Black Westchester’s Latino Empowerment is starting a series called ‘21 Questions’ with a Latino Leader where we’ll be highlighting several Latino Leaders and the extraordinary work they do in the Latino and overall community. Usually, an unsung (s)hero. Our first Introduction to you is Diana Sanchez, an organizer for The Yonkers Sanctuary Movement. A gal after my own heart as I started my career as a community organizer. We’ll also be having guest Latino co-reporters as well. Our first co-reporter for this series is Hector Santiago, creator of Stop and Shake.
If you would like to nominate an unsung (s)hero or will like to be a co-reporter, please contact me at LorraineLopez700@gmail.com, hit me on Facebook, or call or text me at (914) 223-3191
Pa’ lante, mi gente!!!
1. What is your name?
2. What municipality in Westchester do you reside in?
3. What do you do for a living?
I’m currently a Community Organizer of a grassroots organization named “Yonkers Sanctuary Movement”, or YSM for short.
4. Tell us about the organization’s you belong to if any.
Yonkers Sanctuary Movement is a grassroots organization led by DACA recipients and allies. YSM advocates for Undocumented Rights, pushes laws that protect the undocumented community, and empowers the undocumented community in the city of Yonkers. I am also a Board Member of Hudson Valley Community Coalition and part of the Hudson Valley Community Funding Committee for North Star Foundation.
5. What are some of the things you have done?
YSM started in December 2016 after the new administration was elected. We knew the undocumented community was already being racially targeted and that many of our families, friends and community members were going to be affected. We are the only organization that was pushing for Yonkers to become a Sanctuary City. In 2017, we pushed for the “Immigration Protection Act”in Westchester County, “Green Light Bill” statewide and are currently pushing for the “Protect our Courts Act” in NY state. We have been pushing for a Clean Dream Act and pushing to protect DACA Recipients but we know that we need to push for a bill that will protect our whole entire undocumented community. Besides pushing for legislation that protects our undocumented community, we have given many “Know Your Rights” trainings because the majority of undocumented community do no know that they have rights regardless of their immigration status. YSM also tries to help the community with immigration cases by referring them to attorneys. In the past year, we have helped fundraise for attorney fees and bail so that three community members could be released and reunited with their families. We have also raised funds for 12 DACA recipients’ DACA renewal fees. DACA renewal fees. We currently are fundraising for our mutual aid fund, “Dando Una Mano”, to provide some help to undocumented families who have has lost work and are financially struggling due to the pandemic, and who have received no federal aid. Currently we have distributed this mutual aid to 61 applicants, in the amount of $300 per family. We are hoping to get more donations as 180 families in Yonkers and Mount Vernon applied to the Dando Una Mano fund, and we can only currently cover about half of those who applied.
6. What are your goals?
My goals are to continue to empower the undocumented community, minorities and especially women. To create more leadership amongst directly impacted people. I believe only people who are directly impacted by social justice issues should be the ones to lead their movement. There are not many spaces for directly impacted people to lead and especially women, women of color, and the LGTBQ+ community.
7. What motivates you?
My family. My mother, my father, my brothers, my friends and community members who I grew up with, who up to this day have been affected by immigration policies.
8. What’s the biggest problems in the Latino community?
That we are not united, that we are fighting for many different issues but not necessarily all together. There’s also a lack of representation in government positions and the lack of not knowing who represents what in different government positions.
9. Is there enough Latino leadership?
10. Where could we use more?
Yonkers, Westchester, State and Country.
11. Do we need more Latino businesses?
Yes, to give you an example, I live in Yonkers. Southwest Yonkers is known for having Latino businesses such as restaurants, body shops, bodegas, and hair salons, but in other parts of Yonkers there’s a lack of diversity and Latino businesses. I’m sure this is an issue all over Westchester County, not to mention the state. diversity and Latino businesses. I’m sure this is an issue all over Westchester County, not to mention the state.
12. How do today’s politics/politicians treat Latino community?
We are currently in a hard time. Nationally we know that this administration has continuously vilified the Latino community which has caused many racist people to verbally and physically attack Latinos. I myself was verbally attacked by an older lady who yelled racist things such as, “Go back to your country, your child is a bastard and an anchor baby”. In my 29 years of living in this country, I had never gone through that until 2016 when this new president was running for the seat. We obviously witnessed that the Yonkers City Council in 2017 never let the Councilwoman Corazon Pineda-Isaac bring a bill out for discussion that would support a bill that would be through the state to make the state a Sanctuary City and would not necessarily be a city policy.
