Velasquez on the Hispanic community
Esperanza Velasquez is founder of the Mississippi Hispanic Association in Flowood. Velasquez has a master’s of arts in education from Jackson State University and a bachelor’s in philology and foreign languages from Universidad Libre de Colombia. She is currently a professor of English, modern foreign languages and speech communication at Jackson State. She recently spoke to Sun Senior Staff Writer Anthony Warren about the foundation and its role to help the Hispanic community in the state.
What is the role of the Mississippi Hispanic Association?
The Mississippi Hispanic Association was born 22 years ago because of the need to support education for Hispanics in Mississippi. At that time, immigrants were coming to work (in the state) … and their children had a hard time going to school. The most important thing was helping the children and helping get the community in the mainstream.
At the time, we had to take the children to go to school, telling teachers and principals that the children have the right to go to school because of a (U.S.) Supreme Court ruling in 1925. Every child who comes to the United States has a right to go to school.
Why did schools not want to admit these children?
At the time, many schools did not want to take those children … because children who did not speak English may lower the school ranking or school grades.
We have a scholarship fund. We (award a scholarship) to one or two students every year to go to college. They have to be low-income, have to be already registered at a university or in higher education. We do that. We also have a summer bi-lingual reading program for families. For about eight weeks, once a week, we meet and read books (to children) in English and Spanish.
What is the association’s annual budget?
Approximately $15,000 to $20,000.
How does the association raise money?
From activities and Good Samaritans, and we look for sponsors. We are struggling, but we have been able to work for 22 years. Everything we do is volunteer work. We don’t pay salaries to anyone. We work hard, but we don’t take anything. That is a way we actually save money.
What are the challenges facing Mississippi’s Hispanic community right now?
Poverty. According to the Census Bureau, the level of poverty for Hispanics in Mississippi is 30 percent. So I think it’s very high, because they work. There is not a Hispanic here doing nothing. I’ve never seen a Hispanic unemployed … The poverty is the worst problem we have. The median income for Hispanic is $20,000 – well below the poverty level.
Why do you think that is?
One reason could be the lack of (documentation. People would) probably be able to better work if (they) have their legal papers. This is what I think. When I look at the statistics, they don’t say what is the reason. Another problem is a lack of insurance. According to Pew (Research Center), Hispanics in Mississippi, 38 percent don’t have health insurance.
What can the association do to help these problems?
I was an educator before I came to the United States and since I have been in the U.S. The only way I think I could help would be through education.
What is the average education level for Hispanics in the state?
I don’t have that information. I know that in Mississippi, there are about 2,000 DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival) students – 2,000 students that have their high school diplomas and (are) in college. They are going to be out of college if they’re not approved to stay longer. I think supporting the Dreamers, the high school (students) and English as a Second Language programs in school is a solution.
How are the policies of President Donald Trump?
The Trump polices are negative for Hispanics in every way.
Is there a different school of thought regarding Trump’s polices among illegal and legal immigrants?
That is about politics and I don’t have anything to tell you about that. I don’t know what they think.
What is the association’s stance on DACA and on immigration reform?
We have taken a position (on) DACA. We support our students.
Have you reached out to our Senators and Congressmen about your position?
I have not done that yet. We tried to be an educational organization. We stay out of politics. We try to compliment other organizations that (deal with politics).
How does the Hispanic culture, or how has the Hispanic culture contributed to the state?
In so many ways. You’ll find Hispanics in every professional field. I think the contribution of Hispanics is billions (of dollars) to the economy of Mississippi, and also millions in taxes. Because even if they are (not documented), they pay taxes.