Developing community

Local Latinos find ways to meet changing needs
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
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Cesar E. Chavez Leadership Conference & Celebration

What: Hispanic Empowerment Association of Roseville presents 13th annual art, health, education and job fair for K-12 students

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 13

Where: Davis Freeborn Hall, UC Davis campus, 1 Shields Ave.

Cost: Free admission and parking

Info: For registration forms, visit


Internet safety presentation

What: Information on Internet safety, cyber-bullying and social networking among youth presented by the Roseville Police Department

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 9

Where: Antelope High School, 7801 Titan Drive in Antelope

Cost: Free


Three times a week, a woman named Obdulia “Gigi” Alvarez meets with other Latinas to make handmade native art in the form of dolls and jewelry. But this isn’t just a casual hobby.

El Rincon de las Comrades, organized by the Auburn-based Latino Leadership Council, takes a preventive approach to physical and mental health by building up women’s self-determination and sense of belonging, said the council’s coordinator, Elisa Herrera.

The Hispanic and Latino population has grown in Placer County over the years, and is now at about 13 percent of the area’s 350,000 residents, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Here, Latinos are ensuring their changing needs are met by starting support groups, collaborating with schools to launch programs targeting parents, finding ways to get healthy — physically, emotionally and mentally — and inspiring their youth.

Chief among those efforts is Alvarez’s crafts group.

Crafting self-determination

Low self-esteem can impact a person’s mental wellness, and El Rincon de las Comrades offers a way for women to come together to share knowledge and camaraderie — while doing something enjoyable. Additionally, they learn how to start a small business by selling their creations.

“The group also focuses on preserving their rich culture and passing it down to the next generation,” Herrera said. “The program builds relationships that help address issues of cultural isolation and empowers participants with the skills and knowledge needed to take control of their personal situations, and avoid the stresses and pressures that can lead to mental and physical health problems.”

Alvarez got involved with El Rincon de las Comrades about two years ago through her promotora, and now leads the group, which typically has about 10 to 16 members per location — in Roseville, Rocklin and Lincoln. She said, through a translator, that her favorite part of being in the group is the friendships she has developed with other women. She also appreciates the advice they share.

“I feel better about myself, like I am valuable and that I can help others, because I never thought that I would be able to help others or even imagined (I’d) be able to teach what I know,” Alvarez said. “I have learned so much and now I have new friends and have gotten great advice from them, which has helped my family and my self-esteem.”

The Latino Leadership Council formed in 2007 to assist Placer County’s Spanish-speaking population. One of the council’s first initiatives was the promotora program.

The county had received a federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, which is a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The county asked a woman by the name of Maria Cordova — a retired school psychologist in Roseville — to assemble a group of Latinos to survey the needs of their community.

Cordova would soon become the council’s first promotora, which refers to a trusted leader who helps Spanish-speaking residents navigate health, educational, governmental and legal systems. The council now has 13 trained promotores — primarily women, but some men — who work with people on issues such as preventing youth violence, handling trauma and practicing healthy living.

Empowering parents

Gang involvement has become a big concern for some local Latino parents. Adelante High School in Roseville runs a program to discourage youth from entering the destructive world of gangs.

The Youth Empowerment and Goals Association formed in 2005 to educate teenagers about how bad decisions can lead to incarceration. Sessions are held the third Saturday of every month at the Roseville Police Department. Typically, 10 to 20 students attend, said program coordinator Margaret Bravo.

Most of the students in the program are Latino. YEAGA is run by ex-convicts, retired correctional staff, representatives of the U.S. Armed Forces and other community members who tell teens about their own experiences with criminal activity. The participants learn “teaching pro-social skills” and anger management. In turn, they work with younger kids at a local elementary school and middle school to pass on the knowledge.

“We empower the youth and provide unique self-esteem building tools,” Bravo said. “Our volunteer members come from all walks of life. Our mission is to provide the youth with honest information and also the tools to utilize when dealing with life’s issues. Since the members are all volunteers, we know that each is sincere and gives 100 percent at all times.”

Adelante also collaborates with law enforcement, including Youth Services Officer Carlos Cortes, on an outreach program targeting Spanish-speaking parents and guardians to educate them on how to spot the warning signs of gang activity or substance abuse, said Vice Principal Bridgette Dean.

Additionally, the police department hosts a presentation on cyber-safety and youth, which is given by Det. Brent Northrup and translated in Spanish by Cortes.

“Our continued goal is to encourage collaboration between agencies such as schools and law enforcement to offer information and prevention to our parents and the community as a whole,” Dean said in an email to the Press Tribune.

The goal for the school is to eliminate the language barrier and better connect parents with the education system, and close achievement gaps. This keeps parents more engaged with their own children and more in the loop. Through the program, the police department aims to develop its community-orienting policing, an approach favored by Police Chief Daniel Hahn.

The police department has been attempting to improve its relationship with Latino residents and hosted a Spanish-speaking town hall-type event with Hahn at St. Rose Catholic Church in February.

About 100 people attended, said Roseville resident Rene Aguilera, who said most of the audience’s questions centered on racial profiling and Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. Aguilera asked about the importance of having Spanish speakers more involved with neighborhood associations.

Aguilera said his big take-away from the meeting is that the police seem focused on building trust within the Latino community.

Developing youth leaders

Aguilera has long prided himself on being an agent of change in his community. He grew up idolizing civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, the cofounder and president of the United Farm Workers who organized farm workers from the 1960s until his death in 1993.

As for Aguilera, the Roseville native served 10 years on the Roseville City School District board of trustees, and this fall joined the Roseville Joint Union High School District board.

Through it all, Aguilera has coordinated the Cesar E. Chavez Youth Leadership Conference, which is sponsored by the Hispanic Empowerment Association of Roseville and celebrates its 13th anniversary this year (see sidebar). About 700 students and 200 parents attended last year. Because of the high attendance, the event has been moved from Placer County to the University of California, Davis.

The passage of S.B. 984 in 2000 suggested that school districts give an hour of instruction in all schools around Chavez’s birthday on March 31 about his lessons on nonviolence, self-sacrifice and social justice. Students are asked to engage in community service. Aguilera said the leadership conference embraces Chavez’s legacy.

“We ask parents, students, educators and business and community leaders to come out and volunteer to teach and learn from each other,” Aguilera said.

Speakers and presenters will be able to provide information on such topics as student financial aid and scholarships, and career information on law, journalism, military, teaching, social welfare, art, music, dance, medicine, law enforcement and professional sports.

There will also be folkloric dancers, break dancing, spoken word, Aztec dancers and trick roping cowboy and whip master James Barrera.

“We hope students will leave the conference understanding that continuing their education beyond high school is the key to expanding career opportunities,” Aguilera said. “We also want them to understand their dreams are well within their own reach.”