage that builds understanding, trust and engagement.�

Connecticut Latino News (CTLN) is producing the Advancing Democracy: Connecticut Solutions Journalism, a special series exploring solutions to why Hispanics-Latinos don’t vote by engaging with thought leaders in Connecticut and drawing from the best practices and lessons learned in communities across the country. The six-month program is sponsored by the SJN.

CTLN is one of the five independent news and information digital outlets that LNN oversees in New England and the Midwest.

SUGGESTION: Removing Language Barriers In Voting

“The Democracy SOS fellowship will not only help us expand the solutions journalism, Advancing Democracy initiative to our other markets, but also provide our news team with invaluable training,� said Balta.

Newsrooms will participate in a curriculum that includes training in the Citizens Agenda approach, solutions journalism, asset framing, ethics, solutions journalism and building trust in news alongside timely elective workshops.

Illinois Latino News (ILLN) is one of five independent statewide coverage, Hispanic-Latino editorial focus, English language news, and information websites under the ownership and leadership of nationally recognized journalist and media advocate, Hugo Balta. 

ILLN’s mission is to provide greater visibility and voice to Hispanics-Latinos in Illinois – an underrepresented community in mainstream newsrooms and news coverage.

Solutions Journalism Network (SJN): While journalists focus most of their coverage on what’s gone wrong, SJN seeks to rebalance the news by equipping journalists to investigate and explain, in a critical and clear-eyed way, how people are trying to solve social problems. Since its founding in 2013, SJN has worked with more than 600 news organizations and 25,000 journalists worldwide through in-person workshops and online resources and webinars.

Hearken helps organizations embed stakeholder listening into their growth and operations to build more resilient companies and communities. Hearken has shown that listening leads to stronger relationships, deeper engagement and better decisions, and enables individuals to make an outsize positive impact in the world. In 2020, Hearken worked in collaboration with more than two dozen civic organizations (including SJN) to stand up and deliver Election SOS, which supported journalists in responding to critical election information needs.

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Making Small Business A BIG Success

Small businesses are making a comeback after two challenging years under COVID-19. There were more than 47,000 new business registrations in Connecticut in 2021; a 20 percent increase from 2020, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

CT Latino News spoke with Sonia Alvelo, CEO of Latin Financial, a family-owned and operated brokerage firm in Newington with offices in Puerto Rico. “Everybody was lost, everybody was overwhelmed,” said Alvelo on the Latino News Network’s podcast, â€œ3 Questions With…â€� about the early days of the pandemic when small businesses were scrambling to get financial help in order to stay afloat. “There was so much miscommunication,” she said.

Alvelo described the beginning of the pandemic as a tense and stressful situation as her firm scrambled to help their clients access Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding.

Many members of the Hispanic-Latino community weren’t aware of COVID financial aid, including the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program until Alvelo told them. She worked with dozens of business owners submitting first-time applications, loan increase requests, and reconsiderations of denied requests – many times translating information in Spanish.

SUGGESTION: Small Businesses Surviving And Thriving Through COVID-19

Alvelo said there are three things that make any small business successful: passion, logistics, and a good accountant.

“Start a business that you’re good at and love,” she said. “The second is logistics – have a solid plan of action,” Alvelo advises. And the third is a good CPA because it sets you up for success she said.

Much of the work Alvelo provides is at no cost, an investment in the community that she says is paying dividends in new clients for her company. She plans to hire new employees and expand her business beyond Connecticut and Puerto Rico.

Analysis: Little Change In Access To Housing Financing For Latinos

After reviewing all home loan data for 2013, 2015 analysis by attorney Christine Wellington of Derry concluded that ethnicity was the only variable besides household income that was consistently a significant predictor of loan denial.

“In short, in 2013, if you were Latino you were significantly less likely to have access to housing financing,� the report states. “This is true controlling for applicant gender; type of loan (origination v. refinancing); conventional v. government-backed; loan amount; race; denial reason; and geography.�

A report by the Concord Monitor finds that when the study was updated in 2020, Wellington and her associates noted that little had changed: “Our 2020 analysis echoes the findings of the 2015 assessment: People of color concentrated in the poorest neighborhoods still face the same obstacles outlined in 2015. By every measure, those neighborhoods faced conditions and access to opportunity far below the state average.�

According to the 2020 Census, Hispanics-Latinos comprise 7.6 percent of the population statewide, 21 percent in Manchester, and 23 percent in Nashua.

