LATINO COMMUNITY LEADER REFLECTS ON SUCCESSES, CHALLENGES
by PATRICK RAYCRAFT
March 05, 2012
Yvette H. Bello is the executive director of Latino Community Services, a nonprofit agency on Wethersfield Avenue in Hartford. She grew up in the South End and earned an MBA from Albertus Magnus College. In this recent interview, Bello reflected on her life and work in Greater Hartford:
I am a first-generation Mexican American. My parents came from Mexico in their 20s. My parents were illegal, undocumented, and they went through a process in the 1980s to rectify that situation. There was a time in our society that immigration was OK, unlike today. I can't imagine my parents coming at this point. When we were growing up, there [were] not a lot of Mexican people [in Hartford], so we really became familiar with the Puerto Rican culture.
My path was a little crooked, but it all makes sense now. After high school, I tried to pay my way through college. After the first semester of not doing so hot with my grades, being over-tired from working all the time to pay for it, I knew very quickly I had to do something else. I joined the Army. After the Army, I quickly got a [state] job -- some would say a dream job in the Department of Public Health. I was exposed to people with higher-education degrees -- older professionals, people in the workforce.
I made the decision to leave the state and all its comforts to be part of this team [Latino Community Services] because I believed the community was worth it. Over the years, clients have changed their lives. Some people have eliminated drugs altogether. Reduction is a success. Soberness is a success. People sometimes just need a leg up. Another success is being able to meet the children of our clients who have [passed away] and still feel the gratitude, the legacy of what this organization's done for many years.
I think the number one challenge for the Latino community is a lack of hope. Predominantly, Latinos and African Americans are disproportionately impacted by HIV and AIDS. It's not that these groups have more promiscuity than their white counterparts. We really have to look at poverty. We look at population density in urban settings. We work with people who are struggling to address very difficult issues: addiction, homelessness, mental health, substance abuse. People that really need help regardless of race.
The word Latino to me means any person coming from a country that speaks Spanish. It's personal. It's everything. It's how we talk to each other. How we care about each other. I just think it's a kinship. It's really hopeful for me. Hispanic, to me, seems cold. Hispanic is a term that's used mostly in government and in organizations. We are labeled Hispanic. It's not a race. It's a place of origin.
The major challenge for my sector in terms of Latinos is addiction. Also, people on the verge of losing their homes, their jobs. It's amazing what a person can do when they have somewhere to go and feel that they are contributing. Not only contributing to the workforce but contributing as a family member. Employment would make my job a lot easier. It would probably lessen a lot of clients slipping into depression, self-medication -- like substance abuse -- which obviously invites disease.
Latinos are representative of 22 countries, including Spain and Portugal. They are the fastest-growing immigrant group in Connecticut and account for 13.4 percent of the state's total population. Please email your comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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