Expanding Voter Access In RI Clears Another Hurdle

The Let RI Vote Act, which would permanently adopt measures used in 2020 during the pandemic, has cleared another hurdle as the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed the measure on a 52-13 vote Tuesday.

The goal of the bill is to expand voter access while ensuring integrity in state elections.

“As we saw in 2020,” said lead sponsor state Rep. Katherine Kazarian (D-63), “early voting alternatives were used by a large portion of our population and the results of this change in voting patterns produced a smooth and secure election process that ensured that everyone’s vote was safely counted.”

But Republicans questioned the need for the bill and raised concerns about voter fraud. “We are sacrificing the security of our elections for convenience,� Representative Robert Quattrocchi, a Scituate Republican, said in opposing the bill.

“This is a major milestone in the history of voting rights in Rhode Island,” said Marcela Betancur, spokesperson for the Let RI Vote Campaign and executive director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University.

A key component of the measure include setting up a hotline in multiple languages that Betancur said, will provide accurate information in the language a person is most comfortable in, like foreign born Hispanics-Latinos who may not be proficient in English.

On the “3 Questions With…� podcast, Betancur shared insights on how the proposed legislation would break barriers keeping the Hispanic-Latino electorate and other marginalized communities from voting.

Improving Access and Opportunities to Vote in Rhode Island

In 2020, voting by naturalized U.S. citizens was approximately the same rate as those who are Hispanics-Latinos born in the United States, according to a City University of New York study.

Governor Dan McKee sent out statement following the House passage supporting the proposal, adding he’s “ready to sign it.�

RILN Opinion+: Marcela Betancur

This week Marcela Betancur, Executive Director of the Latino Policy Institute (LPI) was our guest on Rhode Island Latino News, Opinion+.

LPI is an advocacy group in Rhode Island that was started by two people with the goal of raising the voices of the Latinx community. The impact Covid-19 had on the Latinx community caused LPI to improve the flow of truthful information on vaccines and resources. “It really helped focus on what we needed,� said Betancur on RILN Opinion+ when explaining the issues of healthcare and employment accessibility.  

The Ocean State has grown in its Latinx presence over the years. Populations from the Dominican Republic and Colombia have moved to Rhode Island over the years. “Every single town has a Latino in it,� stated Betancur. 

Being a part of the immigrant coalition in the state has allowed LPI to advocate for the needs of the Latinx community and even advocate for driving privileges and quality healthcare for undocumented immigrants. They first understand what the community needs and then connect that with what is possible from a policy perspective. 

The largest obstacle faced in Rhode Island is the continuous disinvestment from the state and the U.S. government. Poverty, economic, and housing equity has lacked investment in these issues. LPI builds its community leaders by offering data, research, and practices on bringing people together and building bridges between communities and legislators.

LPI is excited to continue improving voting access, health, and economic equity through driver’s licenses and information. 

Resources: 

Main website: https://lpirwu.org/about-us/

Dr. Taino Palermo: Demystifying The Path To Success

Growing up as a military kid, Dr. Taino Palermo and his sisters were born in many different parts of the world but always called the Bronx, New York, home. During the ’80s and ’90s, life in New York was distinctly different from the life they knew in Puerto Rico. However, their family maintained a solid connection to their indigenous identity as Taino Indians, hence his name. It was vital that they never forgot who they were and where they came from.

In college, Dr. Palermo participated in after-school tutoring that set him on the path of becoming an educator and advocate for the coming generations. Dr. Palermo noticed that for the Latino middle school students he worked with, it was hard to believe that someone just like them was able to attend college. He knew then how important it was to serve as a model, but even more so, how important it is for those in underrepresented positions to demystify the pathway to make it easier for those who come after them.

This understanding led him to a decade-long community economic development and education reform career. Dr. Palermo points out that Rhode Island will be a majority Latino state in the future. He believes that “we are too numerous in this state and in this country not to flex our collective impact to develop policies and programs that benefit our communities.�

In a 2018 TEDxProvidence, Dr. Palermo stressed the importance of anchor institutions, defined as enduring organizations based in their localities (such as colleges, museums, and hospitals), using their resources to address critical issues in their communities. In addition, he says it is vital for these institutions to collaborate with neighborhood social anchors, what he calls the “grandmas on the block,â€� to establish and maintain credibility with the neighborhood. 

“If you don’t have the trust of the people, they will never fully embrace you, and rightfully so. These ambassadors are the ones who are critical to the success of anchor institutional work,� he said.

During his time at Roger Williams University, Dr. Palermo has worked to make his school a prime example of an anchor institution. For instance, he’s worked with RWU Center for Workforce and Professional Development to launch a prisoners’ career readiness program. He also launched Gateway to College, which allows students at risk of dropping out of school to simultaneously earn their high school diploma and Associate’s Degree at Roger Williams University.

He said, “we’re taking bold and innovative steps in hopes that other anchor institutions in the state will follow our lead.â€�He has prioritized his indigenous identity and is the current Chief, or Kasike, of the Baramaya Guainia Clan, a federally non-recognized tribal nation indigenous to modern-day Ponce, Puerto Rico. Today, Taino is a part of the Class of 2022 at Roger Williams University Law School and serves as the American Indian Law Student Association president.


Dr. Taino Palermo was first profiled in the Latino Policy Institute’s #LatinosInRI series.

LPI and RI Latino News are 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 Info@LatinoNewsNetwork.com.

Improving access and opportunities to vote in Rhode Island

In this year’s midterm elections, national Hispanic-Latino voter turnout is predicted to meet the record participation in 2018, with nearly 12 million voting in congressional and state elections, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund (NALEO). Still, that number falls short of the potential, given the community’s population growth increase.

On Tuesday, the Rhode Island state Senate voted 28 to 6 in favor of the Let RI Vote Act, which would permanently adopt measures used in the 2020 election during the pandemic, that resulted in the record number of voter participation.

The move is a major win for organizations like the Let RI Vote campaign that are working to advance voting rights in Rhode Island, giving more people the opportunity to vote.

Marcela Betancur, Executive Director of the Latino Policy Institute (LPI), and campaign spokesperson for the Let RI Vote Campaign was a guest on the Latino News Network podcast, â€œ3 Questions With…â€�. Betancur shared insights on how the proposed legislation will break barriers keeping the Hispanic-Latino electorate and other marginalized communities from voting.

One of the bill’s provisions Betancur says is very exciting to her is that it institutes early voting. �In 2020, we were able to go vote prior to Election Day,� she said. Not �having to stand in line for hours� makes it more convenient for people who do not have flexible schedules to go vote.

In the 2020 general election, 62 percent of the more than 522,000 Rhode Islanders who voted cast their ballots either early or by mail. By comparison, approximately 426,400 Rhode Islanders voted in 2016, and only 9 percent of them voted by mail when early voting was not an option.

Democrats celebrated the approval of the Let RI Vote Act touting it expands voter access, but Republicans warn it could lead to voter fraud. Senator Jessica de la Cruz, a North Smithfield Republican, warned that the legislation would make several “dangerous changes� such as removing notary or witness requirements for mail ballots.

Betancur said the concerns are misplaced. �Today, before this act is even passed, the Board of Election’s practice is verifying that the voter and their signature is the same one when they registered to vote,� she argued. “They’re already not checking a witness. Why do we continue to create this barrier? A lot of it is fear mongering.�

The bill also includes:

  • Allowing voters apply for mail ballots online.
  • Letting voters choose to vote by mail for any reason, without having to give an excuse.
  • Define “early votingâ€� as up to 20 days before Election Day.
  • Provide for each city or town a ballot drop box that’s maintained and regulated by the state Board of Elections.
  • Allow long-term nursing home residents to receive mail ballot applications automatically.
  • Require the secretary of state to update the voter registry at least four times a year.
  • Set up a hotline in multiple languages to provide information about voting and polling locations.

The multilingual voter information hotline, Betancur said, will provide accurate information in the language a person is most comfortable in, like foreign born Hispanics-Latinos who may not be proficient in English.

In 2020, voting by naturalized U.S. citizens was approximately the same rate as those who are Hispanics-Latinos born in the United States, according to a City University of New York study.

The next stop for the legislation is the House of Representatives.

RILN Opinion+: Elliot Rivera

This week we spoke with Elliot Rivera, Executive Director of Youth in Action (YIA) in Rhode Island.

This is a non-profit that focuses on developing young leaders to advocate for change on important issues that impact their communities.

The pandemic caused previous issues such as poverty, accessibility to resources, lack of self-care, domestic violence, and youth homelessness to be amplified. Running this organization is highly influenced by the young generation. “Let’s let the young people decide. They know what’s going to work best for them,� explained Rivera. 

YIA challenges the status quo by providing education about important controversial topics. It is understanding how these issues are connected to one another that is the key to bringing leaders to their full potential. “If we really want the current generation and the next generation to be the best that they can be, we have to start letting those opportunities for leadership and practice happen now,â€� explained Rivera. Their mission is more than the work itself as it is about the camaraderie they have for each other and the greater community. 

The tools used to build leaders in YIA are the development of public speaking, conflict resolution, owning your story, teamwork, self-care, and advocacy work. The importance of self-care and caring for the community while learning the skills to accomplish their goals is what makes YIA unique. 

The fight for antiracism and cultural humility is what YIA advocates for in the education system. Ethnic studies have been lacking as marginalized groups are being misrepresented in the education system. Mental health, counseling, self-care, and community care need to be focused to better reflect all cultures and the concerns of parents and families. Every group faces very similar issues meaning it is important to educate those who are not part of the minority to understand their issues and support them. When one group is struggling it will affect everyone. 

We are pushed to believe that we are alone, but YIA is working to change that narrative. We are all in this together as we all have a role to play. 

Resources Mentioned: 

Lighting The Spark – Community Leaders & Changemakers

“Practices of the old are not going to attract the talent of the new,� said Nina Pande, executive director of Skills for Rhode Island’s Future (SkillsRI). “Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a pronounced voice.�

Pande shared insights about how SkillsRI helps employers in reimagining recruiting for diverse candidates by questioning current practices and holding them (employers) accountable.

She was one of the special guests on the Lighting The Spark – Community Leaders & Changemakers panel hosted by the Verizon State Government Affairs team; moderated by Adriana Dawson, Community Engagement Director at Verizon. 

The program was held last month as part of International Women’s Day (March 8), a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.

The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. Pande and other guests are trailblazing women across the country driving change in their communities. From ending hunger to creating new educational and career opportunities to opening doors for small business owners, these women are helping their communities thrive.

A Target 12 analysis of labor statistics from 2018-2020 found that almost an equal number of men and women were employed in Rhode Island when the first COVID-19 infection was identified, reported WPRI.

By April 2020, amid sweeping shutdowns, employment plummeted 25 percent for women, while declining only 8 percent for men. Since then, male employment has largely recovered, while the number of women employed in Rhode Island remained 11 percent below pre-pandemic levels.

Since the COVID-19 began, Latinas have not only experienced disproportionately high unemployment rates, but they also are dropping out of the workforce at higher rates than any other demographic group.

A report published by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative reveals three main drivers to changes in the number of Latinas in the U.S. labor force since the beginning of the pandemic:

  • Latinas are disproportionately responsible for family care obligations versus Latino men, and they are more likely to stay at home than U.S. mothers of other racial backgrounds. That burden was exacerbated during the pandemic because of the closure of schools and day care centers.
  • A lack of access to education and training opportunities for higher wage opportunities disincentivizes Latinas’ participation in the labor force overall.
  • Latinas are disproportionately employed in leisure, hospitality and related low-wage industries that were particularly vulnerable to pandemic-related closures.

Dawson also hosts 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.


Adriana Dawson (she, her, hers, ella) is a nationally recognized leader with over 20 years of demonstrated impact at the intersection of community and business development.

Adriana leads the Verizon Foundation and social impact programming efforts in her markets. In this role she leads and expands Verizon’s partnership network, strategic investments, and collaborates up and across the business introducing new market opportunities. She is also the Partnerships and Volunteer Global Committee Lead for SOMOS, an enterprise-wide Employee Resource Group (ERG) giving voice to Verizon’s 4K+ Hispanic/Latinx employees.

Ms. Dawson, a first generation Colombian American, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies from Northeastern University and holds a Master of Arts in Management Communication from Emerson College.

Boosting Latino entrepreneurship in Rhode Island

Entrepreneurship for All (EforAll), and Entrepreneurs Forever (eforever), will be launching free small-business support programs focusing on people of color in Rhode Island in May.

The nonprofit organizations will work to provide Hispanic-Latinos and other under-represented groups with the training and support needed to start, grow and sustain their businesses.

According to the Small Business Association, over half of the Ocean State’s private workforce is employed by small businesses, 10.5 percent of those are owned by Hispanics-Latinos. With a 40 percent increase in the Hispanic-Latino population in Rhode Island over the past decade, many of them Spanish language dominant, EforAll programming will also be available in Spanish through its EparaTodos offering.

“I am so excited to join this organization that already exists in over a dozen communities across the U.S.,� said Laura M. Guillén, Executive Director, EforAll. “There are many aspiring entrepreneurs in Rhode Island that just need the guidance and advice from mentors and experts, like the ones offered in our Business Accelerator program, to get their businesses off the ground and revitalize their communities. I look forward to contributing to their success.� Guillén oversees English and Spanish languages programs.

EforAll and its Spanish language program, EparaTodos, are one-year programs, which use a unique combination of practical business training, dedicated mentorship from local business and community leaders, and access to a large professional network. They will be available twice a year.

Since January 2020, 38.1 percent of the state’s small businesses have closed. EforAll and eforever say they hope to help Rhode Island’s entrepreneurs in recovering from the impact of the pandemic, and getting small business owners back on their feet.

Founded in 2010, EforAll has dozens of accelerator programs across the country including Massachusetts.

To learn more about these organizations and their programs, or to donate to these initiatives, visit: eforall.org and entrepreneursforever.org.


Cover Photo: EforAll NWA Launches Inaugural Business Accelerator Program

Marta V. Martinez on putting the spotlight on Latinos through art

The Rhode Island Latino Arts (RILA), a nonprofit organization in Central Falls promoting Hispanic-Latino artists; providing them with a space to showcase and perform their work, is the house that Executive Director Marta V. Martínez built.

“ I found that the main things you miss about your culture are the things that the general population considers art, but to us Latinos, it’s our culture, our way of life,� Martinez told Rhode Island Monthly in an interview.

She recalled what she missed about her hometown of El Paso, Texas when she moved to Rhode Island, first for higher education and later to call home.� I was surrounded by the arts; my mom and three of my four sisters are artists,� she said.

In 1988, Martínez obtained a small grant from the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts started the Hispanic Heritage Committee and RILA in 2013.

Tour of the Rhode Island Latino Arts gallery

Since then, RILA has sought to raise awareness of the art, culture, and history of Rhode Island’s Hispanic-Latino community through classes, workshops, events, festivals, and plays.

“It’s like a blank slate for ideas, and it’s exciting to see them develop,� she told WUN about the artists enjoying RILA’s space. “I love being in the room for those moments when things come out.�

Martinez shared how in her pursuit of connecting with others in the Hispanic-Latino community, she came to the realization that Rhode Island was made up of every single country in South America and the Caribbean. “And I wanted us to celebrate that together as a group, but also individually,� she said. �We’re similar, but we’re very different. Rhode Island Latino Arts celebrates the diverse cultures, we celebrate together as Latinos. But we also celebrate and teach that diversity of who we are,� she told YurView.

Much of Martínez’s work has centered around advocacy for and documenting the history of, the Hispanic-Latino community in Rhode Island. She was the first director of the Hispanic Social Services Association (HSSA) which, during her tenure, became the Center for Hispanic Policy and Advocacy CHisPA), one of two non-profit organizations in Rhode Island in the 1980s and 1990s.

Martínez also founded Nuestras Raíces, Rhode Island’s longest-running oral history project capturing and celebrating stories from Colombia to Cuba to the Dominican Republic.

An author, Martínez’s book, Latino History in Rhode Island, was published in 2014.

“What first started as a volunteer effort on my part, more of something that came out of my heart, from mi corazon, that I wanted to connect with the Latino community and have them connect with each other,� she said. “It symbolizes a home, finally, because the artists to me are the life force of the organization wouldn’t exist without them.�


Publisher’s Note: This story is an aggregate from Rhode Island Monthly, WUN, and YurView.

Rhode Island Latino News amplifies the work of others in providing Hispanic-Latinos greater visibility and voice.

It’s time to make voting safer and accessible in Rhode Island

The first time I witnessed my mom voting I was about 8 years old while we lived in Colombia. At the time, I did not really understand what she was doing, what impact it had, or why it was all that adults talked about.

The next time I would witness her voting would be in 2020. After successfully becoming a U.S citizen just weeks prior to the pandemic’s start, in 2020 my mom and stepdad were able to cast their vote just a few days before election day at their local City Hall thanks to the emergency order set at the time.