The Granite State News Collaborative used the HMDA database to analyze the lending patterns of the state’s top 20 mortgage lenders from 2018 to 2020 and found wide variation in denial rates.

CMG Mortgage, Freedom Mortgage, CrossCountry Mortgage, and Fairway Independent Mortgage all denied Hispanics-Latinos at more than twice the rates they deny whites, while Quicken Loans, HarborOne Mortgage, and Digital FCU had denial rates that were identical or within a few percentage points of each other. 

GSBC reached out to lenders with high denial rates for Hispanics-Latinos and heard back from several (see sidebar). Fairway spokesperson Alyson Austin offered an answer that was similar to what many others said.

HMDA data is “an appropriate first step in this type of inquiry,� she wrote in an email, but added, “additional analysis is needed to determine whether factors unrelated to race explain disparities observed in raw HMDA data.�

To read more about the analysis, reaction to the findings, read Discriminatory home lending persists in New Hampshire.

Cover Photo by Tierra Mallorca on Unsplash

Latino Businesses Credited For Resurgence of Shopping Mall

Business owners and local leaders celebrated the opening of 16 new businesses at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield on Tuesday, all Hispanic-Latino-owned.

Borisushi, a self-described Latin-style sushi restaurant, was among the businesses celebrated by the Massachusetts Latino Chamber of Commerce at the ribbon-cutting ceremony and given citations from the Massachusetts Senate.

“The resurgence of the Eastfield Mall from Latino and Black-owned businesses sets the tone for transitioning malls, shopping plazas, and downtown storefronts all over Springfield and Massachusetts. The pandemic has only increased the motivation for our community to take the leap and become their own boss as business owners,� said Andrew Melendez, Director of the Massachusetts Latino Chamber of Commerce.

BoriSushi, Eastfield Mall, Springfield, MA
Photo Courtesy: BoriSushi

In all, there are 22 Hispanic-Latino-owned businesses at the Eastfield Mall. The feat comes amid statistics that show Hispanic-Latino businesses in Massachusetts lag behind the national average.

Hispanics-Latinos and the Black community make up more than a fifth of the state’s population but own just over 3 percent of businesses with employees — less than half the national rate of Hispanic-Latino and Black business ownership, according to a U.S. Census survey of entrepreneurs released in 2018.

GBH News reports that if the self-employed are factored in, Hispanic-Latino and Black people own about 9 percent of all businesses in the state, also less than half the national average, according to the Census survey in 2012.

 Part of the problem is that Hispanic-Latino businesses face higher demands for collateral from lenders and are turned down for loans more often than their white counterparts.

SUGGESTION: Latino Entrepreneurs, Often Shunned By Banks, Band Together To Build Their Businesses

In a December study, the consulting firm McKinsey found that “Latinos have the lowest rate of using bank and financial institution loans to start their businesses compared with other racial and ethnic groups,� rely more on personal funds and receive a tiny fraction of the billions of dollars invested each year by venture capital firms.

“Hola, I’m Adriana”

“I am a first-generation professional, and I’m in the business of people, ‘ says Adriana Dawson in greeting visitors to her Linkedin profile – that is after “Hola, I’m Adriana.”

Dawson is the Community Engagement Director at Verizon. She drives strategy and execution supporting Citizen Verizon – Verizon’s responsible business plan delivering on its mission to move the world forward by addressing pressing societal issues through action.

She is also the host of US Tech Future, a Verizon-led community-focused initiative working to engage the local community in a discussion about technology and how it can improve the lives of local residents for their benefit and the benefit of the community as a whole.

In a recent episode, Dawson interviewed Angela Bannerman Ankoma, Vice President and Executive Director of the Equity Leadership Initiative (ELI) at the Rhode Island Foundation. “I don’t take the work I do lightly,” said Bannerman Ankoma in answering Dawson’s question about her personal journey, and what led her to do the work she leads. “I know there are many people in our community who have similar stories like me. Who, if it wasn’t for initiatives or programs (like the ones supported by the Rhode Island Foundation) wouldn’t be where they are.”

Adriana Dawson speaks with Angela Bannerman Ankoma, Vice President and Executive Director of the Equity Leadership Initiative (ELI) at the Rhode Island Foundation.

