New advisory board aims to help underrepresented
September 14, 2023 at 12:51 a.m.
Three of the founders of the new Port Chester Hispanic Advisory Board, Rick Hyland (left), Juliana Alzate, and Linda Turturino, pose for a photo in the Westmore News conference room on Monday, Sept. 11, after discussing their motivations to establish the group.
(David Tapia/Westmore News)
Having moved to Port Chester at just six months old from Colombia, Juliana Alzate understands many of the struggles Hispanic immigrants go through.
Currently sitting on the Port Chester Board of Trustees, Alzate has taken it upon herself to use that perspective to help by spearheading the creation of the Port Chester Hispanic Advisory Board—a collaborative effort to mitigate some of those struggles.
As only the third Hispanic trustee to have been voted into office since the cumulative voting system was implemented in 2010, she felt that there was inadequate representation for the Hispanic population of Port Chester—the majority of the community—to turn to address any concerns they have. And even with a trustee and mayor who are part of that community, with abilities to overcome the language barrier some might find, communication is lacking.
Alzate attributes this deficiency to lack of unity, saying that there is “no real main group of people who gather Spanish speakers’ complaints.” She recognized that there are several small groups on Facebook where the Hispanic community haves gathered, “but there’s no main group with leadership.”
Additionally, the 38-year-old found that she was rarely approached when out in public or at events.
“I don’t really get people coming up to me because a lot of people don’t even know what a trustee does,” she said. So she, alongside several other like-minded people, including fellow advisory board founder Rick Hyland, started coming up with ideas.
With the idea of the Port Chester Hispanic Advisory Board coming to fruition last December, the group had settled on what they wanted to do. “We have a two-fold purpose. One is hearing people, and the other is pointing them in the right direction,” said Hyland.
Alzate described the goal as becoming a one-stop place for Hispanic folks to go to when they require a resource.
“I want us to be like the list on the fridge that people can look at when they’re unsure about something, instead of having to search all over the place for that information,” she said. While that’s certainly a gargantuan task, the group is looking to start small.
“We currently have a simpler, more diluted version of what we want and have been distributing it,” Alzate said, referring to a pamphlet that was passed out at Port Chester Day on Aug. 26, which included websites and phone numbers for organizations such as the Carver Center, Family Services of Westchester, and a variety of other resources.
But Alzate wants to expand the list to cover more specialized needs based on her own experiences.
One mission she has is being able to assist with schools and higher education.
“My parents were always working, both full-time and part-time jobs. We couldn’t take advantage of the resources available because we didn’t know,” she said. “We didn’t know anything about [after school programs] or applying to colleges. It’s a completely different culture, so my sister and I had to go through that all by ourselves.”
The college application process is already complicated enough, and without the help of a guidance counselor, it can get so complex that it could discourage someone from trying in the first place. “If someone could possibly have the chance of going to one of those huge universities, I want them to try to do it,” she added.
They’re also making efforts to unite the Hispanic community through the use of volunteer initiatives for students, such as organizing a way for high schoolers to receive community service credits by participating in a Spanish language story hour at the Port Chester-Rye Brook Public Library. They plan on pitching the concept to the Port Chester Board of Education.
These ideas are still considered to be goals down the line, but both Alzate and Hyland are adamant that they’re in this for the long haul.
“It’ll take years,” said Hyland. “For now, if five people show up at first, that’s a win.” But they believe that support will come with time.
“The more time we put out there, the more people will think ‘hey, that sounds really good,’” he said.
For now, the Hispanic Advisory Board will focus on spreading the word about their existence and the resource list they have compiled on their website www.pchispanicboard.wordpress.com—the place to go for more information and to stay updated on the board’s progress.
They were able to host a table at Port Chester Day through the efforts of fellow founder Linda Turturino and are trying to reach out to key people in the Village and Westchester County to spread the word.
While Turturino and Hyland are both quick to agree that the project will require a substantial amount of effort to achieve their goals, they also agree that Alzate is the perfect leader for the job.