13. Are Latinos are educated enough and motivated to fill out the Census?
Some Latinos are and some not necessarily. Unfortunately COVID had a great impact on all of the communities but majority the Latino and Black community. In Yonkers, the Latino and Black communities have been the majority of the population being affected. This pushed many organizations and Census workers to hold back from in-person contact with the communities. Although our organization did not get any funding to help out and do community outreach on the Census, Yonkers Sanctuary Movement has recently done a bilingual informative live video that was featured in our Facebook page. We were able to answer questions while going live. We are currently one of the only organizations that provide all our information and resources bilingually in English and Spanish. We are going to be organizing a Census event before the Census deadline of September 30.
14. What advice would you give Latinos who are wary of filling out the Census because of immigration status?
I would advise them not to fear that your information will be shared. My family has been completing the Census for as long as I can remember. This time I got a chance to fill mine out as a parent and for the very first time as an adult. I have been in multiple conversations with Census Coordinators and staff and they all shared the same information. The information you fill out will help fund the services we receive from the state such as schools, hospitals, transportation, TSNAP programs, Medicaid and our state and city will get more funding. I was very upset to hear from a former Board Member of YSM who currently works for Casa Maria (a non profit organization) that only 57 percent of the Yonkers population filled out the census last year. [Last year or 10 years ago? -Gina] That means almost half of the community did not answer the census and a lot of funding for services and resources were lost. I would also advise then to inform themselves better, to ask questions, to look for organizations that help the undocumented community such as YSM. One place to start is to watch the informative video we streamed live this week about the Census, as we mentioned earlier. We are here to answer questions and help guide people if they send us a message there.
15. Should Latinos register to vote?
Yes, Yes, Yes!
16. What would you say to a Latino to encourage them to vote?
We might be called “the minority vote” but in reality, we are a huge population in this country. Our vote matters: if not, you wouldn’t see so many politicians coming into our Latino and minority communities when elections are coming up. Please register as people who wish they could vote definitely depend on you.
17. Do you support the Black Lives Movement and why?
Yes, everyone who is in Yonkers Sanctuary Movement’s Board and leadership do. Our organization has joined rallies but has also supported the movement through our social media. I know it’s a big challenging for our undocumented folks to join rallies because the fear of deportation but we believe that we need to stand together in solidarity with the Black Community. We know that black undocumented folks are currently the majority of the population that get detained and deported by immigration officials. We know that Latinos and the Black community are the biggest population of groups that are incarcerated. We know that Detention Facilities have grown throughout the years. Many Detention Facilities are owned by Private Corporations and have extended their beds to become Immigration Facilities. The same system that has killed and incarcerated Black communities has locked and separated Latinos from their loved ones. Sometimes we don’t hear about incidents involving police brutality that happen with Latino community members because of their fear of being deported and because many come from fled from countries where the Police are corrupted.
18. Why do you think Latinos are more likely to contract COVID-19?
Latinos and Black community members have been the highest population of contracting COVID because they had to work through the pandemic. Undocumented folks are Essential but none of them have health insurance, haven’t received any federal aid and they continuously have to travel in public transportation to get to work. Yonkers in fact was the city with most COVID cases and most of them were Latino and Black community members. You have to understand we are the first city that borders the Bronx. Many community members work in the city and many city workers work in Westchester and they use public transportation to get to work. Also we need to acknowledge not everyone has licenses or have cars, afford car insurance and gas. Not everyone was able to get a permit and license because of COVID and DMV offices and other public offices closing through months. For our undocumented community finally regaining access to drivers license in the state of NY was a victory but unfortunately many were still studying to take the permit test and will have to wait till December or Next Year when there’s more appointment available.
19. 2020 has hit the nation hard. Do you think Latinos have enough mental health resources to help them cope?
No. Mental Health in fact has always been a taboo to talk about in the Latino Community. Almost feels as if we are always scared to admit we need help. We are strong and hardworking people that for Latinos it’s almost as if it was a sign of weakness. Unfortunately we also have to acknowledge many of our undocumented and Latino have barrier language and we have to acknowledge as undocumented folks many things come to play including fear of being separated from their family. I hope we can open dialogue and also create more resources for Latinos and all communities as Covid has mentally impacted everyone.
20. What message would you send to the Latino community?
Not to feel scared. To get informed. There’s organizations and people who care about you. I know COVID has hit us hard and many have lost loved ones. For the ones that are fighting everyday know that you matter, that we see you, we hear you and that we love you. I hope we continue to build and help each other.
21. If you were a superhero, who would you be and why?
The funny thing is that I have always loved superheroes. In fact I have started to collect the action figures now that I’m an adult. What can I say my Dad named me after the Goddess of the Moon and some of my female friends call me Wonder Woman. But in reality I always watched Batman cartoons as a child and my favorite character from Batman was Cat Woman. But as I’m asking my daughter she keeps bringing up that Wonder Woman is the coolest