Organización Latino-Americana’s New Hire


Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island has hired administrative assistant Erika Padilla as the East Hampton-based nonprofit continues to expand.

Originally from Ecuador, Padilla moved to East Hampton in 2004. In addition to running her own company, she has worked at the East Hampton Regal UA East Hampton Cinema, Springs Public School, East Hampton’s Most Holy Trinity Church, and East End for Opportunity Inc., as well as for private East End clients. Padilla is a mother of three sons, and is a strong proponent of higher education and the opportunities it promises. She has already begun to help coordinate a series of training lessons for parents and students focused on opportunities after high school graduation.

Jack Lester, East Hampton resident and tenants’ rights attorney, also now works with OLA as a volunteer to provide his pro bono services, following passage of New York State law strengthening tenants’ rights.

“OLA is fortunate to have been offered the expertise and guidance of attorney Jack Lester to help augment the legal support East End Latino community members need when navigating a harsh and unforgiving rental terrain,” explains Minerva Perez, OLA’s executive director.


Minerva Perez Named To NBC’s Top 20 List


Minerva Perez has been named to the NBC News Top 20 national list of influential Latino leaders.

The executive director of the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island is among the list of celebrities, CEOs, scientists, young activists, and scholars who according to NBC on why they were chosen “are using their voice, talent, and passion to empower our communities and show that America’s strength lies in our diversity,” according to a press release.

“I’m very pleased and totally surprised. It’s not like I applied,” Perez said, adding how important the recognition is to her. “I asked how they got my name.”

When Perez saw the growth of Latino families on Long Island, the community advocate created a network of services, from transportation to bilingual hotlines. They “have helped lift and empower her neighbors,” NBC noted in her award announcement.

The OLA executive director thinks the community has been generally supportive, but said there’s still work to be done, and her organization has taken on a more active role than just advocacy as a result. Critical issues include wage theft, the extremely high rent being charged for sometimes no more than a shared one, and absence of public transportation at night. But thanks to the purchase of a minibus and volunteers, people that need rides, be it to the doctor or home from a late-night job, have someone to turn to.

Some Latino parents have trouble integrating into the school system for a variety of reasons, including their language barrier and lack of property documentation, Perez said. “OLA is a vehicle to connect parents to the framework of schools,” she said.

Perez generally praises local police departments and municipal governments for their support. “I’m not saying they have to bend over backwards. Great people live out here. Law enforcement can be awesome. It’s a great community,” she said. “But some people are still attacked verbally. One group of people is being continually exploited.”

As for the NBC designation, a producer told her the folks in charge of choosing the winners, “have been reading about me and what we are doing.”

“Messaging got us in and messaging can get us out. It’s been destructive but it can also be constructive,” Perez said. “I’m in it for the long haul.”

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Driver’s Licenses for the Undocumented Are Approved in Win for Progressives

The vote in the New York Legislature came after the issue had splintered Democrats, with suburban moderates objecting.
June 17, 2019
By Vivian Wang

ALBANY — The New York State Senate approved a bill on Monday to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, a deeply polarizing issue that had splintered Democrats and stirred a backlash among Republicans in New York and beyond, who have already vowed to highlight it during next year’s elections.

The vote, together with the Assembly’s passage last week, thrust New York into the center of the explosive national debate over immigration. It would reverse a nearly 20-year-old ban and end years of political paralysis on the issue.

It also signaled the strength of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which for months had pressed moderate legislators to support the bill despite concerns about alienating swing voters, especially among first-term Democrats who flipped seats on Long Island and helped their party win a majority last year.

As recently as last week, resistance from those new legislators had stalled the bill. But with three days remaining in the legislative session, a combination of aggressive activism, emotional appeals and last-minute affirmations from some of those lawmakers helped usher through the proposal.

The bill passed with just one more vote than the minimum needed,33 to 29. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, signed the bill soon after.

When the last vote was cast just after 8:30 p.m., immigration rights activists who had remained throughout the nearly four-hour debate erupted into cheers, forcing the Senate’s presiding officer to gavel them down.

“It’s been an 18-year struggle,” said Javier Valdés, the co-executive director of Make the Road New York, a prominent immigrant advocacy group. “The resilience of the immigrant community has shown through once again.”

Twelve states and Washington, D.C., currently allow undocumented immigrants to drive. New Jersey is weighing a similar proposal.

In New York, even with Democrats in control of both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, political anxieties had threatened the bill’s prospects. On Monday, just hours before the proposal passed the Senate, Mr. Cuomo said in an interview on WAMC radio that the bill had significant potential ramifications.

“This bill is basically seen as a pro-immigrant bill,” he said. “So there’s no doubt that there’s a political downside.”

Indeed, even before the so-called Green Light bill came to a vote, opponents had promised a political price. Last week, the National Republican Congressional Committee criticized Representatives Max Rose, Antonio Delgado and Sean Patrick Maloney, all Democrats of New York, for not denouncing the state’s driver’s license proposal.

Several county clerks, who issue driver’s licenses in New York, also denounced the bill, with at least one vowing to defy it if it became law.

During the debate in the Senate on Monday, outraged Republicans said the bill would reward people for entering the country illegally.

“If we give them every right they have, they will not be incentivized to go through the process of getting that greatest gift, to be a citizen,” Senator James Tedisco, a Republican from central New York, said.

Senator Frederick J. Akshar, of the state’s Southern Tier, said the bill was “only continuing this state’s trend toward favoring criminals over law-abiding citizens.”

Many of the Democrats seemed intent on minimizing the more partisan elements of the proposal. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the leader of the Senate Democratic majority, emphasized the public safety and fiscal implications of the bill, rather than the social justice ones.

“By passing this needed legislation, we are growing our economy while at the same time making our roads safer,” she said in a statement. “This is the right step forward for New York State as we continue to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform on the federal level.”

But others offered impassioned defenses of the rights of the estimated 940,000 undocumented immigrants in New York, the third-largest population in the country, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonprofit group.

“We keep hearing illegal, illegal, illegal. And it angers me, infuriates me, because no human being is illegal,” Senator Andrew Gounardes, who defeated a Republican in South Brooklyn last year, said. “We dehumanize and we delegitimize people who are our brothers and sisters in humanity.”

Senator Luis Sepúlveda, the bill’s sponsor, said immigrants were “the backbone of this state and country.”

He added, “You deserve to live a life without fear.”

Earlier Monday, Mr. Cuomo had expressed concern that the bill would create a database of the undocumented, making them vulnerable to the federal government. He suggested that he might veto the bill unless the state solicitor general said otherwise.

But the state attorney general, Letitia James, who oversees the solicitor general, said in a statement several hours later that the bill afforded “ample protections” for immigrants. Mr. Cuomo’s office said he would sign the bill shortly after.

The debate over driver’s licenses has a long, fraught history in New York. Before 2001, immigration status did not determine eligibility for a license. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, issued an order requiring applicants to have a Social Security number, citing fears about national security.

In 2007, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, announced that he would undo that policy — only to retract the proposal two months later, in the face of plummeting approval ratings and fierce backlash from across the country, including prominent liberals such as Hillary Clinton and Kirsten Gillibrand.

The bill’s passage on Monday followed weeks of intense negotiations in the Senate.

Its fate had seemed uncertain last week, especially after Jay Jacobs, the leader of the state Democratic Party, publicly urged suburban senators not to support it. Mr. Jacobs, a staunch ally of Mr. Cuomo, warned that they would endanger the Democrats’ new majority in the Senate, which Republicans have controlled for most of the last half-century.

Polls had also shown that less than half of New Yorkers supported the idea, and law enforcement officials and Republican leaders had denounced Democrats for prioritizing the undocumented and undermining the rule of law.

But activists over the past few months had waged a vigorous campaign to change public opinion. They knocked on thousands of doors on Long Island; won statements of support from business groups, insurance agencies and some law enforcement officials; and promoted statistics showing that the proposal could reduce hit-and-run incidents, drive down insurance rates for all New Yorkers and generate some $50 million in revenue for the state each year.

They also alternated between wooing and threatening Democratic lawmakers — praising them for their stated commitment to social justice, or reminding them of the role grass-roots groups had played in their elections last fall.

"Our Democratic State Senate was elected by the people for these kinds of votes,” Steven Choi, the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said.

A key turning point came on Thursday, when the Senate Democrats discussed the proposal in a closed-door meeting the day after the Assembly passed it. During that meeting, Senator Anna Kaplan, who unseated a Republican on Long Island in November, said that the bill was the right thing to do, according to three people familiar with the exchange.
But in yet another illustration of the perceived political dangers of the bill, Ms. Kaplan ultimately voted against the bill, as did all of her fellow Long Island senators and one Democratic senator from the Hudson Valley.

