annual Hispanic Leadership Conference focuses on immigration
By Ingrid Marie Rivera, La Prensa Correspondent
ELYRIA: Undocumented immigrant Gerardo Bautista Bolaños
accepted a voluntary departure back to his native México in
September 2010, leaving behind in the U.S., his wife Tracy
Bailes Bolaños and their two children, ages 10 and 5.
Tracy Bailes Bolaños shared her story at the 17th
annual Hispanic Leadership Conference at Lorain County Community
College, Elyria, April 21, 2012. Roughly 400 to 500 people
attended the conference.
Except in a visit to Mexico last Christmas, Tracy Bailes Bolaños,
of Vermilion, has not seen her husband. With her lawyer, she's
been fighting for his return to the U.S. by alleging hardship
but to no success. Although he lived 17 years in the U.S. and
has no criminal record, his entering the country without
documentation complicated his case.
He now lives in Maravatío, Michoacán but in hopes of returning
to his family, he often travels to the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad
Juárez, nicknamed the most dangerous city in the world.
“Even for him, who’s a native of Mexico, it’s still scary for
him,” she said.
The 2012 Hispanic Leadership Conference primarily focused
on immigration reform, but topics discussed also included health
disparities, entrepreneurship, advocacy, and education. Nearly a
dozen speakers participated.
and Dina Ferrer have co-organized the Hispanic Leadership
Conference for 17 years to provide a forum for discussing the
important issues affecting the Latino communities. They also
hope the forum will inspire Latinos and non-Latinos to mobilize
and make a positive impact, a change.
“There’s no undocumented, no illegals; they're human beings. We
will not buy into this caste system,” Mike Ferrer said.
The conference was hosted by the Coalition for
Hispanic/Latino Issues and Progress (CHIP) and with the help
of 67 other organizations and 44 sponsors including La Prensa.
CHIP president, reminded the audience that Latinos now make up
over 50 million in the U.S. (16 percent of the U.S. population)
and are the largest minority group in the country but “those
numbers don’t mean a darn thing unless you do three things: get
educated, get involved, and vote.”
Juan Sepúlveda: A Latino Inspiration
Visiting from the President Obama administration was Juan
Sepúlveda, director of the White House Initiative on
Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, and the senior
advisor for Hispanic Affairs for the Democratic National
Committee. He said Obama is proud of what the Latinos are doing
in Lorain County during the last couple of decades.
Sepúlveda shared his inspirational story: how as a young
Mexican-American growing up in a working class neighborhood in
Topeka, Kansas, he managed to defy the odds and attend Harvard,
Oxford, and Stanford Universities. He became the first to attend
college in his family. All smiles, Sepúlveda shared with the
crowd how he managed to prove wrong his high school guidance
counselor that did not believe in him even though he was a
“smart, Mexican kid,” at the top of his class. He now also has
two children in college. He said the three keys to success are
hard work, learning the system you want to succeed in (figuring
out how to navigate or master your specific school or job), and
“never compare yourself to anyone because at the end of the
night, there’s only one person who knows if you gave it your
all, and that’s you.”
Another young Latino following his dreams is Matt Jones,
a student at Cleveland Marshall College of Law at Cleveland
State University, and a member of the Hispanic Law Student
Association. He previously graduated from the Ohio State
University. Jones helped direct audience questions to the
speakers at the conference.
He said it’s important for Latinos to attend these forums
because of networking opportunities and to be role models.
“Especially for the next generation to show the younger kids and
high school students that they can actually do something,” like
attend college or achieve any other goal.
Advocating Immigrant Rights
Veronica Isabel Dahlberg,
from Canton and of Mexican and Hungarian roots, has been
advocating for the rights of Ohio’s Latino immigrants for over
20 years. Founder and executive director of Hispanas
Organizadas de Lake y Ashtabula (HOLA) in Painesville, she
shared the plights of immigrants her organization strives to
HOLA is not a direct service provider but instead an
organization in Painesville that partners with other Latino
organizations to help empower Latino immigrants and teach them
how to advocate for themselves, she said.
Dahlberg shared the story of one undocumented immigrant mother
in jeopardy of being deported back this May to Mexico, leaving
behind her four youngest sons and one grandson, all U.S.
HOLA managed to help Manuela Maldonado, of Painesville,
mother of six boys, find the legal help she needed, and she was
granted a one year delay of her deportation on May 16, 2011. But
as their next court hearing approaches, she and her two oldest
sons, who are also undocumented, will face the risk of
deportation again. Her husband and their father, Diego Maldonado
was already deported in 2010. He had lived in Painesville for 13
years, worked at the same job for 10 years, and had no criminal
She said Cleveland’s ICE office is not implementing
prosecutorial discretion as they should and as set forth in the
John Morton Memo that was issued on June 17, 2011—a
policy that requires federal agents to place priority on
deporting undocumented hardened criminals or terrorists over
those with no criminal background.