While born and raised in Rhode Island, Dawson’s roots connect to the first Colombians to arrive in the state. Settling in Central Falls, her family assisted new arrivals with housing, employment, and other new world needs. Dawson was featured in the Latino Policy Institute’s #LatinosInRI series.

“Some of my earliest memories involve acting as a translator for my family and being sourced as a navigator for other newly arrived Spanish-speaking families,” she said. “I quickly learned the power of community, activating as a connector, and using my voice to assist others.”

Dawson said, “As an adult, I chose to leverage these formative experiences + my skills to continue the work on a larger scale to support greater societal impact and action.”

Last August she was named to the Providence Public Library (PPL) board of trustees. “The library is an anchor to so many in the community,” she said in a video message. “Particularly invisible populations, traditionally under-resourced, underserved groups.”

PPL received a $100,000 grant from Verizon to expand its technology-related education initiatives and workforce development opportunities in 2020. The grant, the library announced, would be used to help enhance equitable access to relevant skills needed to be successful in the digital age.

“It is magical what happens in the library,” said Adriana Dawson,
a member of the Providence Public Library board of trustees

Dawson is also a first-generation professional. She came from hard-working factory workers who worked long days; family dinner conversations never consisted of stories of the office or their industry. Her lived experiences launched her career and have continued to guide her professionally these past 25+ years.

“I thrive at the intersection of social innovation + business development. I help lift the voice of community and systemically overlooked populations through dialogues, engagements, and thought partnerships to honor their history, narrative, and self-identified opportunities,” Dawson said.

LPI and RI Latino News; partners in elevating the visibility and voices of Rhode Island’s Hispanic-Latino communities.

Is there someone in the community you think we should feature? Send us your ideas to

Afro-Latinas stress the complexity of their roots

The first time DePaul junior, Ariana Collazo heard of an Afro-Latina individual in school was last year during her Afro Caribbean class when Haitian American novelist Edwidge Danticat came to speak to her class.  

“Listening to her story was really inspiring and I’ll never forget watching her,â€� said Collazo. 

Collazo said she felt connected to the author’s experience of being ostracized and the way classmates treated her differently growing up, coming from a Puerto Rican and African American background. 

Ariana Collazo in front of Lane Tech High School.
Photo courtesy by Ariana Collazo.

Collazo said she remembers being teased by elementary school kids when they found out that her mom was African American. “Of course, not speaking Spanish, they’d always be like ‘How are you a real Puerto Rican if you can’t even speak Spanish, and your mom is Black?â€� Collazo said. 

Although in the U.S 5 percent of the population identifies as Afro-Latino according to 2019 Pew Research, there are around 150 million Afro Latinos in Latin America’s 540 million total population according to a CRS Report

The histories of Afro-Latinas have been largely erased from most educational discourses leaving individuals to learn about it on their own and deal with the repercussions of not seeing themselves represented. 

The invisibility of Afro-Latinos in popular discourse and media leads many young individuals to wrestle with the validity of their ethnic identity. 

Dr. Jacqueline Lazú associate dean and professor at Depaul said, “Not having your narratives centered in any historical tradition, cultural tradition, that you belong to makes you feel excluded. It makes you feel like you’re not worthy, it makes you feel like your experience and your history and who you are doesn’t matter.â€� 

The community also holds colorist ties causing Afro-Latinos to feel that they must favor their Latino instead of their Black roots in order to avoid prejudice, a common occurrence if they have a lighter complexion. 

Michelle Bueno Vasquez a Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University studying political science and transnational Afro-Latino diaspora, said “For some people, that’s a difficult thing to reckon with, that you’re going to introduce that difference and expose yourself to racist harm, subconsciously some folks just don’t want to go there, they would rather not identify as Black.â€� 

According to a study by the State University of New York at Albany, Latinos who identify themselves as Black have lower-incomes, higher unemployment rates, higher poverty rates, less education, and fewer opportunities than those who identify themselves as “Whiteâ€� or “otherâ€�. 

Bueno Vasquez said the mobilization of Latino political organizations has encouraged many Afro-Latinos to identify themselves with Latinos instead of their Black roots in order to gain more funding from the government.

This tactical behavior leads to minority movement essentialization when minority movements set defining cultural or biological characteristics that are shared by all members to create a unified category that benefits the majority within the minority.

