Taking a lead for Latinos

Published 9:46 am Friday, September 21, 2012

Riverland Community College Student Estrella Gutierrez Gonzalez works on a speech she will give to a Queen of Angels Spanish Mass at a Pa'Delante meeting Wednesday night at Riverland. -- Trey Mewes/trey.mewes@austindailyherald.com

Students raise awareness for voter issues

It’s a pretty common story around here: A youth group comes together, organizing events and raising awareness about local issues.

Yet the young high school and college students that make up Pa’Delante hope to make a local impact on some large concerns, and members are working to give Latinos in southern Minnesota more of a presence through voter registration and immigration-related awareness.

“I feel like these issues are really necessary to take care of,” said Maria Medina, Pa’Delante spokeswoman and Riverland Community College PSEO student.

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Pa’Delante first started forming last spring, as several Riverland students approached multicultural adviser Yesenia Mendoza about getting a group together to organize Latino events and raise awareness about Latino-related issues.

“They were like, ‘Hey, we should make some kind of student Latino leadership group,’” Mendoza said.

While the group originally focused on putting together Latino festivals and traditional celebrations, some students wanted to encourage community members to vote and look at the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which President Barack Obama’s administration announced earlier this summer as a way to allow undocumented young adults — brought to the U.S. by their parents as children — a temporary reprieve from deportation.

Through partnering with Owatonna-based Centro Campesino, a nonprofit with accreditation from the Board of Immigration Appeals to give legal advice about immigration law, the group of Riverland, Austin High School and Albert Lea High School students hopes to delve into social issues on a local level.

Pa’Delante members will let Latinos and other community members know about a DACA session in Austin later this month where families can seek legal advice for free on how to apply under the federal policy.

In addition, Pa’Delante will organize Get Out The Vote efforts to ensure Latinos sign up to vote in the upcoming election, and volunteers are hoping to get local police to recognize the matricula consular, a type of identification issued by the Mexican government, as an official ID.

Yet for all its goals, Pa’Delante is also about setting an example for students of color who want to gain leadership experience. As arguably the first local Latino youth group to work on social issues, members hope the time they put in will inspire other youth to get involved.

“I feel like I’m doing something with my spare time … something to help change the community,” said Lucia Valle, AHS senior. Valle said she knows several people who could benefit from DACA, which would allow them to stay and work or go to school in the U.S.

Diana Salas Ramirez agrees. A fellow senior at AHS, Salas Ramirez joined Pa’Delante after hearing her sister talk about the group. She believes strongly in the group’s goals and “just wanted to help.”

“It’s a great opportunity … to get out and show how we can help the community,” she said.