El Pueblo champions Latinos

By Jennifer Whytock

RALEIGH, N.C. – To cope with the needs of North Carolina’s Latino population, which grew dramatically over the last decade, the nonprofit El Pueblo evolved from a small, grassroots group of volunteers to a forceful advocate on Latino issues.

Established in 1995, El Pueblo initially had no permanent staff, only volunteers who all had full-time jobs elsewhere.

“In the beginning, we met on nights and weekends to discuss issues and plans,” says Andrea Bazan-Manson, executive director and founding member. “I worked about 40 extra hours each week, after my other job.”

Now the group, whose name means “the community” or “the people,” employs 17 staffers and operates with an annual budget of $600,000.

Unlike many Latino nonprofits in the state that offer health, housing and job-assistance services to Latinos who visit the nonprofits’ offices, Raleigh-based El Pueblo focuses on policy and advocacy.

Bazan-Manson, for example, is proud of the first-ever El Pueblo-backed Latino Legislative Day last May 27 that brought 2,500 people to the state Capitol to make congressional leaders aware of the Latino presence in the state.

“More legislators now are reaching out to us and contacting us here”, says Bazan-Manson. “There were always a few, but now there are more legislators calling, and they are more diverse — from both parties and from different areas of the state.”

The group also offers education and training programs.

El Pueblo, for example, offers leadership training to help people working in the Latino community and to build leadership skills among Latino youth.

Another program, No Fumo, a tobacco prevention project for youth, recently received a $479,000 grant from the Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission, a state group that received funds from the tobacco industry as a result of its settlement with 46 states.

Through workshops and training sessions, El Pueblo provides information and assistance to nonprofits, companies, government and educational groups that want to work with the Latino community.

And El Pueblo organizes an annual event, Fiesta del Pueblo, which draws nearly 50,000 people, exposing many non-Latinos to Latino culture through music, food, art and other events.

At this year’s fiesta, Sept. 6 and 7 at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, more than 40 nonprofits will participate in educational fairs on topics ranging from health and housing to public safety and economic development.

From 1990 to 2000, the state’s Latino population grew almost 400 percent to over 530,000 people, making it the fastest-growing Latino population in the U.S.

The early 1990s was the honeymoon period, she says, when many North Carolinians were excited by the new population group.

However, as the Latino population grew rapidly, many rural communities felt threatened, and negative media coverage of topics like Latino gangs and violence tainted views about the Latino community, she says.

Recently Bazan-Manson has noticed an increase in calls from companies and individuals wanting to learn more about Latinos as they become a growing force in the state.

And North Carolina nonprofits are adjusting to meet the needs of the growing Latino population.

In the early 1990s, only five or six Latino nonprofits were based in the state, compared to 100 now.

While El Pueblo gets most of its support from foundations and large and small corporations, Bazan-Manson faces cultural barriers in her effort to increase individual giving.

While Latinos have a strong tradition of civic participation and helping others, they generally have not financially supported charities, she says, and many Latinos in North Carolina were raised in countries without a strong nonprofit presence.

“We are still trying to figure out how to do business as a Latino nonprofit here,” she says, “and we are trying to help other local Latino nonprofits with that, too.”

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