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FLECHA Poconos event talks representation, education and 'more than politics'



When Dr. Adan Stevens asked what was important to the Poconos Latinx community, the room echoed with a chorus of various answers: education, infrastructure, public transit, health, economy.


At the core of the discussion, held Oct. 14 at the Hughes Library in Stroudsburg: representation.


"We have to talk about the very real issues that representation is not happening," Dr. Damary Bonilla-Rodriguez said, noting that the Federation of Latinos for Education about the Cultures of Hispanic America (FLECHA) is typically the point of contact when it comes to Latinx representation and cultural education in Monroe and Pike counties.


While Hispanic families have been present in the Poconos since before the Revolutionary War (A colonial settler named Don Manuel González purchased land in Bushkill in 1725, the FLECHA website says), the region has seen a surge in the Latinx population over the last decade.


"For the first time, we had a table representing the Poconos" at the Pennsylvania Latino Convention in Harrisburg, Bonilla-Rodriguez said. Despite the recognition, when it comes to local politics, the community lacks representation.


Read on for key takeaways from the discussion.


More than politics


Louisa Dombloski, of the Monroe County Democrats office, raised the issue of a lack of unification among the Latinx voting bloc in the Poconos.


"If you came together, you would have so much clout." She said.


Unification and organization are only portions of the issue, Stevens said.


"That's always a challenge- to organize people," He continued, noting that the question becomes "how do we solve the issues" as the community unifies.


"When you talk to an individual that's dealing with immigration, and you say, 'politics'," they may not be able to connect with the message due to perhaps not being eligible to vote, Bonilla-Rodriguez said.


According to Bonilla-Rodriguez, groups like FLECHA help break down the bigger issues into more than politics, so that they're more relatable and accessible. Issues such as the local economy and policing become something that anyone can take an active interest in, regardless of voter eligibility.


Stevens later noted that it was important to break away from the notion that the "only politics are electoral politics."


Education


When Dr. Adan Stevens had his business cards made up, he forgot to put the "Dr." in front of his name for the design.


While the number of doctoral degrees earned by Hispanics and Latinx scholars in the United States grew by 5.1% in 2005 to 7.0% in 2015, the community remains underrepresented in education, whether that be in higher education or locally.


Bonilla-Rodriguez, who is an outgoing School Board director in East Stroudsburg Area School District and Colonial Intermediate Unit 20, discussed the importance of having representation in all facets of school administration.


"Every position in a school district is approved by the school board, from custodians to principals to sports coach, every position goes to a vote by the school board." she said.


And, up until recently, foreign-born teachers could not even think about leading a Pennsylvania classroom. A bill may soon change that.


"Even if they have the certification to be a teacher, if you're not a citizen, you couldn't teach." FLECHA President Adria Laboy noted.


The bill, which passed the Pennsylvania House in June, aims to address the state's "steep decline in the number of qualified teaching candidates".


According to a memo associated with the bill, the number of new teachers certified annually has declined from 20,000 in 2010 to less than 7,000 in 2021.


Bill co-sponsors Reps. Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz (D-129) and Jose Giral (D-180) pointed out that the number of educators teaching with emergency credentials (which in turn means they may not be fully qualified to teach the grades or subjects for which they are hired) has risen 300% since 2010.


"Additionally, in 2019-2020, the share of students of color in Pennsylvania was six times greater than the share of teachers of color," the memo states, noting that this disparity "is more than twice the national average."


Similar legislation has been introduced to the PA Senate as Senate Bill 393. The bill was referred to the Education Committee, which is expected to review the bill at 9:30 a.m. Monday. You'll be able to view a live stream of the meeting here.


Policing the Poconos


Dr. Anthony Stevens-Arroyo, FLECHA Secretary, led a presentation on local government. The presentation, almost like a class on local civics, discussed how the county is structured, from its boroughs to local courts, even regional police forces.


"Se hace la fuerza policíaca a través de los pueblos." Stevens-Arroyo said on the matter of how regional police were introduced to the Stroudsburgs. "It used to be... el tiempo de antaño... that if somebody robbed a bank in Stroudsburg and went over the bridge into East Stroudsburg, the police from Stroudsburg couldn't go into East Stroudsburg to arrest them. ¿Te puedes creer eso?"


Stevens-Arroyo went on to explain that Pennsylvania State Police will act as a police force for areas of the county that do not have enough population or support to warrant their own police force.


Stevens-Arroyo likened the formulation of regional police forces to that of New York City's NYPD, which is largely structured into Borough Precincts.


"It's necessary." He said.


Highlights of the event have been posted to the FLECHA Facebook page, and will soon be uploaded to the FLECHA YouTube channel.


To learn more about FLECHA, head to FlechaPoconos.org.






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