Somos Nueva York: The Road Ahead for Latino New Yorkers

Four years ago, as New York City prepared to elect its first new Mayor in more than a decade, Hispanic Federation published “La Gran Manzana: The Road Ahead for New York City’s Latino Community.” We explained the key challenges facing more than two million Latino New Yorkers and offered a blueprint for addressing those challenges. It was a bold document that combined thorough research and real-world experience to create an agenda to improve the lives of Latino families across our city.

In light of New York City’s recent municipal elections, we believe it’s time to revisit this report to identify ongoing challenges and future opportunities for Latino New Yorkers. Our goal here remains the same as before: to lay out a roadmap for strengthening and empowering the Latino community.

The truth is that issues such as education, affordable housing, economic development, and criminal justice continue to be top concerns for Hispanic households across our five boroughs. While the last four years have seen important achievements in the city on early childhood education, elder care, immigrant services, and safety, we face serious issues in the areas of prison reform, homelessness, affordable housing and college retention and graduation. None of these issues are easy to resolve, but they are vital to our city’s well-being and future progress. No one expecting to lead this grand metropolis can ignore these issues and their importance to Latino New Yorkers.

Latinos are an indelible part of New York City. By and large, candidates who are serious about seeking city-wide office are eager to engage our communities, and share their vision for the future with us. This has not always been the case and that change is important and well-earned. But talk isn’t enough. We need candidates with a record of commitment to our community. Candidates that understand our needs and are ready to enact policies and move resources to help us meet them.

Hispanic Federation and its network of over 60 New York City Latino nonprofit organizations are uniquely positioned to understand those challenges because we confront them each day. Through our network, we are able to tap into the expertise of some of New York’s brightest leaders and institutions, and bring together a foundation of knowledge and leadership to create policies and programs that empower and advance the Hispanic community.

It is in the spirit of building stronger communities and a stronger city that we present: Somos Nueva York: The Road Ahead for Latino New Yorkers. Our hope is that this guide will help government, nonprofit and philanthropic leaders formulate and advance policies that strengthen and uplift Latinos and diverse neighborhoods throughout our five boroughs. We look forward to the work ahead.

During the last four years, with support from City Hall and the New York City Council, a number of initiatives have begun to address the critical challenges our communities face, including support for early childhood education, community-centered schools and immigrant services. But there is still much more to do. The winners of New York City’s 2017 mayoral and council races must build on these achievements and focus on creating innovative and effective strategies to address key areas of Latino life in our five boroughs, including:

• Strengthening Latino Nonprofits
The Latino nonprofit network is vast and growing. It provides everything from health care to housing, education to employment. In recent years, a number of initiatives have come out of City Hall to help support and strengthen Latino nonprofits. The Nonprofit Communities of Color Stabilization Fund, for example, has helped to strengthen Latino nonprofits by providing financial support for critical needs. Expanded support for these and other programs, including streamlining of city-awarded grants, is something the Latino nonprofit network will be looking for from its elected leadership.

• Improving Education
Few things matter as much as education. The creation of Pre-K For All, and more recently 3-K For All, have been well received by Latino families eager to start their children on the path to a quality education early in life. But while the achievements in early education are clear, there is still much work to be done in supporting students in the middle school, high school and post-secondary years. Initiatives such as community-centered schools show great promise in supporting our city’s students and improving their educational outcomes. City Hall’s support for the expansion of these school and community-based partnerships, along with a renewed focus on college readiness rates, is essential to addressing the historic Latino education gap in New York City.

• Supporting Healthy Lifestyles
Asthma, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and HIV/AIDS disproportionately impact Latino New Yorkers. The economic and social costs of these diseases, together with drug addiction, are enormous. New York City’s incoming leadership must place increased emphasis on providing quality, affordable health care to Latino New Yorkers, including preventative screenings, health education and greater support for community-based treatments. The newly elected Mayor and City Council must redouble efforts to provide care for those suffering from addiction and chronic illnesses across our city.