But by then, a drumbeat of other victories had also helped changed the calculus. A poll released last week by Siena College showed that while the proposal was still highly divisive, support in the suburbs had grown by more than 10 points in the previous months. A different survey, sponsored by Make the Road and conducted by a liberal polling group, found that 55 percent of New Yorkers supported the idea.

Proponents also emphasized that the bill would not provide a path to citizenship and would not enable licensees to board planes.

But perhaps most of all, they cited President Trump, and how his hard-line anti-immigrant policies had galvanized the left.

“The national climate has changed drastically” since 2007, Mr. Valdés said. “A lot of other states looks to New York to see how far we can push the envelope in protecting the immigrant community.”

He added: “Democrats are realizing that this is the one policy the state could do that would impact the immigrant community the most. And they cannot go back home without having addressed this.”

Vivian Wang is a reporter for the Metro Desk, covering New York State politics in Albany. She was raised in Chicago and graduated from Yale University. @vwang3

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SOCIAL SCENE – OLA Opens Benefit Art Show at Southampton Cultural Center BY PAT ROGERS. MAY 02. 2109

The sky poured streams of water and caused new ponds to form on many Hamptons roads but that didn’t stop a crowd from turning out on Friday night, April 26, 2019, to support OLA of Eastern Long Island at its Opening Reception for its Benefit Art Show “ROOTS.” Held at the Southampton Cultural Center in Southampton Village, NY, the art exhibition and sale continues on view through May 5, 2019. Fifty percent of all artwork sales benefits the non-profit organization whose mission is to promote social, economic, cultural and educational development within the East End’s Latino and Hispanic communities while fostering understanding and building bridges to the East End community at large, according to its website. The Art Sale was curated by North Fork artists Amy Worth and Hector deCordova, who are both active in the North Fork art scene as gallerists, teachers and volunteers. “ROOTS,” which remains open to visitors through May 5, 2019, features work by around 65 artists who each present a single piece. Exhibiting artists include Darlene Charneco, Philippe Cheng, Phyllis Chillingworth, Andrea Cote, Janet Culbertson, Jose Oscar Molina, Toni Ross, Ursula Thomas, Garance Werthmuller and others.

Forum Held on Changes to Driver’s Licenses and the Impact on Immigrants

By Hannah Selinger May 1, 2019

Changes to New York State’s licensing for drivers — and the impact on immigrants — was the impetus for “Restoring Driver’s License Access to Immigrant Drivers and Important Changes to New York Driver’s Licenses,” held on Wednesday, April 24, at Wainscott’s LTV Studios.

Sponsored by Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, locally known as OLA in conjunction with Progressive East End Reformers, Neighbors in Suppport of Immigrants, Centro Corazón de María, and the North Fork Unity Action Committee, the hour-long discussion featured Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., East Hampton pediatrician Gail Schonfeld, Babette’s owner Barbara Layton, local resident Sandra González, and OLA executive director Minerva Perez. The audience included some notable town members as well: candidate for East Hampton Town Trustee Susan McGraw Keber, Town Board member David Lys, and candidate for the House of Representative’s first district of New York, Perry Gershon were all in attendance.

The discussion began with a power-point presentation, highlighting upcoming changes to the New York State license. In order to be compliant with REAL legislation, which was passed federally in 2005 in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, New York State will change its drivers license program by October of 2020. The new, three-tiered plan will include a standard license, REAL license, and enhanced license.

Standard licenses will permit cardholders to operate a motor vehicle, while the REAL and enhanced licenses will also permit cardholders to board a plane, and, in the case of the enhanced license, cross over the Mexican and Canadian borders without a passport by land or sea. Legislation S01747/A03675, currently awaiting a vote in the New York State Assembly, would establish that the standard license be accessible to all state residents who pass the required licensing tests, regardless of immigration status.

“The key word is restore,” Assemblyman Thiele, who is a co-sponsor of the proposed legislation, said, noting that, prior to 2002, New York State had no citizenship requirement for driver’s licenses. “If you were undocumented, you were able to get a driver’s license. After 9/11, the Governor — then Governor Pataki — issued an executive order to the DMV.” The considered legislation would still require all applicants to take and pass a comprehensive driver’s exam.

Panel members discussed, at length, the challenges facing undocumented community members who are prohibited from driving due to their immigration status. Dr. Gail Schonfeld, who has owned East End Pediatrics since 1982, discussed the health consequences of restricting driver’s licenses, noting that many of her patients now arrive late in the day, and that many are forced to take multiple bus rides that take hours in order to travel short distances for medical care. “If a family cannot provide for a child,” Dr. Schonfeld said, referring to transportation access, “the child will not do well.”

Sandra González, a 20-year resident of East Hampton, expounded upon risks to her vulnerable community. “They have to get to their jobs. They have to bring their children to medical appointments. They have to buy their groceries,” she said. “We have to take that chance [of driving without a license] with at least the risk of getting tickets.” Ms. González said that accumulating tickets were par for the course but that recent concerns were more serious, due to a change in the national tone of the immigration debate. Driving without a license could now lead to jail time, or worse.

Operating a motor vehicle, Barbara Layton added, “is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity.” She added that undocumented immigrants contribute more than $1 billion a year in taxes. “It’s just simple, smart, common sense legislation,” she said.

All of the panelists agreed that restoring driver’s license access to undocumented immigrants is also a matter of public safety. While moderator — and associate director of OLA — Sandra Dunn stated unequivocally that everyone should be able to drive lawfully, Ms. González also stressed the importance of personal responsibility. “We can be held accountable if something happens,” she said. “We are going to have safer roads. We are going to have [fewer] accidents.”

The panelists also discussed the economic implications of such a law. This legislation would generate billions in revenue for the state, and would also help small business owners who employ immigrants. Ultimately, the legislation will address the crisis of transportation in a community limited to vehicular travel. “People need to be able to get to work,” Assemblyman Thiele said, a refrain echoed by all of the panelists.

At the close of the paneled discussion, audience members were asked to compose questions on index cards, which were read by the moderator and answered by the panel. Some of those questions included concerns about whether or not federal agencies, like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would have access to the motor vehicle database, in essence giving them a list of undocumented New Yorkers. One provision of the proposed legislation, Assemblyman Thiele underscored, was the privacy element of it. Should the legislation pass, data pursuant to immigration status will not be available to any federal agencies.

“To me,” Assemblyman Thiele concluded at the close of the panel, “the merits of this are an individual’s right to be self-sufficient.” Ms. Layton had a more comprehensive takeaway. “Laws and regulations that are based on fear are absolutely not sustainable,” she said.

OLA News ~ Noticias


Thiele: Include Immigrants In New Licensing

APRIL 30, 2019 BY | T. E. MCMORROW

New York State driver’s licenses are in the process of undergoing major changes. Advocacy groups, along with State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, are hoping to include one more change: allowing undocumented residents to be able to obtain a basic license that will allow them to drive legally.

Thiele was one of six speakers at a panel at LTV studios April 24, where the topic was both the changes that are certain to come, along with the additional change the speakers were hoping for. The event was sponsored by the Organización Latino Americana of Eastern Long Island, along with Progressive East End Reformers, and other like-minded groups.

One of those on the panel was Sandra Gonzalez, a resident of East Hampton Town for the past 20 years.

During the first few years she was living in East Hampton, she would walk daily to her job as a nanny in Amagansett. But the realities of East End living, where meeting basic needs can mean traveling many miles, eventually forced her to start driving. She always made sure the car she was driving was insured, she told the audience, through a network of friends and family. But, she lived in constant fear of being arrested.

Now, she has legal status in the country, she said, as she proudly held up her driver’s license. But the years of living with uncertainty and fear took a toll on her and those she loves. “That is why I am here, to tell the importance of allowing us to obtain a driver’s license,” she said.

The new state driver’s licenses, which will be mandatory come October 2020, are in a triple-tiered system. An enhanced license, which will cost an extra $30, can be used to travel to Canada and Mexico, carrying the same weight in the federal identification system as a passport. Undocumented residents will not be eligible for those licenses.

Nor will they be eligible for what is called a REAL ID license, which can be used to board domestic flights, or enter federal facilities, such as courts and military bases.

It is the third tier of licenses that Thiele and OLA are hoping to open up to the undocumented community in New York.

That is called the standard license. It looks much the same as the other two, but, in the top right corner, the words “Not for Federal Purposes” appear. You cannot use them to board a flight, or for any federal ID purposes. The fee schedule for this license will be the same as the REAL ID license.

Thiele is co-sponsor of the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act, which would open the door to undocumented residents who can prove they live in New York State. Thiele stressed, as did the other speakers, including Minerva Perez, the executive director of OLA, that this is not a new approach to licensing. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, licenses were restricted, Thiele said, to prevent terrorists from obtaining them. “All I can say is, we are not terrorists,” Gonzalez said.