Michelle Bueno Vasquez at Las Terrenas, República Dominicana.  
Photo courtesy by Michelle Bueno Vasquez

“It leaves people like myself, Afro-Latinos or indigenous Latinos, or Latinos who don’t speak Spanish like Brazilians, Haitians in the dust and doesn’t provide for our safety, our inclusion, and our benefits, and uses funds that essentially we helped them get,� said Bueno Vasquez.

Afro-Latino’s denying their Blackness, “It also means you have to deny parts of yourself and probably encounter a lot of microaggressions in order to be in those spaces,â€� said Bueno Vasquez. 

Bueno Vasquez and Collazo were among the many Afro-Latina women that experienced low self-esteem in their youth.  

Bueno Vasquez said she recalls around the ages of nine or 10, “I would pray to God that I would wake up being lighter and having straighter hair and green eyesâ€� whereas Collazo said she remembers thinking she was ugly. 

Bueno Vasquez said educating girls of Afro-Latina histories and seeing them in the media at an early age can be beneficial because it can help bypass the self-hatred and self-effacing period many go through. 

Bueno Vasquez advises people to acknowledge the internal racism that everyone has in terms of one’s appearance and others. She said to question why one may find certain qualities to be attractive because “When we think of sexual attraction or taste, it’s a lot of times reproduction of learned racist hierarchies and things we think afford privilege.â€� 

Lazú said that the problem lies within the dominant Westernized beauty standards that Latin America and the United States have constructed to purposefully cast a negative image of people with dark complexions. 

Lazú said Afro-Latinas must be “willing to understand and change the ways in which we may ourselves be even unwittingly complicit in reinforcing those beauty standards and systems of oppression. We should demand representation and advocate for the inclusion of Black and Indigenous women in the spaces we see us missing.â€�  

For more information on advancing the visibility of Black Latinidad visit the Afro-Latino Forum online.  

Cover Graphic by Jocelyn Diaz

Jacqueline Cardenas

“Jacqueline Cardenas is an undergrad sophomore majoring in journalism with a concentration in Latino Communication at DePaul University. She is a first-generation Mexican-American student and aspires to diversify the news industry. She loves nature and reading in her spare time. Twitter: @jackiecardenas_�

Publisher’s Notes: You can read Santiago’s Spanish language version of Afro-Latinas stress the complexity of their roots by clicking on Mes de la Historia Afroamericana: Afrolatinas destacan la complejidad de sus raíces.

Illinois Latino News (ILLN) and La DePaulia are partners in best serving the Hispanic-Latino community.

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Support strengthening to give  undocumented immigrants the right to drive legally 

“My kids were terrified to see the police,â€� testified Nadia Gonzales, a resident of Nashua who immigrated from Mexico. Gonzalez joined advocates in support of H.B. 1463 at a public meeting earlier this month hosted by the Transportation Committee of New Hampshire House of Representatives.

Local immigrants’ rights organizations in favor of three bills primarily sponsored Rep. George Sykes from Lebanon (D) say H.B. 1463, 1666, and 1093 would make roads safer for all motorists.

“A person can be in New Hampshire 100 percent legally but can be waiting for their papers for over a year because of bureaucratic delays,â€� said Sarah Knoy, American Friends Service Committee. â€œA warning became a nightmare for this family. Those children still today are terrified when they see a police officer. She’s back at home now, but the trauma lingers,â€� Knoy testified about an immigrant woman detained by ICE after a speeding ticket.

H.B. 1463 proposes a Real ID type of driver’s license allowing people to travel inside the U.S without a passport.

If approved, H.B. 1666 would prohibit the New Hampshire Department of Motor Vehicles from sharing personal information with immigration enforcement agencies.

H.B. 1093 would permit nonresidents living in New Hampshire to obtain a 180-day temporary driver’s license while waiting on their asylum status application. 

The committee doesn’t have a date to vote yet.

In Massachusetts, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

“This is a public safety bill,” said State Rep. Andy Vargas of H.B. 4461. “It’s about making sure we keep all of our communities safe, that we have drivers that are licensed that go through the right process.”

The bill requires individuals provide documentation to obtain a license including proof of their identity, residency in the state and date of birth. The new rules would apply to those who do not have proof they are in the country legally, including those not eligible for a Social Security number.

The House voted 120-36 in favor of the measure on February 16. The bill still requires approval by the Massachusetts Senate, before heading to Governor Baker. 