• Protecting and Supporting
Immigrants New York City was built by immigrants. The future of the city rests on successfully integrating new immigrants into our economic and political systems. Against the backdrop of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies coming out of Washington, D.C., the Mayor and City Council leadership has an especially important responsibility to ensure that New York City remains a national model of immigrant acceptance and integration. New York must continue to increase its support for legal aid for immigrants, strengthen municipal sanctuary provisions and stave off federal immigration encroachment and overreach. The new administration must also redouble its efforts to offer new immigrants civic instruction and English-language classes.

• Economic Empowerment and Financial Stability
For far too many Latino New Yorkers, financial stability remains an elusive goal. Saddled with ever increasing costs and stagnant wages, survival, not success, is often the reality for a majority of our families. City Hall and the New York City Council can do more to ease the financial burden on Latino families by promoting greater financial literacy and education, increasing workforce training and development, establishing employment match partnerships, and providing needed food, housing and income support to working families struggling to make ends meet.

• Environmental Justice
2017 marks five years since Hurricane Sandy destroyed significant parts of New York City’s low-lying coastal areas. The damage done by the storm exposed how susceptible the city is to natural disasters. It also exposed just how many low-income New Yorkers are especially at risk of losing shelter, employment and even their lives when the next big storm hits. While the city has made important strides in terms of emergency preparedness in recent years, there are other important environmental justice issues that weigh heavily on the lives of Latino New Yorkers. Poor air quality, exposure to toxic chemicals and other contaminants, substandard public housing, and water quality in public buildings and schools all disproportionately affect Latino communities and demand the attention of the city’s Mayor and City Council.

• Criminal Justice
We are at a crucial juncture in the history of criminal justice in America. From community policing to sentencing reform, the nation is struggling to reform a system that often acts with a reckless disregard for people of color. Over the last several years, New York City has made important strides in criminal justice reform including reducing sentences for poor, non-violent offenders, increasing community-police partnerships and strengthening local community-based courts that focus on alternatives to incarceration. These are all positive steps but there is more our city’s elected leadership can do, including expanding youth outreach programs that extend beyond the school-age years, expanding the successful Neighborhood Policing Program, and increasing access to the criminal justice system for marginalized Latino groups including battered women, victims of hate crimes, and undocumented immigrants.

• Women’s Rights
Much of the dynamism of Latino communities comes from our women. Latina students. Latina entrepreneurs. Latina mothers. Latina community and elected leaders. New York City is built on the labor and talent of Latinas. But Latinas encounter significant challenges in New York City, including pay inequity, limited access to quality child care, high rates of domestic violence, and lack of access to quality health care. The newly elected Mayor and City Council must help Latina New Yorkers overcome these barriers. That includes strengthening enforcement of civil, domestic, and workplace rights, increasing access to affordable childcare, and working with community-based organizations to create avenues for educational and economic advancement for Latinas.

• Arts & Culture
New York City is the cultural capital of the nation. The city is home to some of the world’s most important art museums, the most prestigious music halls, and the glitz and glamour of Broadway. But there is also a robust cultural life far away from these cultural anchors. In Latino communities throughout New York City, there are musical, theater and folkloric dance groups that are an essential part of the city’s rich cultural milieu. Unfortunately, our community arts organizations remain woefully under-funded and under-capitalized. City Hall must increase opportunities for these groups to secure funding and technical expertise from the Department of Cultural Affairs and the city’s philanthropic sector. It will also be up to the Mayor and City Council to strategize about the best ways to leverage cultural assets in Latino communities to create jobs, promote tourism, and spur linked entrepreneurial endeavors.

• Civil Rights
We live in an era of direct attacks on civil rights. Affirmative action. Voting rights. Access to health care. Immigrant rights. Protections for the poor and people of color. LGBTQ rights. All of these hard-fought and essential rights for our diverse communities are under siege by the current federal administration. New York must be a national leader in defending civil rights for all of its residents. Towards that end, City Hall must reinforce the investigative and enforcement powers of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, expand civil rights education in schools, ensure that language rights are respected in the classroom and the workplace, and strengthen relationships between Latino communities and enforcement agencies to root out civil rights violations.