Sandra Dunn, who moderated the discussion, pointed to other states, such as New Mexico, where the enactment of a similar provision to their driver’s licensing process triggered a steep drop in the number of uninsured drivers on the road. “This will not cost the taxpayers anything,” Dunn said. In fact, she added, the measure would actually make money for the state, and would make the roads safer. “We want to be held accountable,” Gonzalez said.

The privacy part of the amendment would prevent officers from federal agencies, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, from accessing the Department of Motor Vehicles database without a court-issued warrant.

With 70 co-sponsors of the bill in the Assembly, Thiele is fairly confident that it will pass that house. It is passage in the State Senate that the panelists, who also included Dr. Gail Schoenfeld, a pediatrician in East Hampton, and Barbara Layton, an East Hampton business owner and activist, are concerned about.

Perez and Thiele urged supporters of the bill to contact state senators, particularly those on Long Island, and in the Lower Hudson Valley. “Those senators are the difference between victory and defeat,” Thiele said. He said that the legislature would resume business in Albany on Monday, April 29, with the session scheduled to conclude on June 19.

It is key, Perez said, for supporters of the bill to speak out, so that the amendment can pass both houses, and be placed on the governor’s desk to sign.

“It is extremely important not to get sucked into the vortex of division that many in public life are attempting to create with immigration,” Thiele said. “This is about public safety.”

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For OLA Attorney, The Hague Was A Training Ground

By Michael Wright Apr 2, 2019 12:19 PM

A typical aspiring attorney would spend the summers between the years at law school toiling as an intern in the office of the sort of law firm he or she someday hopes to work for.For East Hampton attorney Andrew Strong, the summer after his first year of law school at Northwestern University would be quite a break from the typical—and would not soon land him back in a classroom.

The Chicago native, who now is the in-house attorney for the Latino-advocacy group OLA of Eastern Long Island and a Democratic candidate for East Hampton Town justice, had a job as a research assistant for one of his professors, who was working on a book about the Kosovo Liberation Army, which had battled Serbian control of Kosovo in 1998 and 1999. Mr. Strong agreed to travel to Kosovo to interview one of the KLA’s former leaders, the newly elected prime minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj.

Mr. Haradinaj and the little army had mounted a bloody resistance—with the help of U.S. warplanes and bombs—to the mighty and notoriously vicious Serbian army. Several of the leaders of the Serbian attempts to repress the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo were being or had been tried for war crimes by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. 

When Mr. Strong arrived in Pristina in mid-2004, the court had just handed down its first indictment against a KLA leader—Mr. Haradinaj. 

“Everybody agreed that he had fought a just war—the Serbina paramilitaries had burned down his village and tried to kill his family,” Mr. Strong recalled of Mr. Haradinaj. “The ICTY said, ‘Yes, this was a just war, but we still have to look at the methods the KLA used.’ There were some serious ramifications for the U.S., because this was the heart of the war on terror in 2004, and the indiscriminate killing of civilians was a sensitive thing.” 

In his research for the book, Mr. Strong met an Irish consultant, Michael O’Reilly, who was working with Mr. Haradinaj’s defense team. Caught up in the drama of the coming trial, Mr. Strong begged his way into a summer internship with Mr. O’Reilly, who had been assigned to the Haradinaj case by the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute, for which the Irish commercial attorney was doing pro bono work. 

That internship would turn into a seven-year role on the legal teams that successfully defended Mr. Haradinaj through two trials at The Hague.

“I was in the right place at the right time, and there weren’t that many people who were willing to move to Pristina for what was going to be years,” Mr. Strong said of his landing a role in the case. “I stayed for the summer, and then I said to myself, well, this is more interesting than anything I’m going to do in Chicago. So I moved to Kosovo, I learned Albanian and I started building this picture of the war in western Kosovo, which had seen the heaviest fighting.

“Ramush, he never told me anything about whether he was innocent or not—he just said, ‘Go talk to the people.’ I was really compelled by his character.”

For months, Mr. Strong traveled the Kosovar countryside, collecting the tales of the war from people who had witnessed its violence firsthand. In the first trials at The Hague since Nuremberg, how the military had conducted itself was a key element.

The young American was met with a fair amount of suspicion, often from those who thought an American asking questions must be working for the CIA, with ulterior motives. Guns—which are almost universally owned in Kosovo—were sometimes pulled; retreats occasionally were hasty. But, for the most part, he found people who saw Mr. Haradinaj as a hero.

And the courts listened.

“The judges came back and went so far as to say that not only had he not committed any crimes against civilians, he had gone out of his way to protect civilians, even when it posed additional risk to himself and his soldiers,” Mr. Strong recalled. “It was quite an extraordinary thing that they did that.” 

Nonetheless, the rules of The Hague, in which there is no limitation on double jeopardy, allowed the prosecutors to appeal the ruling and bring their case again before a new three-judge panel. In the second case, the prosecution could be more selective about witnesses and evidence that they thought better supported their case.

But after a year of testimony, the judges still found Mr. Haradinaj free of blame. He was elected Kosovo’s prime minister for a second time in 2017.

Between the two trials, which ran from 2005 to 2008 and from 2011 to 2012, Mr. Strong returned to Northwestern University and finished his law degree, worked on a juvenile criminal defense unit—Illinois was, at the time, one of the states that allowed juveniles to be sentenced to life in prison—and for the UN Special Rapporteur on Counterterrorism and Human Rights.

Somewhere along the line, he met and married a Sag Harbor native, Rachael Faraone, had three children, and found a calling in human rights law and a home in Springs. 

He looks back on his years spent in overseas courtrooms as a special training ground for the law he will apply here. Are his days in international law over with? 

Yes and no, he says.

“There’s another tribunal being set up around the Balkan Conflict, focusing on Kosovo and the war crimes committed in 1999, at the end of the war,” he said. “I’ve been contacted by a couple of defense teams. So I’m thinking about doing some work on that—from East Hampton.”

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On Tuesday afternoon earlier this month, Minerva Perez was in full work mode — which was unexpected, considering it was her birthday.

She had a technology workshop to lead that evening, one in the six-part series “Your Path to Success,” helping Latino immigrants on the East End build skills and become the best versions of themselves they can be.

And she wouldn’t miss it for anything.

This should not come as a surprise to those who know her. Her friends, co-workers and even acquaintances describe her as driven, committed and an utter powerhouse, with a signature mane of curls that matches her personality — vibrant, energetic and fierce.

But above all, they know her as a staunch advocate for the Latino community, serving as executive director of Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, locally known as OLA. The Latino community she first met on the East End almost 15 years ago is vastly different than the one she works with now.

“I found people hiding in the shadows and living good lives, but just wanting to disappear from the rest of the community,” Ms. Perez said, taking a break from gearing up for the workshop. “I just was so shocked. I was like, ‘What in the world is this?’”

Born in Manhattan and raised in Miami by her grandparents, Ms. Perez grew up surrounded by strong female mentors, who happened to be Latinas from Chile, Cuba and Colombia. They were big, loud and fun, she recalled, with endless charisma and confidence, at least outwardly.

“In Miami, Latinas, there is not a lot of backing down that goes on, so then coming to the East End and experiencing people in a very different way, that was weird enough and I had to find a way to connect with them,” she recalled. “My father was Puerto Rican, but I never even knew my father. I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish. My Spanish is not great and I apologize in front of everyone and they keep telling me, ‘Shut up, stop apologizing.’

“So OLA, it’s not an internal thing, necessarily,” she continued, though it is worth noting she was in the Spanish National Honors Society and even furthered her studies in Spain. “I think it’s about wanting to take care of people and I just don’t like bullies.”

Ten years ago, there was no bigger bully on Long Island than Steve Levy, according to Ms. Perez. Just prior to the fatal stabbing of Marcelo Lucero — killed in 2008 by seven teenagers, who hunted down Latinos as a weekly sport in Patchogue — the then-Suffolk County executive had tried to stir up white voters, spouting anti-immigrant sentiments and rousing hatred.

The community flooded the Suffolk County Legislature and even a decade later, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman — who was a legislator at the time — will never forget Ms. Perez.

“I remember Minerva coming in and speaking, which could be intimidating, honestly,” he said. “It’s a very formal body and I remember how strongly she spoke, how passionately she spoke, and how I could see lawmakers being swayed by the arguments that she was making. It was a really tense time, and the legislature did back away from some of these laws that were being considered.

“Largely, a lot of this came after the brutal beating in Patchogue of that Ecuadorian immigrant, and I do remember how effective a public speaker Minerva was in that setting,” he continued. “I think she’s an important voice in the community for those who sometimes have very little voice.”

Ms. Perez was acting under the auspices of OLA, a nonprofit agency that promotes social, economic, cultural and educational development within the East End’s Latino and Hispanic communities, according to its mission.

