Since Blanco envisioned the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs, the city's Latino population has swelled 67 percent to the point where half the schoolchildren come from Spanish-speaking families. A walk around the downtown or Park & Seventh business district turns up dozens of restaurants offering cuisines of more than 20 homelands of new residents and recent summer festivals have brought thousands of Latinos out for music, food and souvenirs of their heritage.
Flor GonzalezOn Wednesday, commission members met in City Hall Library to introduce new officers as Latino entrepreneurs and activists looked on. Flor Gonzalez, president of the Latin American Coalition and a 35-year city resident, is the new president.
Gonzalez said the commission will launch a "Get to Know" campaign alerting the public to its mission, through direct contact and outreach through churches, schools, sporting events, festivals, the July Fourth parade, social media and perhaps even signage in taxis.
She said the commission will seek participation from all residents, including youth and seniors.
"Our commission is going to be here for all of you," she said.
Maritza MartinezMaritza Martinez, owner of a downtown business for 25 years, is vice president. Other officers are Carlos Ponton, secretary and Libia Saavedra Price, treasurer. The City Council liaison is Rebecca Williams and Christian Estevez is Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's appointee to the commission.
In a press statement, Mapp said, "As mayor, I work hard every day to ensure that Plainfield is a city of opportunity for all. The Hispanic Advisory Commission is an integral part of our community's vision for 'One Plainfield, One Future.' "
Police Director Carl Riley told the commissioners he hopes to increase the number of Spanish-speaking staff in the Police Division, currently only 15 out of 140 employees. He urged the commissioners to encourage Hispanics to take tests to serve as dispatchers, police aides and police officers.
As for the Hispanic community at large, he said, "Everybody's going to be treated the same, whether undocumented or not."
Williams recalled being a community activist working with Blanco when he came up with the concept of an advisory commission on Hispanic affairs. An ordinance creating the commission was passed in 2005. Blanco passed away unexpectedly in 2006 while he was council president.
Initial appointments to the commission in 2010 faltered and it became inactive. Williams said its renewal now and the appointment of Carlos Sanchez as deputy city administrator for economic development speaks to the commitment of the Mapp administration "to engage the Hispanic community."
Duties and powers of the commission include advising the mayor and council of needs, concerns and accomplishments of the Hispanic community, seeking input from community residents and leaders, making city services more accessible to Hispanics, insuring their role in policy-making and improving communications with the administration and governing body.
The commission will meet at 7 p.m. on May 8 in City Hall and subsequent meetings will be on the first Thursday of each month. The public is welcome to attend.