Latino Heritage: Focus on Activism

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. (center) joined DC 37 leaders and other officials to show solidarity and honor the vital cultural and political contributions of Latinos at the finale night of the union’s Latino Heritage celebrations. Photo: Mike Lee

By MIKE LEE

The midterm elections and Hurricane Maria were the focus of the union’s annual celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month.

DC 37 kicked off its 26th annual celebration of Latino heritage and history with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at union headquarters on Sept. 12.

After opening remarks by Isabel Figueroa, former vice president of Local 420 and a DC 37 retiree, DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido spoke of the Sept. 20 first anniversary of Hurricane Maria that devastated Puerto Rico. He called for economic and environmental justice for the island.

DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido. Photo: Mike Lee

“We renew our commitment to push elected officials to be true to their word,” Garrido said. “But being good to Puerto Rico is not just showing up to a parade or a hashtag in your Twitter. It’s voting and pushing for what the island needs now. The people deserve it and have earned it.”

On Sept. 14, Local 420 held its celebration with the theme, Fighting for Justice. DC 37 Treasurer Maf Misbah Uddin exhorted the crowd to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. “We must continue the progressive trend and we will change the direction of this country in a positive way,” Uddin said, who is also president of Local 1407.

Keynote speaker New York City Council member Ritchie Torres spoke of a new wave of leaders rising in resistance to the Trump administration, citing the several victories by progressive women in primaries throughout the country.

A new generation of leaders

“When I see Donald Trump, I see an opportunity to elect a new generation of young leaders, young people of color who have lived experiences, who have been close to pain, who can change politics as usual,” said Torres, who represents the 15th District in the Bronx and chairs the Committee on Oversight and Investigation.

“So, I want you to see Donald Trump’s presidency not only as a threat to everything we stand for, but as an opportunity to make America great not on his terms, but on ours,” Torres said.

SSEU Local 371 celebrated Latino Heritage on Sept. 21. The keynote speaker was attorney Cesar Vargas, co-director of the Dream Action Coalition, and the first undocumented immigrant to be admitted to the bar in New York. “The American dream can have many definitions, but I do know that definition comprises into pride in your culture,” he said.

Afterward, the union acknowledged Jessica Ramos, who recently won the Democratic primary in the state Senate District 13 in Queens, and Karines Reyes, who won her primary in Assembly District 87 in the Bronx. Ramos once worked for SSEU Local 371 as editorial associate of The Unionist newspaper, and Reyes is registered nurse and member of the New York State Nurses Association.

The evening ended with the hysterical comedy of Eli Castro and the salsa sounds of Willie Villegas y Entre Amigos.

Dancing was on the menu along with calls to action at the Latino Heritage finale including a star turn by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. (center). Photo: Mike Lee

Finale night was on Thursday, Sept. 28. Co-sponsored by Locals 372 and 1549, the speakers stressed the importance of getting politically involved, and they also reminded the crowd of the Trump administration’s despicable response to Hurricane Maria, that devastated Puerto Rico last September.

Ruben Diaz Jr., Bronx borough president, state Assembly member Michael Blake, and union leaders Local 372 President Shaun D. Francois I, DC 37 and Local 1549 President Eddie Rodriguez, Local 372 Executive Vice President Donald Nesbit and DC 37 Executive Director Garrido gave impassioned speeches, exhorting members to vote in the important local, statewide and federal midterm elections November 6.

The DC 37 Blog is an online publication of District Council 37, AFSCME, which represents 125,000 municipal employees in New York City. This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Public Employee Press.

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