Carney commemorates Hispanic Heritage Month in Delaware

Gov. John Carney declared the period between September 15 and October 15 as Delaware’s Hispanic Heritage Month Wednesday afternoon.

“Hispanic Heritage Month is the period set aside each year to celebrate the life, work, culture and traditions of Hispanic Delawareans,” Gov. Carney said, reading the proclamation aloud. “Members of Delaware’s Hispanic community have succeeded in preserving their cultural and ethnic heritage while immersing themselves in American life, community and culture.”

The document also notes that Delaware’s Iberian roots go back to 1500s, when Portuguese explorer Diogo Ribeiro became the first European to map the area that now includes Delaware.

The governor was joined by six representatives from various organization’s focused on Delaware’s Latino population, including three from Downstate.

“As I think over the last very challenging six months as we responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in our state, I think one of the most difficult” (episodes) was the outbreak we saw amongst poultry workers in the lower part of our state in the Latino and the Haitian Creole populations,” Gov. Carney said.

He called out social services provider La Esperanza as a key community partner in getting that outbreak under control.

“I’m very honored to represent La Esperanza here today, a nonprofit in Georgetown that was founded 24 years ago by three Spanish nuns,” said Patricia Rivera, the organization’s board president. “They were determined to ensure that recent immigrants would never lose hope, and the word in Spanish for hope is ‘esperanza.’”

Ms. Rivera said the Latino community has been hit hard by the virus.

“Families have lost their loved ones, they’ve lost their jobs, they’ve lost their sense of security and stability,” she said. “The pandemic has brought people together from all walks of life, people who are working together to help those in need.”

She said the organization’s mission became even more critical this year and that they greatly appreciate the support provided by other nonprofits, state agencies and private organizations.

“We reached more than 20,000 people through social media with ongoing COVID updates,” she said. “We had to get creative in being able to reach our community and really turn to technology like the rest of us.”

Ms. Rivera said La Esperanza is “organizing now after chool programs to make sure our families are supported as they’re struggling with these new teaching techniques.”

Rosa Rivera, the chief operating officer at La Red Health Center, a multi-lingual healthcare provider across downstate Delaware, also spoke.

“It’s great to hear about the work that La Esperanza continues to do in our community, because La Red was born out of a program from La Esperanza,” she said. “La Red has been providing services since 2001, and our mission is to be a center for excellence, which provides quality patient care to a diverse community.”

Rosa Rivera said La Red’s goal is to help immigrants navigate the American healthcare system.

“It’s a very complicated healthcare system,” she said. “These barriers are well known within our Hispanic community. We talk about language, we talk about culture, we talk about transportation and financial issues.”

In addition to providing healthcare, Rosa Rivera said La Red’s staff spent much time educating the community.

“We did so many events with our staff educating our community about the spreading of the disease, wearing our masks, doing other things we don’t typically like to do,” she said.

“The Hispanic community is known for our family gatherings, for hugging, for kissing. That’s how we say ‘hi,’” Rosa River said. “That was a huge change for us, telling people, ‘no, stop. No hugging. No kissing.’… It was very, very hard to maintain that.”

She said the support La Red receives from the state and other organizations and its partnerships with local hospitals have been a big part of its success.

“This was very key to us as the pandemic knocked on our doors,” she said. “It was a very limited time to quickly address and figure out how we were going to continue to take care of our patients and figure out the limitations that our patients had so we could continue to provide for them.”

Gov. Carney said La Red’s services and deep ties to the community were instrumental in stemming the COVID-19 outbreak that affected Sussex County’s poultry plants earlier this year.

“Your partnership with the hospitals was instrumental through the spring as we did the outreach that was necessary,” he said. “La Red provides a trusted resource in the community for so many Latino families across Sussex County.”

The last speaker Gov. Carney welcomed was Lissette Perez, a teacher with the Milford School district.

“With passion, I have worked for the last four years as an English as a Second Language paraprofessional and I can say with certainty that it’s more than a job,” she said. “It’s a mission.”

Ms. Perez said learning a second language is not easy.

“But our Hispanic families know the value of living and raising their children in this beautiful nation,” she said. “They know that in order to be successful it is necessary to learn the language and honor the constitution.”

Gov. Carney said students learning English in Delaware’s schools were a key priority for him

“The fastest growing student population in schools across Delaware are English language learners,” he said. “The highest priority I have is governor is to provide additional resources and funding to schools and districts for disadvantaged students and for English language learners.”

Ms. Perez also reread her statement in Spanish.

“If I had paid closer attention to my Spanish teacher in high school, Sister Assumpta, I probably would have been able to follow that a lot closer than I did,” Gov. Carney said.