“I wish our government would find better ways to spend their
money than trying to destroy this family,” Dahlberg said.
Richard Romero, Isabel Framer, Jesús Nebot, Juan Sepúlveda,
Margarita DeLeón, Roberto Torres, Veronica Dahlberg, and Richard
Antonio Barrios and Mary Santiago
Mike Rendon atty
Rivera and Adrianne
There are roughly 12 million undocumented individuals in the
Roughly 5 million U.S. citizen Latino children have atleast one
undocumented parent, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Calling the conference an opportunity to mobilize and “an
incredible experience,” Dahlberg said she hopes the forum will
motivate people to speak up and get involved.
She said: “I’m hoping people will take away from this
(conference) a new perspective about this (undocumented
immigrant) population and say: ‘Why aren’t we trying to
integrate this population into our communities instead of
ripping the families apart?’”
Velásquez, FLOC, and the Bible
an international advocate for Latino and immigrant rights within
the farm labor and beyond, founded the Farm Labor Organizing
Committee (FLOC), to address the injustices suffered by his
family and other farmworkers.
He grew up in a migrant farmworker family in the Rio Grande
valley of Texas and his family also would migrate to the Midwest
every year to harvest crops. His family eventually settled in
Ohio and he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from
Bluffton College, also the first member of his family to
graduate from college.
Velásquez said the immigration issue is part of a global problem
where the “super rich marginalize others,” and he criticized
NAFTA, a trade agreement between Canada, U.S., and Mexico.
But he happily shared his exciting developments.
He will be meeting soon with the three major tobacco companies
on behalf of the agricultural, undocumented migrant workers, to
speak of their rights. FLOC will also be joining the NAACP in
North Carolina to create a similar Latino chapter.
Velásquez turned to the Bible for answers to the immigration
He said he found 119 verses in the Old Testament that mention
stranger or aliens, and found three similar themes.
He said the Bible says: “One: Do not mistreat the alien. Two:
You should govern the alien with the same law as you govern
yourself. Three: God will judge those who mistreat the poor and
But above all, Velásquez said the Bible teaches humans to
“We can’t deny the principal promise as to why God sent his son
Jesus to the cross, and that’s to give us all amnesty, to
forgive us of our sins,” Velásquez said, while someone in the
audience responded “That’s right.”
Velásquez powerfully commanded the stage, raised his voice and
said: “If that’s the promise we have, who are we to deny it to
Filmmaker Jesús Nebot presented “Lessons and Common Sense
Solutions to Immigration Reform.” Nebot, along with Velásquez
and Dahlberg, were workshop presenters. So were Lilleana
Cavanaugh (OCHLA executive director), José Rafi Rodríguez (Ohio
Hispanic Chambers of Commerce president), attorney Richard
Herman, Gloria Herrera La Morte, Eileen Torres, and Laura
The guests enjoyed entertainment by SalsaOco, a group of
Colombian style, ballroom and Latin dancers from New Jersey and
many more. Performing also was Alfredo de la Fé, born in
Cuba, raised in New York and carrying a Colombian citizenship, a
violinist who has traveled to 94 countries and performed with
music legends Celia Cruz (his godmother), Carlos Santana, Eddie
Palmieri, Las Estrellas de Fania, and more. De la Fé is also an
the title sponsor, provided free health/medical screenings.
Offered also were résumé reviews. The conference also featured a
salsa dance workshop by Eileen Torres, of Lorain. Guests enjoyed
a gala Saturday evening at DeLuca’s Place in the Park, and saw
the film “Entre Nos,” on Friday.
Plus, Guillermo Arriaga, curator of the Museum of
Hispanic and Latino Cultures, brought an exhibit showcasing
dozens of artifacts including folkloric clothing from 18 Latino
countries. His collection spans the pre-Columbian Era to current
time, and most are from México and Perú. Among the artifacts: a
tostonera from Puerto Rico, the Aztec Calendar stones, a
beautiful doll dressed in a Spaniard folkloric dress poised with
her hands graciously in the air as ready for dance.
Speaking at the conference also was Laura Vásquez, senior
policy analyst of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) in her
workshop that addressed the Morton Memo: Prosecutorial
Tracy Bailes Bolaños, who works at the Lorain County
Community Action Agency Head Start and has two additional
older children for a total of four, attended the workshop on
prosecutorial discretion in hopes of finding new tools to help
her husband return home. She has attended the conference since
its 4th year and finds them informative.
She urges Latinos and non-Latinos to get involved and attend.
Veronica Isabel Dahlberg
Baldemar Velasquez and Mike Ferrer
Tracy Bailes Bolaños (in white shirt),
Kailey Silva, Christina Shamblin, Victoria Sanchez,
and Elizabeth Soto, attendees at the conference.