Let’s Celebrate Latinx Achievement in Philly
I spend a lot of time writing and thinking (and worrying) about the challenges that Latinxs face in our city. There are lots of those: high poverty rates, health and educational disparities, neighborhood disinvestment, and a paucity of adequate political representation.
But not today.
Today I want to celebrate the accomplishment, steadfastness, and hope of our Philly Latinx communities as embodied by some newsworthy Latinxs and exemplified by several spectacular Latinx-fueled events of the past few weeks.
Yvette Núñez, formerly the chief communications officer for Congreso de Latinos Unidos, on December 12th became the vice president of civic affairs at the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia.
She is the first Latina to hold a senior post at the chamber, and her appointment has significance even beyond its acknowledgement of her personal accomplishment and achievements.
“Cesar Chavez said that ‘we cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community … our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own,’” Núñez said. “This has guided me throughout my career, and I am so excited to work under the leadership of Rob Wonderling to apply it in a whole new way.”
Latinx businesses are big biz.
Between 2007 and 2012 the number of all Latino-owned businesses grew 47.7 percent, and Latina-owned businesses specifically grew 87 percent, according to the Economics and Statistics Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce. According to a 2014 report, “19,000 Hispanic-owned businesses operate in the Philadelphia region, earning $600 million annually and employing more than 18,000 people.”
That Latinx business growth and promise is part of the expansive business landscape the chamber has focused on developing, according to Nüñez. “All of the chamber’s inclusion of civic affairs [and] its execution of its Roadmap for Growth initiative in partnership with the Kenney administration, City Council and chamber members,” she said, “are signs of progress for all of Philadelphia.”
The Cuban-American lawyer, a former Board of Ethics vice chair, has already staked the run on his reputation for integrity. For the Latinx community, this is an exquisitely important attribute — a number of Philly’s Latinx representatives and ward leaders have been convicted of everything from money laundering to ethics violations to bribery, and others have been fined for violations of the city’s campaign finance laws.
Latinx politicos aren’t the only ones whose ethics are less than pristine, of course. A 2015 Billy Penn article documents some 39 Philly politicians who have been investigated in the past 15 years, including Seth Williams, the D.A. Negrín seeks to replace.
Negrín is highly regarded, and after the announcement his Facebook timeline flooded with heartfelt congratulatory messages from all corners of the city. The ex-football player — who has said that the heartbreaking experience of seeing his father gunned down before his eyes led him to become a lawyer — believes his vision of an unimpeachable D.A.’s office serves all of Philadelphia.
“It all starts with integrity,” Negrín said. “If we don’t have the public trust we will never achieve what we need to achieve.”
It’s undeniable that Negrín’s D.A. run gives notice that Latinx political aspiration has moved from hyperlocal and district-centered to citywide. The impact — were he to be elected to the post — would be even wider: less than 2 percent of all elected prosecutors in the nation are Latinx.
But Negrín is absolutely clear that his run isn’t about any single community. “Part of the training I received from the vibrant, multicultural [Latinx] community is that … we are at our best when we work together across our differences to deal with issues that affect us all,” he said. “That’s when we start to achieve.”
ARTS AND CULTURE
Taller Puertorriqueño has long been the premier Latinx arts organization in El Barrio, but it’s only now that the organization has a facility that fits its stature. El Corazón center officially held its opening on December 7th, and much of its 24,000-square-foot space was filled with well-wishers and enthused community members. Carmen Febo San Miguel, who as director led the organization through completion of the $10.5 million project, noted on her Facebook page that it had been a long journey, and that the accomplishment had been effected with “a lot of help from so many.”
The truth is that Taller has for so long been so central to the Latinx community in Philadelphia (40-plus years) that almost everyone posting and sharing photos of the new center on Febo’s timeline expressed how personally significant the opening of the new space was to them.
Two years ago, I wrote about the then-prospective center’s importance not only to the community but to Philadelphia’s cultural scene at large:
“Taller’s success will acknowledge two very crucial things Philadelphia doesn’t seem to know yet. First, the Latino community needs and supports and loves the arts. There are Latino artists working across mediums in our city, and if you haven’t seen their work, you haven’t been attending the right openings and performances and readings. Second, the arts organization doesn’t have to be located in Center City to be a tremendous incubator for the arts. One of our favorite things about Taller is the way the popular art coexists with the edgy, folk traditions merge with ambitious and forward thinking.There is such beauty and power in the community, and Taller’s almost fully realized dream of a new cultural center will make that absolutely undeniable.”
Dream completed, I can’t wait to see what this dynamic, crucial cultural institution does next. ¡Enhorabuena!
Because of the nature of opinion writing, it’s too easy, sometimes, to focus exclusively on exceptional people and exceptional organizations. But I think it’s important to acknowledge that the strength of any community is determined by its unsung, ordinary-but-oh-so-remarkable folk.
Every year, a thousand or more Philly Latinxs gather to celebrate the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The majority of those who proceed from parishes across the city are working folks struggling to make ends meet, yet every year they put their hard-earned money and devote many hours to making the Vigil Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul a beautiful and joyous expression of their faith.
Individual parishes, like St. Thomas Aquinas in South Philly, hold Masses on the actual feast day (December 12th) but the Vigil Mass at the Cathedral in Center City has become a central, unifying celebration. The cavernous Cathedral fills with Latinxs and non-Latinx Catholics from the city in honor of the 1531 apparition of Mary to an ordinary, indigenous man, St. Juan Diego.
This year on December 11th, the usual crowds gathered on Philly streets to make the long walk of faith to the center of Philadelphia.
To make a grammatical analogy — it was not a celebration of or, but of a better conjunction: and.
For me there are no better examples of Philly than the ones I’ve highlighted in this column. They evince the excellence, the commitment to public good, the aspiration, and the perseverance against daunting odds that give our city its real character.
This week, I couldn’t be any prouder of us.