“I had no background in this kind of thing,” Ms. Perez said, “but the lesson over and over again has been, basically, ‘Don’t wait for someone to give you permission to do the thing that you know you’re called to do.’ That’s an important lesson that I learned. Don’t wait for someone else. If you know you’re compelled and you know what you’re doing, what your intentions are, do it and learn as you go — and don’t completely mess things up.”

She stumbled across the organization while, initially, searching for theater funding — following her studies at New York University and a seven-year stint with her own theater troupe in Manhattan. She had noticed a dramatic lack of Latino leadership on the East End, and asked the likes of Mr. Schneiderman, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and then-U.S. Representative Tim Bishop for direction.

They all pointed her to Isabel Sepulveda-de Scanlon, the president and founder of OLA.

“If you would have asked me then, ‘How do you see OLA in 20 years?’ I had not a clue,” Ms. Sepulveda-de Scanlon said. “The only thing we knew is we wanted to help people. We wanted to help Latinos and empower the Latino community, and Minerva does that.

“Minerva is a very strong woman and she can speak to the Anglo community with no problem — which, many of us, we do have that problem,” she continued. “I don’t know we would be here, like this, if it weren’t for Minerva. OLA has grown so much in every single aspect since then.”

First a volunteer and now OLA’s first-ever paid executive director, Ms. Perez has quadrupled its staff — recently adding its first human rights attorney Andrew Dunn, to the mix — and has kept longstanding traditions alive, such as the annual Latino Film Festival.

Chief among the organization’s new initiatives were successful reform to the Suffolk County bus route in Springs and East Hampton — which was initially met with doubt by the Latino community, who had been advocating for 20 years — and a free medical van service.

Perhaps the largest victory is working with Southampton Town to implement LanguageLine, an on-demand, telephone-accessed translation service that police can access to communicate with non-English speakers, Mr. Schneiderman said.

“It’s a big deal, and OLA actually raised the money to help implement it. Typically, we’re the ones giving grants, but not this time,” he said. “It shows that Minerva is very passionate about protecting people and working in the public interest.

“She’s driven. She can be intense. We’ve sat across the table and we don’t always agree on some tense issues, but she fights very hard for the things she believes in and she understands the role of government, the limitations, and that we can’t always do the things she is requesting,” he said. “But she seems willing to compromise.”

Ms. Perez fundraised to purchase all 15 iPhones, which will be placed in patrol cars, though the town is still ironing out the details. Nothing is more valuable to someone in crisis than being understood, she said, which she learned as director of The Retreat, a domestic violence shelter in East Hampton — a post she held for six years before returning to OLA as an employee.

“I remember talking to this one woman who was in a friend’s basement hiding from her husband. He was trying to find her, he had a machete and she had her child who was severely handicapped,” she said. “She only spoke Spanish and, not only any Spanish, she spoke with a very strong dialect from another country that was very hard for me to understand. And she was in full panic mode.

“The fact that I was able to communicate with her and get her to safety, connect all the right pieces with my terrible Spanish, I was like, ‘You know what? I don’t care. I’ve got to get out of my own way with this prideful thing,’” she continued. “If my Spanish can potentially save a life, then it is good enough.”

With a foundation of trust, Ms. Perez has kick-started a privately funded series called “Circulos de Fuerza,” or “Circles of Strength,” led by three healthcare professionals to help take some of the stigma away from mental health, combat stress and fear among the Latino community, and discuss struggles in a safe, appropriate environment, she said.

“Seeing people leave with a little bit of relief in their face, that’s everything,” she said. “They see that they’re not alone — because the self-isolation aspect is huge and really damaging to people. Some people exchange numbers, which is great, because they’ve made connections with people they felt comfortable with.”

Each workshop regularly brings in 50 participants — and half are typically children. Across the East End, the average student body is 45 percent Latino, Ms. Perez said, fluctuating from school to school.

“We have a sizeable Hispanic population here in the Hamptons and they’ve been under threat recently, of all sorts of kinds — particularly deportation,” artist and OLA supporter April Gornik said. “It’s a moment in our nation’s history where each locality, no matter how small, needs to help safeguard their own and every member of their community. Minerva represents safeguarding that community for us out here on the East End.

“I consider her a model of excellence, in terms of commitment and community,” she continued. “And I’m really, really grateful that she is here and doing the work that she does.”

Canio’s Books co-owner Kathryn Szoka has worked closely with OLA on numerous projects, dating back nearly 20 years when she co-chaired the South Fork chapter of the Long Island Progressive Coalition. Now a member of Progressive East End Reformers, she too recognizes the importance of OLA at a time that is more critical than, arguably, ever.

“In the last several years, we have entered a very dark period in our country’s history with regards to immigration,” she said. “I would say that prior to 2016, immigration issues were problematic — they were not being well addressed — but we were not at the moment we are now where it’s a crisis and immigrants, once they open the front door and walk on the street, they’re potentially at grave danger. That’s a big difference from where we were three, four years ago.

“I admire and have deep affection for Minerva as a person and also as a community leader,” she added. “She’s a force of nature and she is indefatigable. I mean, she just has always got more energy than pretty much anyone in the room. This is Minerva. The organization seems to have grown considerably in the last several years and she has been at the helm, guiding that.”

Ms. Perez sees a future where OLA moves past sole crisis management and toward an East End that thrives as a hub for Latino culture and a “treasure trove,” she said.

“The people who are suffering in our community — who are some of the heart of our community — it makes me really, really sad,” she said. “But at the same time, the only thing that keeps me going is knowing that I see help coming by way of other community members, both Latino and non-Latino,” she said. “A healthy OLA is a healthier East End, and there’s no other job in the world I could be doing than this. I couldn’t do a damn other thing.”


OLA Film Festival Celebrates 15 Years of Showcasing Latino Films

By Michelle Trauring  October 31, 2018

When Minerva Perez boldly selected “XXY” as the closing night film of the OLA Latino Film Festival, she expected pushback.

The festival — presented by the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island — was only five years old and still establishing itself in the Hamptons. And Perez, just a volunteer at the time, had decided not to tread lightly, choosing to screen a film that told the story of a teenaged intersex girl who begins to explore her sexuality.

“It was a beautiful film, and there was a half a moment where I thought, ‘Is this too much?’ and it wasn’t. It was amazing — and it was fully embraced,” Perez said. “The folks who came to see it knew what it was about, some came a little cautiously. But the film was so amazing that that’s what film does. Good film transcends those obvious stopping points and lets you see right into the human, and that’s what we need a whole lot more of these days.

“In 2008, I thought, ‘Wow, this is great. There’s no fear factor here in the formation of the film festival,’” she continued. “I wasn’t held back by anyone on the board and I wasn’t held back by the audience.”

Six years later, Perez would become the executive director of the Sagaponack-based nonprofit advocacy agency and has continued that tradition of open-mindedness and acceptance in the film festival today, now celebrating its 15thline-up and the biggest year they’ve had to date.

“We are not just a film festival,” Perez said. “We are an organization dedicated to the support, to the protection, to the celebration of the Latino members of our community, for the betterment and the strength and the health of our entire community. That is our mission. So this film festival is not just a sidebar. It’s certainly not a fundraiser.”

She laughed, and continued. “Doing this is in the center of our mission, which is to serve as a cultural bridge, a social bridge within our community. This film festival is the center point for so much of what OLA stands for. It’s a feat to have it last this long, especially when there were many years of OLA that were really bare bones, in terms of funding.”

Founded by Isabel Sepúlveda-de Scanlon in 2004, the film festival drew no more than five moviegoers its first year. The same cannot be said today.

Drove of moviegoers, by the hundreds, are expected to turn out for the annual festival — from Friday, November 9, to Sunday, November 11, with an unprecedented five films at four venues.

And Latinos will fill just half of the seats.

“The audience that we continue to see coming in, it’s always mixed. It’s usually 50-50, or 60-40, Latino to non-Latino, and that’s one of the main reasons we do it,” Perez said. “For people to come out to the film festival, it’s not about their $10 ticket and, in some cases, tickets are free. It’s to show their support by being there — by being there in those seats, among Latino members of our community, to share this experience together, to support OLA and its mission. And that’s immense for us.”

With films from Chile, Mexico, El Salvador, the United States and Brazil, the festival will kick off with “A Fantastic Woman” on Friday, November 9, at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill — winner of the 2018 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film — followed by “La Palabra de Pablo,” a Shakespeare-inspired thriller on Saturday, November 10, at Guild Hall in East Hampton, that could be El Salvador’s first-ever Oscar entry.

“You don’t see a lot of film coming out of El Salvador,” Perez explained. “The film showcases this land and these people, these characters, in a way that no one would ever jump to that conclusion to think, ‘Oh, El Salvador. This is a sexy thriller.’ It is going to turn people on their head.”

