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Latino nonprofit speaking up

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By Jennifer Whytock

RALEIGH — The Latino nonprofit El Pueblo created its first full-time policy position this year and added an interactive section on legislation and political candidates to its website.

Marisol Jimenez, previous head of El Pueblo’s youth leadership development program, was named director of its advocacy program.

She monitors public policy issues that affect Latinos, writes on state and federal legislation and gives talks throughout North Carolina to nonprofits, immigrants, university students and fellow advocates.

In addition, she writes for La Voz del Pueblo, a new online tool at elpueblo.org that details pending state and federal legislation of concern to Latinos, and explains El Pueblo’s positions, she says.

Current issues include hospital care for undocumented immigrants, access for immigrants to public universities at in-state tuition rates, legalizing the status of immigrant agricultural workers and police enforcement of immigration laws.

La Voz also helps individuals locate elected officials and political candidates, and provides guidance on how to contact them and what to say in letters or phone calls.

While El Pueblo provides content for La Voz, Capitol Advantage, a Fairfax, Va.-based company, runs the interactive tool, Capwiz.

Two goals of La Voz are to provide a single location for Latinos to find out about important issues, and to help people overcome the fear of contacting government officials, says Jimenez.

El Pueblo also uses La Voz to quickly inform Latinos of an urgent issue or pending vote on a bill so they will immediately contact their elected officials to communicate their positions.

Most of La Voz is written in English, and Jimenez concedes some Latino users who only speak Spanish may not be able use it.

Since the American-born, Mexican-Irish Jimenez is fluent in spoken Spanish but struggles writing it, she usually opts to post La Voz information quickly in English rather than delay by translating into Spanish, she says.

Within 10 years, the Latino community in North Carolina will change, says Jimenez, and there will be more Latinos like her who are born in the U.S., prefer to speak English and have the right to vote.

State government and the public are growing more interested in Latin issues and getting better at responding to Latino concerns, she says, though her goal is to take her advocacy message to the more rural, smaller communities in the state that have been less exposed to the Latino community.

Jimenez became an advocate because in her prior job at a “centro,” a direct service provider that help Latinos with translating, domestic violence aid, education, wage recovery, and other matters, she felt like she was merely putting a band-aid on the same problems everyday and never reaching the root causes.

“Now I feel the powerfulness of the advocacy job,” she says, “being able to participate actively and not just be an outside, passive observer.”

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