Undocumented immigrants in 16 other states, including Connecticut and Vermont, are already able to get a driver’s license.

Cover Photo: Ron Lach from Pexels

Publisher’s Note: this story is an aggregate from reports by NHPR and NBC Boston.

Culturally tailored programs boosts colonoscopy rates among Latinos in Providence 

Colon cancer causes about 11 percent of cancer deaths among Hispanic-Latino males and nine percent among Hispanic-Latina females, according to the American Gastroenterological Association.

There are many possible obstacles to colon cancer screening in the Hispanic-Latino population, including language barriers.

Researchers enrolled nearly 700 Spanish-speaking adults in Providence, in a 28-month program that included outreach and guidance by a Spanish-speaking health navigator of Hispanic-Latino origin.

KJZZ reported that 85 percent of residents identifying as Hispanic or Latino got colonoscopies, and 90 percent said they wouldn’t have done so without the program.

A recent study in the journal Cancer suggests culturally tailored programs might help raise colonoscopy rates among Hispanic-Latino adults.

Experts find factors like cultural beliefs, language barriers, and limits imposed by work, insurance and transportation are the root cause for the lack of screenings.

Colorectal cancer ranks as the group’s second leading cause of cancer deaths.

Publisher’s Note: this story is an aggregate from Culturally tailored programs can boost colonoscopy rates among Hispanic adults.

Removing language barriers in voting

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“People feel excluded in not having the knowledge because of the language barrier,� said Luis Lorenzo, a resident of Bristol, about what he thinks keeps new Americans like himself from participating in the electoral process. Lorenzo is originally from Mexico.

Lorenzo was featured in Voting System Fails Immigrants, as part of the Advancing Democracy: Connecticut Solutions Journalism Initiative that (CTLN) is undertaking as part of eight reporting projects in 10 newsrooms across the United States. The six-month program is sponsored by the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN); its mission is to spread the practice of solutions journalism: rigorous reporting on responses to social problems.

CTLN is exploring solutions to these problems by engaging with thought leaders in Connecticut and drawing from the best practices and lessons learned in communities across the country.

“Now, with me becoming a citizen, it gave me the opportunity to contribute, to have a voice – not only for me but other people”, said Luis Lorenzo, Bristol.
WATCH the Interview.

“Inability to speak or read English cannot be a barrier to the most cherished right of a U.S. citizen, the right to vote,â€� said Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, in an interview with NBC. Vargas cited the example of Puerto Ricans, the majority of Hispanics-Latinos in Connecticut, who are not required to read or write English if they live in Puerto Rico.

A Puerto Rican who moves to the U.S. mainland and is not proficient in English “is a fully franchised U.S. citizen and must have free and complete access to the ballot,” said Vargas, regardless of language proficiency.

As a way to make voting more accessible, the U.S. Census Bureau notified 10 Connecticut towns and cities last December that they had to provide language assistance for eligible Hispanic-Latino voters whose English skills were deemed inadequate to participate in the electoral process.

This federal mandate emanated from Section 203 of the 1975 revision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and is based on American Community Survey figures. The criteria are a minority language group comprising at least 5 percent or 10,000 members of the eligible voter population.

For 2021, the Census Bureau designated 331 jurisdictions across the United States that must provide bilingual voting assistance compared to 263 in 2016. This list ranges from entire states, such as Florida and California, with large Hispanic and Asian populations, to central Alaskan villages where Yup’ik is a prevalent language.

Ricardo Negron-Almodovar, All Voting is Local’s Florida campaign manager says new language accessibility determinations under Section 203 are hindered by U.S. laws that do not fully remove language barriers in elections. “These disparities in language provisions ultimately have a discriminatory effect on our multiracial democracy, leaving out entire swaths of people,” Negron-Almodovar said. He believes over a million Floridians find themselves at a disadvantage when voting because English isn’t their primary language.

In many cases, compliance has been an ongoing process spanning more than one five-year consent periods. In Connecticut, the Section 203 towns include nine designated in 2016: Bridgeport, East Hartford. Hartford, Meriden, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Waterbury, and Windham. Norwalk was added this time.

Section 203 serves as a double-edged tool in removing the language speed bump inhibiting and complicating Hispanic-Latino voter turnout.