Audiences may recognize the family friendly film, “Coco” — except it will screen in Spanish with English subtitles — on Sunday, November 11, at Greenport High School, before the closing night film, “Before I Forget,” which follows Polidoro, a retired judge who decides to open up a strip club.

“When I was first looking at the trailer, I was like, ‘It’s gonna be cutesy, and some sort of slick way to get some T and A in there, and it’s going to gross me out. I don’t need that,’” Perez said. “But I watched it and I did not feel that way at all. I just felt that these were fully drawn characters. There was a lot of love at the center of this film.

The Brazilian film falls in line with an initiative started by Perez to include more independent projects in the festival. But when director Tiago Arakilian submitted the comedy, the roster was already full.

“This film was so good and we had to have it, and Bay Street was going to be available,” she said. “They helped me out and made it happen, which was really wonderful — and it’s great because it’s my town.”

The generosity that Perez has seen during the festival — and the sheer longevity of it alone — speaks to the need for it in the community, she said, especially during a time when donors are pushing for education and advocacy over the arts.

“Loudly, and with all of the love in my heart, no,” she said. “No, we don’t push down on this. We do not start to stifle the artistic voice, the artistic mechanism to share humanity. The storylines that come through film, the way that we bring people into a dark room and bring them together and immerse them in this story of someone’s life, for a moment, you get to remember and feel that this person’s life is not a political anecdote.

“We connect the dots that way,” she said, “to each other and to the community that we have out here — that we’re so lucky to have.”

OLA of Eastern Long Island will present its 15th Annual Latino Film Festival from Friday, November 9, through Sunday, November 11, at venues across the East End.

“A Fantastic Woman” will kick off the festival on Friday, November 9, at 7 p.m. at the Parrish Art Museum, located at 279 Montauk Highway in Water Mill. A Spanish/English tour will precede the screening at 5:30 p.m., and a Skype Q&A with producer Juan de Dios Larraín will follow. Tickets are $12 and free for members.

“La Palabra de Pablo” will screen on Saturday, November 10, at 7 p.m. at Guild Hall, located at 158 Main Street in East Hampton. A Q&A with actor Carlos Aylagas and director Arturo Menéndez will follow. Tickets are $10 and $20 for preferred seating.

The short film “My Fear” will screen on Sunday, November 11, at 2:30 p.m., followed by “Coco,” at the Greenport High School auditorium, located at 720 Front Street in Greenport. Admission is free. An art exhibit by Greenport students, inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead tradition, will be on view.

The festival concludes with “Before I Forget” on Sunday, November 11, at 6 p.m. at Bay Street Theater, located at 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. Tickets are $10 and $20 for preferred seating.

For more information, call 631-899-3441 or visit

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OLA Hires a Human Rights Attorney

In face of myriad problems, a commitment to solutions

By Johnette Howard | October 25, 2018

Part of Andrew Strong’s work as Organizacion Latino-Americana’s first full-time human rights lawyer is to deepen the network of immigration lawyers that OLA already calls upon to help people.Johnette Howard

When Andrew Strong was a young lawyer living in the Netherlands and working on United Nations human rights cases in The Hague, or working in Kosovo to help defend a victim of war crimes before that, he said he felt “a bit self-conscious” as an American human rights attorney because, “You’re talking to these people from the Balkans or Africa, and you turn around and think there are some real issues happening in America. There is work to be done right here.”

That conviction, as it turned out, was among the things that moved Mr. Strong to accept a three-year commitment to work as the first full-time human rights attorney for Organizacion Latino-Americana (OLA) of Eastern Long Island in June.

Mr. Strong and his wife, who was born in Sag Harbor, have three children and now live in Springs. He had been working in the East Hampton area since 2013 when Minerva Perez, OLA’s executive director, created his current position. Two donors who funded the job agreed with Ms. Perez that recent changes in both the letter and enforcement of United States immigration laws, especially since the 2016 national elections, have created a climate of fear and need for the Latino community and the East End community as a whole.

“And the need and the fears have only gotten worse,” Ms. Perez said, noting that if even just one member of a Latino family is undocumented, the entire family often lives in fear.

Mr. Strong, speaking last week over coffee at the Springs General Store, gave an example of the domino effect that can happen after that. Maybe such individuals are afraid to seek even basic medical care at the emergency room or go to the police if something happens. Maybe their children begin doing poorly at school or succumb to the stress in other ways.

“It’s hard because immigration on the federal level is broken, and it’s been intentionally broken,” Mr. Strong said. “And so, for one of the first times in American history, you can’t change your status. You can’t marry an American and become a citizen. You can’t live here peacefully for 10 years and pay taxes and have a path to citizenship anymore. So, there’s no way that people can adjust their federal status.”

“Then, on a state level, since 2007 you can’t get a driver’s license [in New York] without having documented status,” Mr. Strong continued. “And then, on a local level, you have a geography out here that requires a car and a transportation system that doesn’t really work well enough. But you need a car. So what do you do?”

Such problems don’t affect only the Latino community. This summer, numerous East End business owners were again unable to get work visas to bring foreign-born workers here legally, leaving their businesses handicapped and short-staffed during the high season.

Undocumented people, even those who have lived here for decades, face other conundrums. They’re vulnerable to wage theft, unsafe work conditions, human trafficking, and other abuses because they feel they can’t report such things to authorities — and their antagonists know it, too.

“We’ve seen instances of mortgage theft where people are saying to them, ‘You own this house,’ ” Mr. Strong said. “So they’re making payments. They put a deposit down. And then all the money disappears.”

Local bus service in this area stops around 7 p.m. (a problem that OLA and other agencies are trying to address). So some undocumented workers without a license may drive to work or elsewhere anyway. They may not be covered by auto insurance. If they get pulled over for violations as simple as failing to signal or driving with a broken taillight and authorities run their name in the system, they can be detained and thrown into jail if the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued an administrative warrant on them. 

And if they can’t make bail? They may stay in jail for months and get moved to an out-of-state facility as they await deportation proceedings.

Part of Mr. Strong’s work involves deepening the network of immigration lawyers that OLA already has to help people.

Ms. Perez and Mr. Strong are also actively engaging local institutions such as the town police chiefs and town supervisors in East Hampton and Southampton. They’ve asked them to publicly state the town’s policies and/or codify them into legislation that clearly states nonviolent members of the community will not be targeted so the community knows what it doesn’t have to fear, and what it does.

Mr. Strong said officials from both towns have told OLA they don’t actively pursue ICE warrants. But there is nothing to stop ICE from making raids on its own, which is happening.

When Mr. Strong appeared at the East Hampton Town Board meeting two weeks ago, and the Southampton Town Board before that, he urged town officials to recognize that “We need to do something to make sure we are not complicit in harming these members of our community. The moment is here. The moment is now. Cars are literally pulling up to houses and taking people away in the middle of the night. If we don’t do something now, then when?”

Ms. Perez said OLA is not interested in being some “inflammatory” agency that “just wags a finger at people or the authorities and says, ‘Bad! Bad! You’re bad.’ We’re here to help do the hard work it takes to change things, too.”

In addition to working on local legislation and enforcement, OLA is funding the purchase of six iPhones for the Southampton police officers to help with live access to interpreters out in the field if they encounter a non-English speaking person who is a victim of or witness to a crime. OLA provides diversity training to staffs.

Mr. Strong’s hiring is meant to be another piece of OLA’s commitment to creating solutions.

“Nobody here is saying we support something like driving without a license — we agree, give them a ticket, fine them,” Ms. Perez said. “But the rest of what’s happening?”

Mr. Strong said, “I think we’ve got to look at the laws humanely and intelligently and say, ‘What are we really doing here? What are we trying to accomplish when we’re sending somebody to jail?’ Especially when it’s triggering a deportation hearing and separating a family. For what? For a civil offense — not a criminal offense — like failing to signal? That’s not a proportional punishment. And it’s not humane.”

“There’s a vulnerability for somebody who is otherwise contributing to this community in all the ways that we think are important and, in generations past, would have had a pathway to becoming a citizen here. Now, they’re just totally left out to dry.”

Mr. Strong tells a story about meeting a social worker who is working with a young Latino girl. The girl said she wakes up each night and goes in to touch her sleeping parents just to make sure they’re still there.

“There isn’t a silver-bullet solution for everything,” Mr. Strong said, “but there are little concrete steps that can be taken to help, and it’s a matter of doing that responsibly and working with the town and the town structures to do it — but it is doable,” Mr. Strong stressed. “And that — that’s exciting, you know? It’s not like, ‘Well, all we have to do is organize 15 million people.’ No.”

“We can do things. Right here.

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‘Everyone Is Afraid,’ OLA Tells Town Board

Immigrants ask for protection in uncertain times

By Christopher Walsh | October 11, 2018

Angie, a fifth-grade student in East Hampton, told the East Hampton Town Board that she worries that her mother might be hurt or deported.Christopher Walsh

“Todos tienen mucho miedo.”

