Political Advocacy

The appearance of a functioning Coalition of Hispanic Organizations in 1976 indicated the first signs of politicization of the existing organizational framework and the Latino community in general.
We fought very hard…That [CHO] was the agency that gave respect to the community. That was the agency that fought the police against brutality. That was the agency that informed the majority of all the issues that were affecting the Latino community at that time. That was the agency that fought the hospital that did not have any bilingual workers. That was the agency who fought the school department to have some representation of teachers…
Victor Mendoza interview, 2000

The incorporation of three existing Latino organizations into a coalition meant governmental funding and a newly-found unity and legitimacy for the Latino political pioneers. Social services previously provided by individual organizations were subsumed partially within programs of the coalition. More distinctly, the first sustainable bridge was formed between the Latino community and the political arena. The appearance of advocacy as an oversight, external monitor and challenge to the public service institutions heralded the beginnings of a Latino political consciousness. No longer would the Latino community solely bear the responsibility of support (at least in principle). Bilingual services in health, education, housing, employment, and basic public utilities were a right that the political arena was obligated to perform. Advocacy meant forcing those in power to acknowledge those obligations.

The Coalition’s first contacts with the government were through the Providence Community Action Program (PROCAP), a Providence-based municipal agency in charge of funding community organizations. The Latino community already had “political capital” with the presence of María Matias and Alma Green, the latter being the funding coordinator of PROCAP and an organizing force. Green was an active and central participant in Acción Hispana, which worked out of Central Falls. In the context of federally funded anti-poverty dollars, the Coalition also received funding from the VISTA program in the form of compensated employees. In this manner, the coordinators of the various programs existing within the coalition were funded by the federal government. Just as young, rising Hispanic leaders like Roberto González and his brother, José had entered the Latin American Community Center as a VISTA volunteer, others were now encouraged to help organize the community.

Latino Social Action Begins to Take Shape

The organizational structure was similar to a loose confederation of the pre-existing organizations. The Coalition consisted of Acción Hispana, Orientación Hispana, Club Juvenil and assorted programs. Juán López, who in the 1990s became a member of the Providence School Board, was hired to coordinate youth services, while Juan Francísco and Manuel Jiménez headed Acción and Orientación, respectively. Each organization maintained its own leadership and board of directors in addition to the two representatives it sent to the central board of the coalition.

The actual reason for the Coalition’s existence was one, abstractly, of idealism and practically, of funding. Each organization had been competing for what little existed of foundation and government operating grants, thus fragmenting the organized arm of the community. The United Way began to pressure existing Hispanic organizations by threatening to withhold funding from distinct Latino organizations, and it was this act that gave impetus to claims for unification.

While some felt such demands were discriminatory, others hoped to use the opportunity to form an “independent” organization with “no baggage.” (Juan Francísco oral history)

In addition to providing services to the community, the Coalition began to “confront the very sobering experience of dealing with the political structure.” The role of advocate meant constant communication with the political arena, often in the domain of bilingual access and representation.

“We fought very hard…That [CHO] was the agency that gave respect to the community. That was the agency that fought the police against brutality. That was the agency that informed the majority of all the issues that were affecting the Latino community at that time. That was the agency that fought the hospital that did not have any bilingual workers. That was the agency who fought the school department to have some representation of teachers…” (Victor Mendóza interview 2000)

In addition to frequent advocacy, the Coalition pressed for permanent institutional representatives to be present within the community. In a similar vein or political activism, a network of support internal to the political and professional arena evolved. For those within the system, the Coalition also advocated on an individual level in much the same manner as the Hispanic Social Services Association (the predecessor to CHisPA) would do throughout the eighties and early nineties.


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Project Director: Marta V. Martínez
Project Assistant: Ashleyann Rivera
Project Assistant: Diana Figueroa
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