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Symposium studies Hispanic needs

by Sheila Gardner

A coalition of Carson Valley agencies has turned to Northern Nevada Hispanic leaders for advice on how to meet the needs of Douglas County’s growing Spanish-speaking population.

The Partnership of Community Resources hosted a symposium last week to address issues faced by Douglas County’s Hispanic residents. According to the state demographer, about 8 percent of the county’s 40,000 residents are Hispanics, and the majority live and work at Lake Tahoe.

Jill Hetherton, who teaches English as a second language at Douglas High School, described the plight of some of her new arrivals who are enrolled in 10th grade and don’t speak English.

“These students are supposed to write and research a paper and take a two-hour English test with no help in Spanish. You can imagine coming to any country and in two years being expected to pass six hours of testing in that language without any help. Research shows that no one could do that,” Hetherton said.

Sendi Stockle, a rehabilitation technician for the state’s employment department, said the language barrier is often perceived as ignorance.

“In our agency, I am the only one in the state of Nevada who speaks Spanish,” she said.

Carmen Ramos, representing Nevada’s only chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), told the 25 participants that any programs must be geared to Hispanic residents rather than merely translating English into Spanish.

– Know your audience. “I’m an immigrant, and I have been here for 17 years,” she said. “I’ve done it all. I learned your language. I learned my language. You must write in the language that they understand, to their level.”

Ramos said she has led language programs for more than 300 participants at five different levels.

“If someone from Cuba interprets a paper for somebody from Mexico, that doesn’t translate,” she said.

Greg Marangi of Western Nevada Community College, Douglas, said he was no stranger to the language barrier because his grandfather only spoke Italian and his wife is from the Philippines.

“We’re all immigrants or relatives of immigrants. We all have to consider each person’s individual responsibility to access those programs. If we don’t, we’re like a rowboat without oars,” he said.

Marion Weissheimer, chairman of the board of directors of community access Channel 26, said she believed parents do take the responsibility for their children.

“Parents would embrace the devil to advance their children,” she said.

But if they don’t understand the language, lack transportation and work two or three jobs to support their families, they can’t access the system, she said.

– Community support. Karen Edwards, executive director of the Family Support Council, offered to lead an effort to create a chapter of LULAC in Douglas County. But, Edwards said, she can’t do it without community support.

Founded in 1929, LULAC is the oldest Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States.

Marangi suggested creating a partnership with an employer to create a pilot language program for Hispanic employees. Offering classes at the work site would make the program accessible to all employees and benefit the employer, he said.

“We need a continuum of resources, especially for people without transportation,” he said. “We need a bias for action.”

Symposium participants also discussed ways to let people know what services and classes are available using such resources as churches, schools and the public library.

“We have no shortage of resources, we either get people there or go to where they are to bring them in,” Marangi said.

Several participants at the symposium volunteered to serve as an advisory committee to organize a LULAC chapter. The group will meet Monday, May 15, at 2 p.m., Room 104, Western Nevada Community College, Douglas, 1680 Bently Parkway South, Minden.

The meeting is open to the public. For information, contact Cheryl Bricker, executive director of the Partnership of Community Resources, 782-8611.