Patricia’s message — everybody is very afraid — was delivered, through an interpreter, to the East Hampton Town Board last Thursday. 

Organizacion Latino-Americana of Long Island, a nonprofit that promotes social, economic, cultural, and educational development for the region’s Latino communities, had urged people to attend the meeting.

Most who heeded the call were immigrants or their advocates, who relayed, through more than an hour of gripping testimony, what they, their families, and acquaintances have experienced over the last 18 months. 

At a Southampton Town Board meeting on Sept. 25, OLA, as the group is known, called for enacting legislation it is drafting, the Peaceful Communities Protection Act, that would codify a policy of noncooperation between the town Police Department and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. 

“It is not enough to sigh and lament the federal bad guys who are picking off nonviolent members of our community in an unprecedented ‘open season’ approach and say that we are doing enough,” Minerva Perez, OLA’s director, told the board. “Local law enforcement agencies are being pulled into the fray, and it’s harming our communities. . . . This is a time like no other. All minds and all hearts are needed at this leadership table to navigate our town through this difficult and dark time.”

The Trump administration’s hardline policies regarding undocumented immigrants, and remarks by the president that many construe as racist, have fostered a climate of terror among the South Fork’s Latino community, its effect dramatically played out at Town Hall as one speaker after another testified to their fear of interacting with law enforcement or government officials, fear of racism among the town’s residents, fear even of leaving home. 

The fear of being detained for a nonviolent offense, such as driving without a license, brings consequences, they said: people too apprehensive to report a crime to the police, traumatized children who wonder if their parents will disappear. “The bad and violent people are not afraid of anything,” Patricia said. “But the good people are very afraid.” She did not provide her last name.

“I worry that one day when school’s over, my mom won’t be there to pick me up because bad people hurt her, or because she saw a crime and they’re trying to hurt her or something,” Angie, an East Hampton fifth grader, told the board. “When I see her every day, I feel better knowing she’s still here. But sometimes it’s not the same for other kids. Sometimes their parents get hurt or get deported, and I worry it will happen to me, too.”

Angie, poised and mature beyond her 10 years, was born at Southampton Hospital. Her parents are from Ecuador. “I feel afraid sometimes that police officers are going to arrest my mom and deport her back to where she came from and that I’m going to be without her. I really worry about that stuff,” she told The Star after the meeting. “I really want to be with my mom.”  

“It’s not comfortable to feel nervous and scared every single day,” she said. “It’s really a lot of work, and puts a lot of stress on you.” 

An emotional Councilman David Lys, himself the father of a fifth grader and whose father immigrated from Indonesia and became a United States citizen, told the girl that “You should never live in fear,” that “we will make sure that our town is safe for all. . . . Don’t ever stop being brave.” 

Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc told Ms. Perez and other speakers that the Police Department does not honor detainer directives issued by ICE or Customs Border Protection. “The only case in which we would hold somebody would be if there’s a judicial warrant in place, that there’s probable cause that the individual has previously been convicted and previously removed from the country, and that specifically there was a serious crime involved,” he said. “Our basic premise is that unless every member of this community feels safe to call police, to report a crime against themselves or others, none of us are safe.” 

The supervisor noted multiple contributions by immigrants and “so much to gain from the diversity of our community,” and the irony of the present circumstance in a town that has welcomed immigrants for 370 years. “To break apart that fabric of our community and the investment that we’ve all made through schooling children and others, that is truly something that we support pushing against,” he said.  

He pledged to review the proposed legislation put forth by OLA and compare it with the town’s current policy, which he said, is closely aligned with it. “We don’t ask for immigration status for anyone stopped for any reason. . . . We understand the impacts of having people fearful of their status in reporting crimes, against themselves and against others. Those who have citizenship and don’t have any potential issues with that are at risk when people observe crimes against them and are not willing to come forward to testify.” 

Andrew Strong, OLA’s counsel, said he was pleased to learn that the present policy and proposed legislation are similar, but said that there are practical reasons to codify a policy. More than 12 municipalities have been successfully sued as a result of honoring administrative retainers — “ICE does not indemnify towns,” he said. For that reason, the New York State Sheriffs’ Association and the state attorney general have both recommended that local law enforcement not honor administrative warrants, he said. 

“As a nation we are going through a moment right now of unprecedented negative rhetoric and a policy assault on some of the most vulnerable members of the community,” Mr. Strong said. “For that population, this is a moment of unimaginable crisis. It’s critical to say publicly, ‘these are our values: tolerance, community, and affording basic human rights protections for everyone living here peacefully.’ ” 

Legislation “makes a meaningful difference to the people that are caught in this atmosphere of fear that is unfortunately pervasive,” Mr. Strong said. “Now is the moment. The crisis is here. There’s hard work to do.” 


Defensores de los inmigrantes urgen a Towns del East End a que limiten la colaboración de la policía local con ICE mediante legislación

por Maria Piedrabuena October 3, 2018

La semana pasada, cerca de 100 residentes y defensores de los inmigrantes llenaron la sala de reuniones del Town de Southampton para solicitar a la junta municipal una legislación que regule cómo el Departamento de Policía de Southampton interactúa con los Servicios de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas (ICE, por sus siglas en inglés).

Más de 30 personas, se dirigieron a la junta en la reunión, hablando muchas veces de forma emotiva, para decirles a los líderes del ayuntamiento que la comunidad latina del East End está “viviendo atemorizada” debido a la cooperación de la policía local con ICE, en relación a delitos no violentos, y a causa muchas veces por la confusión, sobre las inconsistencias de las políticas municipales.

Actualmente no está claro, si la Policía de Southampton cumple con las órdenes de detención administrativas emitidas por ICE. El jefe de la policía de Southampton, Steven Skrynecki, ha comentado en el pasado que solo lo hacen en casos específicos donde existe un delito grave, pero los defensores de los inmigrantes respondieron que no siempre es el caso.

Andrew Strong, el abogado de OLA of Eastern Long Island, quien es también abogado de derechos humanos, urgió a la junta municipal que instruyera a la policía de Southampton a no obedecer las órdenes de detención administrativas de ICE.

Las detenciones, también conocidas como órdenes administrativas, no cumplen con los estándares de causa probable legal requerida por un tribunal antes de que se emita una orden judicial, explicó Strong.

Strong, además, instó a la junta municipal a instruir a la policía para que reduzca la información que comparte con ICE. Mencionó que este intercambio de información expone al Town a una “responsabilidad legal significativa” y “debilita a la comunidad.”

Dijo que OLA está en el proceso de elaborar un borrador para una legislación que presentará al ayuntamiento para codificar mejores políticas.

Los miembros de la junta municipal escucharon atentamente, pero en silencio, a los oradores. El supervisor municipal, Jay Schneiderman dijo que la junta revisaría cualquier legislación presentada por OLA.

Los oradores hicieron referencia a la “inacción” por parte del ayuntamiento, y comentaron que no era “algo nuevo.”

La reverenda Karen Campbell, de la iglesia Christ Episcopal Church en Sag Harbor, dijo a la junta que no había cambiado nada desde que los residentes hicieron una petición similar en una reunión de la junta municipal hace aproximadamente un año y medio. Comentó que la junta era la única institución “con la habilidad de hacer algo.”

La hermana Mary Beth Moore, del Centro Corazón de María en Hampton Bays, dijo que desde julio han habido ocho familias cuyos padres, principal sostén familiar, habían sido deportados por delitos no violentos y que ahora estas familias vivían separadas, con miedo y económicamente inestables.

“La policía estatal y local no tiene ningún papel en hacer cumplir las leyes federales,” dijo Sarah Burr, residente de Southampton y jueza de inmigración jubilada. “He visto mucho, y lo que hoy en día veo es lo peor que he visto nunca, en términos de la ley de inmigración y la aplicación de la ley de inmigración.”

Strong señaló que en este momento, tanto la comunidad de inmigrantes como la Policía de Southampton están confundidos en referente a qué aplica y en qué situación que lo único que consigue es empeorar el clima de miedo.

“Codificando estas dos solicitudes significa que somos conscientes y los apoyamos,” dijo, y añadió que para el ayuntamiento, “no debería suponer un gran esfuerzo” promulgarlas.

En este momento, un delito no violento, o incluso una detención relacionada con tráfico, podría llevar a un inmigrante indocumentado a la cárcel en el condado de Suffolk y luego a un proceso de deportación muy rápidamente.

El sheriff del condado de Suffolk, Errol Toulon Jr., honra las órdenes de detención de ICE, lo que significa que una persona arrestada es retenida bajo custodia a solicitud del ICE hasta que se inicie un proceso de deportación — incluso si la persona fuera elegible para ser puesta en libertad.