Whether Section 203 compliance can positively increase the number of Hispanics-Latinos going to the polls, Teresa Begnal, Waterbury’s Democratic Register, says “absolutely.” And without these structures, she said, “there would definitely be more confusion.

A primary reason that Congress included minority language provisions in the Voting Rights Act was an awareness that many members of these groups had been effectively excluded from participation in the electoral process.

U.S. Rep. John Larson, whose constituency includes Hartford and East Hartford, sees the provision’s call to action as integral to the current debate about voting rights. He noted these mandates are strengthened in the John R. Lewis Voting Act, which is currently stalled in the Senate.

“We must do everything we can to make voting as accessible as possible,” Larson said. He also suggests that if anyone has any concerns, they should report them to their local election board and the Secretary of the State.

Mark Hugo Lopez, Director of Hispanic Research at the Pew Research Center on language barriers immigrant voters face

“There are many Hispanic immigrants, including those who are U.S. citizens, who aren’t necessarily comfortable in their English speaking abilities,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, Director of Hispanic Research at the Pew Research Center, in a recent interview with CTLN. “Spanish (information) might help those folks.”

More than 23 million U.S. immigrants were eligible to vote in the 2020 presidential election, making up roughly 10 percent of the nation’s overall electorate – both record highs, according to Pew Research Center estimates based on Census Bureau data.

Fifteen percent of Connecticut residents are born in another country, according to the American Immigration Council.

The Census Bureau uses the American Community Survey to determine every five years who is covered rather than every ten years as was the standard in the past. Compliance is required if more than five percent or more than 10,000 voting-age citizens are limited-English proficient.

In Connecticut, the affected jurisdictions include the state’s eight largest cities, the home of many eligible HispanicLatino voters whose English skills are insufficient reside. Citizens whose primary language is Spanish comprise the population requiring assistance in all ten of the affected jurisdictions. However, five years ago, a Native American cluster in Kent was covered.

Nearby Massachusetts had the most communities added to the list, increasing from 12 to 19.

Spanish also is the language of most of the citizens of the three states and many of the 300 towns and counties requiring compliance. Still, Section 203 also applies to Asians, American Indians, and Alaska Native voting-age citizens.

The five percent criteria can represent a low hurdle in cities such as Hartford and Bridgeport. In the latter, one-third of the households are categorized as having Spanish as the primary language.

The U.S. Department of Justice monitors elections as needed to determine whether programs required under the Voting Rights Act are being implemented, although ultimately, local election officials ensure their jurisdiction complies.

In Dallas, where nearly 21,000 citizens of voting age speak Vietnamese, some 400 locations will be outfitted with cell phones that voters can use to access translators in the March primary.

Philadelphia, where more than 24 percent of the city’s citizens are speakers of a non-English language, Spanish being the most common – use voting machines, touted for their ability to accommodate at least 12 languages.

Both good ideas say supporters of grassroots organizations demanding the state make the voting process more accessible to naturalized citizens in Connecticut; the challenge is the financial means in realizing them.

The Connecticut Office of the Secretary of State in meeting federal law requirements will supply the translated materials to the Section 203 towns.

Language assistance includes the bilingual signs posted at a polling place, said Begnal. What a town is required to do can be extensive. For example, New Britain plans to do the following activities according to Rachel Zaniewski, public affairs specialist, Office of Mayor Erin E. Stewart:

1. Individuals choosing to register to vote can register using a registration form in Spanish

2. Voters choosing to vote can cast a ballot that is bilingual.

3. All election materials are printed in both Spanish and English. That includes not only the ballot but instructional posters that not only instruct voters on how to vote but also speak to their rights.

4. All legal notices of elections and polling locations are in English and Spanish.

5. Spanish-speaking poll workers and moderators are hired to help with elections.

In Waterbury, all letters and other written materials are in English and Spanish, and there is someone bilingual at each polling local, Begnal said. She has reached out to the local Spanish Coalition for help at the polls. Or, on occasion at the office, the English-speaking official has gone across the hall to a Spanish program for a translator.

Whether or not assistance in Spanish language will increase the number of Hispanic-Latino voters at the polls at this year’s midterm election and in the 2024 presidential election is yet to be seen, but new voters like Lorenzo are optimistic.

“Now, with me becoming a citizen, it gave me the opportunity to contribute, to have a voice – not only for me but other people,” said Lorenzo.


Cover Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash

Removing Language Barriers In Voting is supported by a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN).