EDITORIAL: New Latino outreach overdue

York Dispatch Editorial Board

As Hispanic Heritage Month gets underway, York officials are doing more than paying lip service to the city’s burgeoning Hispanic and Latino population.

They’re forming partnerships and finding creative ways to better serve that particular community, which has nearly doubled since 2000.

Just last week, the stakeholders announced York City is joining forces with CASA, a regional immigrant advocacy organization, to enlist AmeriCorps volunteers who will help Latinos with everything from gaining citizenship to opening a business.

One volunteer will be assigned to the city’s economic and community development department, earning a $10,000 annual stipend to walk Latino entrepreneurs through the process of opening a business in York City.

In addition to the city volunteer, CASA will enlist 17 other AmeriCorps volunteers to serve the Latino populations in York, Harrisburg and Lancaster, CASA Director Gustavo Torres said.

Nine of those volunteers will be based in CASA's York City office to help immigrants with their path to citizenship, act as a welcoming committee to immigrants coming into the city and more. They’ll also travel throughout York County to provide such services, he said.

This is an effort that’s long overdue.

Currently, 30.9 percent — roughly 13,600 — of the city's 44,132 residents are Latino, according to 2016 U.S. Census Bureau estimates. And that doesn’t include those who moved here after being displaced by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year.

The current figure is nearly double the number documented in the 2000 Census, when the population was 40,863 and 17.9 percent of residents were of Latino origin. 

More:York City partnering with AmeriCorps, CASA to bring Latino voice to economic development

More:York City Latino population is growing, but government representation remains absent

More:York City mayor, activists agree on how to diversify police department

"The Latino community is the largest minority community and fastest-growing community in the city," York Mayor Michael Helfrich said at last week’s news conference announcing the partnership. "If we're not doing more to prepare for their growth and success, then we're missing out on the city's potential growth and success."

We should also add that we hope this new outreach is just a start, because there seems to be a long way to go.

Despite the rapid growth in the number of Latino residents in the city, the number of Latinos serving in leadership positions under the city government is zero.

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich proclaimed September 15 through October 15 as Hispanic Heritage Month during a Monday, Sept. 10, press conference at City Hall.

Louis Rivera — founder of Latinos Unidos, a Latino advocacy organization in York City — has said he noticed the disparity after moving to the city nearly three years ago.

"If Latinos make up 33 percent of the city population, then why aren't they making up 33 percent of our city government?" he said recently. "We should be 33 percent of all things York, not only city government. We should be involved in boards, nonprofits and businesses as well."

And let’s not forget the city police department, where the lack of adequate representation of all minority groups and women is glaring.

The department has 109 officers, and 87.2 percent of them are white men, according to statistics provided by city spokesman Philip Given.

Rivera suggests both the Latino community and city officials need to do more to change the status quo.

"I don't think we've been asked to participate as much as we should, but I also don't think we've been advocating enough until recently," he has said. "We've failed to engage each other."

Thankfully, during this Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs through Oct. 15, it seems that dynamic is starting to shift.

Let's hope it continues.