“Tenemos que liderar con amor y respeto,” dijo Minerva Pérez, directora ejecutiva de OLA of Eastern Long Island.

“El ayuntamiento tiene que asumir su posición como líder,” dijo. “Sé cuánto les importa a todos y cuánto se preocupa el jefe de policía, pero estamos enfrentando tiempos que requieren un nivel de diligencia como ninguno otro. Ya no es política, son personas,” dijo.

OLA, en colaboración con otros grupos pro-inmigrantes del East End, estará presente en una reunión pública el jueves 4 de octubre en East Hampton, donde miembros de la comunidad podrán hablar y hacer peticiones similares al Town de East Hampton en relación a la colaboración de la policía de East Hampton y ICE.

OLA invita a la comunidad a participar en el foto que se llevará a cabo a las 6:30 p.m. en el East Hampton Town Hall Meeting Room ubicado en el 159 Pantigo Road, East Hampton.


Free transportation service helps residents get to medical appointments

By Maria Piedrabuena  Aug 27, 2018

East End residents who need help getting to their medical appointments can now have their transportation needs met by a new service from OLA of Eastern Long Island.

It’s a crucial service for people with no other available means of transportation — and it can even be life-saving.

Recently, a five-week old infant had a high fever and a strange rash on her body. Her mother, fearing she had had a reaction to an immunization, wanted to take her to the pediatrician. Unable to drive — they usually walk to the doctor’s office — she called Alma Tovar, OLA’s transportation advocate since February when OLA launched the service on a temporary basis. Tovar picked mother and child up in a van and took her to the pediatric office of Dr. Harriet Hellman.

Once there, to the shock of all, Hellman quickly realized the infant had disseminated Lyme disease and possibly meningitis. Hellman said she knew that although an ambulance was not needed, the baby had to be seen as quickly as possible by the pediatric infectious disease specialists at Stony Brook University Hospital.

“I have never seen an infant that young with Lyme disease in 46 years,” Hellman said.

Tovar said she realized this was a serious case and immediately made arrangements and took the family to the hospital, where they had to stay for two weeks.

“The distance from my office in Southampton to Stony Brook University Hospital without transportation assistance would have delayed her care by days,” Hellman said.

Viable public transportation has long been a difficult and controversial issue in Suffolk County. The East End is particularly affected due to antiquated bus schedules, frequently late buses, not enough routes or bus stops — often unsheltered — as well as lack of funding. The county cut eight bus routes last year, three of which operated on the South Fork.

“We are beyond the need for a small fix,” OLA executive director Minerva Perez said. “We need viable public bus transportation now: Bus transportation should start earlier — 5 a.m. — end later — 12 a.m. — and should run at double the current frequency with a goal of at least two buses each hour,” Perez said.

While certain residents qualify for Suffolk County Accesible Transportation or town-sponsored shuttles, which are usually reserved for those 60 and older or currently disabled, others have no other transportation options. Depending on where they live, a trip to the doctor can be an hours-long journey.

“There have been so many times people have told me they have arrived too late to their medical appointments or not at all because of the bus or lack of transportation,” Tovar said. “It’s very hard.”

OLA — a non-partisan, nonprofit organization promoting social, economic, cultural and educational development for the East End Latino community since 2002 — is a long-time advocate for better public transportation. Thanks to two anonymous private donations earlier this year, the organization was able to start a limited and part-time free transportation service that helps people from Riverhead to Montauk. With those donations, OLA was able to get a minivan that seats seven and cover the expenses of its operation, hiring Tovar on a part-time basis. She started working in February.

“Alma is what you dream of when you think of a committed community advocate,” Perez said. “Her dedication and her compassion inform every action she takes.”

The goal was to try and at least partly alleviate a dire situation for many, as well as compile significant data and testimonies to present to East End towns and Suffolk County — information that accurately reflects the current state of public transportation, who is affected by it and why.

“We recognize that public bus transportation across Suffolk County has been lacking for many years,” she said. “The medical transportation service was only supposed to be a brief stop-gap measure to get vulnerable families and individuals through the winter.”

Now, thanks to a $20,000 grant from Southampton Bath and Tennis Foundation, OLA has been able to increase its transportation services to four days a week starting in mid-September.

Members of the Latino community are among those most affected by unreliable and inadequate public transportation, said Perez. Latinos regularly ride the bus from Riverhead to points East and vice-versa for work, school and other reasons, but when it comes to medical appointments things can get more complicated. Perez said that for some Latinos, OLA’s medical transportation van is a necessity that goes beyond getting from point A to point B, as was in the case of the infant with Lyme disease.

The service is available to all East End residents who need it, Perez said.

“We are trying to help the community, strengthen the bonds and trust between us,” Tovar said.

Tovar’s duties will include assessing the needs of community members seeking medical transportation, connecting those in need of transportation to existing means if they are eligible, driving people from their homes to their doctor appointments and returning them home. She also acts as liaison to a group of OLA transportation volunteers ready to help as needed. She is also compiling statistics, stories, video and audio of those without access to viable public bus transportation and speaking at legislative meetings to advocate for viable public bus transportation.

“Committing to viable public bus transport whether fixed- or non-fixed route is a path to environmentally sound and humane transportation for families in need, teens not yet able to drive, workers supporting our economy, college students not able to afford a car, and any community member finding themselves without a car for a variety of reasons.”

Meanwhile, the organization will continue with the transportation service, helping those who have no other way of getting to their medical appointments, like the infant with Lyme disease, whom the pediatrician said is now doing well and receiving treatment and being evaluated for other tick-borne diseases.

“I owe Alma a debt of gratitude,” Hellman said. “I will never forget her dedication and she should know that she unequivocally saved a life.”

Residents with medical transportation needs who do not qualify for town or county transportation please call OLA at 631-899-3441 for a screening

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Transportation Service For Latinos Helping To Save Lives On East End

Aug 22, 2018 By Elsie Boskamp

Alma Tovar spends her days driving Latino men, women and children, who can’t drive themselves, to doctor appointments. She takes people to pediatric checkups, cancer treatments, physical therapy, obstetricians and gynecologists, and, when necessary, the emergency room. 

Earlier this month she took a worried young mom and her 5-week-old baby girl, who had a fever and a rash, to a pediatrician in Southampton. The newborn was battling disseminated Lyme disease—and her doctor, Harriet Hellman, knew she needed to get to Stony Brook University Hospital, where they have a team of pediatric infectious disease specialists, as soon as possible. 

That’s where Ms. Tovar stepped in. 

“An ambulance was not needed. However, no time should have been wasted,” said Dr. Hellman, who asked Ms. Tovar to take the infant and her mom, whose names were withheld for privacy reasons, to the hospital, where they stayed for two weeks. 

Ms. Tovar said she immediately understood the urgency of the situation and rearranged her schedule for the rest of the day. 

“I looked the doctor right in the eye, and I said to myself: ‘If the doctor is asking you, it’s because the baby is going to be okay with you driving her,’” Ms. Tovar said on Monday. 

“I have never seen an infant that young with Lyme disease in 46 years,” said Dr. Hellman. “The distance from my office in Southampton to Stony Brook University Hospital, without transportation assistance, would have delayed her care by days. 

“I owe Alma a debt of gratitude … she should know that she unequivocally saved a life.” 

For Ms. Tovar, it was just another day at work. 

The Southampton resident has been driving community members, who would otherwise be forced to walk or take public transportation, to doctors’ offices from Riverhead to Montauk since February, when she started working for Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, or OLA, a nonprofit agency focused on arts, education and advocacy work on the East End for both Latino populations and the community at large. 

The free transportation service, which is now managed by Ms. Tovar, began last fall when Minerva Perez, the executive director of OLA, realized that Suffolk County Transit cut back on the South Fork’s buses, eliminating the Noyac Road route entirely. 

Limited bus service coupled with a “tremendous fear,” stemming from an increase in both documented and undocumented Hispanic individuals being arrested for non-violent offenses, like driving without a license, and being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, leaves little options for people who have no other means of transportation, Ms. Perez noted. 

“What do they do if they know that by driving, they’re going to be risking their lives or their family’s lives? The geographics are pretty difficult to navigate. So what’s the alternative if Suffolk County is cutting bus lines?” she said. “If people can’t get to and from doctors appointments, and to and from jobs, with regularity, something is wrong. Our public bus transportation is absolutely a shame. It’s a disgrace and it doesn’t let people have access to some of the most important things in their lives—it violates basic human rights.”

Ms. Tovar is able to help up to 15 people each week. Come September, she said she hopes to increase the service, as she will begin working four days a week—thanks to a $20,000 donation from the Southampton Bath and Tennis Foundation—instead of the two days a week she currently works.

Although Ms. Perez said that the transportation service is a temporary measure to alleviate some of the growing transportation needs and immigration fears, the service will likely continue to be offered until the town or the county upgrades the bus system or offers an alternative, affordable and reliable form of transportation. 