Like my parents, 62 percent of Rhode Islanders voted early in person or by mail in the 2020 general election. Through the shadows of the pandemic, we found ourselves as a state and nation understanding that when it comes to exercising our right to vote, we should prioritize health, safety and equitable access. As a result of this, the Let RI Vote Act was born. This legislation, which has been introduced by Sen. Dawn Euer and Rep. Katherine Kazarian, is supported by more than 30 organizations representing a wide array of communities and sectors such as unions, housing, civil rights organizations, and many more.

This is exactly what the Let RI Vote Act is seeking to do.

Upon passage, the act would provide access to mail ballots for those who need it without requiring a notary or two witness signatures, which are a hurdle for most Rhode Islanders. Additionally, an online form to request mail ballots will be created, because who has a printer at home nowadays? (not this millennial, for sure!)

The act would also preserve an early voting option for voters who would like to cast their ballot in person during the 20-day “emergency voting� period before Election Day without the need for an excuse or special circumstance. As we saw in 2020, nearly 29 percent of voters cast their ballot before Election Day. This allows working adults, families, and individuals with disabilities greater flexibility and access to exercise their right to vote.

In fact, in an effort to close the access and language gaps for thousands of Rhode Islanders, this legislation will extend the deadline for requesting braille ballots and will create a multilingual voter information hotline. These two pieces are essential to ensuring that individuals with disabilities and those who speak a language other than English always have access to unbiased and correct voter information.

In an effort to maintain election protection, the act requires that the Secretary of State’s office update the voter file a minimum of four times per year. This will enhance the accuracy of voter lists by ensuring they are up to date.

An essential piece of being a democracy is the access and safety that citizens feel toward the voting process. As a nation, we have struggled since our inception with how we have defined the “right to vote.� For hundreds of years, we disenfranchised millions of Americans based on their race and gender. Today, some of us would like to think that we are beyond that. Sadly, we are mistaken. In fact, our federal government continues to ignore the need for basic voting rights protections for historically marginalized communities. States across the nation continue to enact legislation and practices to create additional barriers to the ballot box. Truth is, if we truly want a democracy, we must work harder to protect it.


SUGGESTION: Marcela Betancur: Prospering Through Hurdles And Strengths


Marcela Betancur is the proud daughter of Colombian immigrants and currently serves as the director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University.

Publisher’s Note: It’s time to make voting safer and accessible in Rhode Island on The Valley Breeze.

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

Do you have an idea for an Opinion-Editorial? Send us your suggestions to Info@LatinoNewsNetwork.com.

RILN Opinion+: Mayor Maria Rivera

Welcome to another episode of RILN Opinion+ where we talk about major issues the Latinx and underrepresented communities face in the Rhode Island community. This week we spoke with Maria Rivera, the first Latina mayor in the state of Rhode Island. 

Central Falls was one of the hardest hit communities per capita in the United States during the pandemic. The impact of the pandemic in Central Falls inspired Rivera to step into this position. “I needed to come in here and just work and do what I had to do to try to get my community back healthy,â€� stated Rivera. With the relationships she had built in her community she felt as though the people were campaigning for her. Rivera highlighted how when she was elected no one told her what challenges she had to face and how to face them. 

One of the hardest hit groups was the undocumented community as they struggled to access employment, affordable housing, and security. “We’ve had two or three families live in one apartment, undocumented, because they can’t afford to live in one apartment or because of fear,â€� stated Rivera explaining the hardships of undocumented Americans. When establishing vaccination clinics undocumented Americans were hesitant to receive vaccines due to mistrust in the system. However, Rivera was the one person they trusted. Though these clinics could have been hosted by the armed forces, Rivera chose to run them with her team as she deeply cares about the undocumented. 

“We are a team,â€� stated Rivera highlighting the fact that the government of Central Falls protects the undocumented community and does not allow any harm to come in any way, shape, or form. Medicaid for the undocumented community is a change Rivera is advocating for as she believes everyone deserves medical coverage. Accessibility to licensing is another change Rivera advocates for as she believes giving access to them is a benefit to all people. “We have to educate those that don’t support them,â€� stated Rivera. The biggest obstacle we face as leaders is educating those that don’t support minorities. Those who are not gay or undocumented still face challenges. The lack of trust between these groups and the system must be addressed.   

Resources:

Office of Constituent Services and Health: https://www.centralfallsri.gov/health

Central Falls Website: https://www.centralfallsri.gov/