The long-term goal is to reduce fears by educating law enforcement officials on how best to handle situations involving immigrants and to implement dependable bus routes that make more stops and operate for longer hours. Ms. Perez is already working with Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming to change the bus service in East Hampton Town, where it takes up to three hours to travel by bus from Springs to East Hampton, which takes less than 20 minutes via car. 

“Anyone can say that we are just transportation people, but, in reality, we are creating a place of trust and brotherhood,” Ms. Tovar said.

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La policía de Riverhead realizó un curso de capacitación sobre diversidad para fomentar mejores relaciones con la comunidad Latina

por Maria Piedrabuena August 3, 2018

Hace unos años, la residente de Riverhead “Josefa” caminaba un viernes por la tarde hacia Main Street por Roanoke Avenue cuando un vehículo se detuvo a su lado. Un hombre y una mujer le pidieron indicaciones sobre una dirección y rápidamente entablaron conversación con ella.

“¿A dónde vas?” recordó que le preguntaron. “¿Vas a enviar dinero? Lo entendemos, nosotros también.”

Josefa —cuyo nombre ha sido sustituido a petición suya— es originaria de Guatemala y cada semana envía dinero a sus padres, algo que es muy común entre los miles de inmigrantes latinos que viven en el East End. Ese día iba a la tienda a hacer precisamente eso y tenía en su bolso unos $300, pero desconfiada de las sonrisas de la pareja, le dio una respuesta vaga al hombre.

El hombre, notando su incomodidad, cambió rápidamente de tema y comenzó a hablar sobre trabajo, contándole a Josefa de “una excelente oportunidad.” Le dijo que vivían a final de la calle y que si a ella le parecía bien, podía ir con ellos a buscar una información en su casa en relación a la gran oportunidad de trabajo que le habían comentado, tan solo les llevaría unos minutos.

Josefa se subió en el automóvil y, después de un par de cuadras, de detuvieron frente a una casa que, según ella, parecía estar abandonada.

“¿Puedes tocar a la puerta? vamos a recoger a un amigo,” le preguntó el hombre.

Josefa salió del vehículo y fue a llamar a la puerta. Cuando se dio la vuelta, vio que el automóvil se iba. Su bolso, con todo su dinero, identificación e incluso las llaves de su cada, estaban dentro. Josefa se había quedado sin nada, en la calle.

Enfadada y dolida, Josefa intentó correr detrás del vehículo, pero el automóvil desapareció rápidamente de la vista y se quedó sola, sin sus cosas y sin forma de llamar a su familia.

“Me sentí avergonzada y enfadada,” dijo. “Fueron muy amables conmigo y nunca me imaginé que me robarían todo mi dinero y mis cosas.”

Pero, este incidente que indignaría a cualquiera y donde Josefa claramente era la víctima, nunca fue denunciado a la policía local. Josefa comentó que otros latinos en el área también habían sido engañados de manera similar.

“Yo no hablo inglés y tenía miedo por mi estatus [migratorio],” dijo Josefa. “Me sentía impotente, no sabía que hacer.”

Y Josefa no es la única.

Algunas veces los latinos que viven en el área dudan en denunciar crímenes o presentarse como testigos— ya sea a causa de las barreras del lenguaje, miedo o falta de confianza o información—es algo que se podría remediar si se toman las medidas adecuadas, explicó Minerva Pérez, directora ejecutiva de OLA of Eastern Long Island.

Medidas que el Departamento de Policía de Riverhead, gracias a OLA — una organización sin ánimo de lucro y no partidista, que promueve el desarrollo social, económico, cultural y educativo para la comunidad latina en East End desde 2002—, ya comenzó a poner en marcha.

El año pasado la organización creó un curso de capacitación sobre diversidad latina para los cuerpos del orden público para abordar algunos de los problemas que surgen entre los miembros latinos de la comunidad del East End y la policía local y ver de qué manera se pueden mitigar para encontrar un objetivo en común. El Departamento de Policía de Southampton fue el primer departamento policial en el East End en completar el curso de capacitación el año pasado, y ahora le toca el turno a Riverhead.

“Contactamos con el Departamento de Policía de Riverhead y el jefe de policía, David Hegermiller, quien estuvo muy receptivo e inmediatamente dijo que sí,” comentó Pérez. “Riverhead ya tiene cosas muy buenas en práctica, aprendimos de ellos tanto como ellos aprendieron de nosotros, fue una gran experiencia.”

“Es importante comprender mejor a nuestra comunidad. Esta es una comunidad diversa y nos debe preocupar,” dijo el jefe de policía de Riverhead, David Hegermiller. “Este entrenamiento nos permitió ponernos en el lugar de los demás, para que podamos entender lo que sienten las personas que están al otro lado [de una situación], se trata de crear conciencia.”

Los miembros de la policía de Riverhead —incluyendo sargentos, tenientes, agentes, entre otros— completaron el curso obligatorio el mes pasado, algo de lo que el jefe Hegermiller dijo que se sentía muy orgulloso.

La directora ejecutiva de OLA of Eastern Long Island y el Sargento Harry Hill durante la capacitación sobre diversidad el mes pasado. Foto de cortesía

“El único tiempo que tenían disponible para hacerlo era a partir de las 9:50 p.m. a las 11:15 p.m., justo después de su turno de noche, y aunque ya era muy tarde, todos estaban muy involucrados y compartimos mucha información,” dijo Pérez. “Fue una discusión honesta de cosas específicas de Riverhead.”

El curso consistió en una sesión semanal entre OLA y alrededor de 12 a 15 miembros de la policía de Riverhead, lo que se repitió durante un período de 5 semanas con diferentes miembros del departamento. Los temas y ejercicios incluyeron el uso eficaz de la ‘Language Line’ (línea de idiomas) —un servicio clave de traducción e interpretación que es accesible en múltiples idiomas las 24 horas del día, los 7 días de la semana— cómo comunicarse con alguien que muestra miedo o inseguridad en una situación específica, así como información sobre inmigración, entre otros.

La policía de Riverhead ha estado utilizando la línea de idiomas durante los últimos dos años, comentó Hegermiller. Todos los agentes de patrulla de la policía están equipados con el servicio y los agentes de policía tienen teléfono con acceso a la línea de idiomas. Sin embargo, durante los ejercicios de roles en el curso de capacitación, los agentes descubrieron que tener el servicio disponible no es suficiente, saber cómo usarlo de manera específica puede marcar la diferencia.

“Estamos haciendo todo lo posible para crear conciencia y este tipo de capacitación es de beneficio para todos,” dijo Hegermiller. “La comprensión mutua es muy importante.”

Pérez mencionó que existen barreras y mitos sobre la comunidad latina en general — mitos que también se extienden a la policía local y el papel que desempeñan— que deben ser disipados.

“Cuando pones a las personas en una caja, una y otra vez, sin importar quienes sean, no es bueno para nadie y no es bueno para la comunidad,” dijo Pérez.

Para los latinos, el miedo y la falta de información pueden derivarse de no hablar inglés fluido, no saber como funcionan los procedimientos policiales y el proceso legal, así como también estar indocumentados —o tener alguien cercano que esté indocumentado— entre otros factores clave que los departamentos de policía necesitan tener en cuenta al interactuar con los miembros de la comunidad latina.

Del mismo modo, los cuerpos del orden público, especialmente los departamentos de policía locales, y lo que hacen o no hacen, es algo que debe abordarse, dijo Pérez.

“Queremos que más personas denuncien crímenes, por supuesto, pero es necesario que haya un diálogo bidireccional, que es fundamental,” comentó Pérez. “Nuestro objetivo es trabajar con los cuerpos del orden público, para que los miembros latinos de cada población conozcan y puedan confiar en la policía y viceversa.”

Los latinos en Riverhead han sido atacados, o robados, en varias ocasiones cerca o en los alrededores de las vías del tren, algo que la policía sabe e intenta prevenir, dijo Pérez. La seguridad marítima también es un problema que preocupa a la policía de Riverhead. Han creado un vídeo sobre las áreas más peligrosas y de cómo prepararse cuando una persona se encuentra en el mar y tiene una situación de emergencia. OLA ayudó con la traducción.

“Continuaremos haciendo todo lo posible por reducir el miedo entre la comunidad hispana y asegurarnos que sepan que pueden confiar en el Departamento de Policía de Riverhead,” dijo Hegermiller. “Lento, pero seguro que mejorará la situación.”

Police officers participate in diversity training course

by Kelly Zegers , July 23, 2018

Members of the Riverhead Town Police Department recently completed a five-week diversity training course meant to dispel myths that exist among Latino residents about law enforcement on the East End — and vice versa. 

The training was offered by OLA of Eastern Long Island, a nonprofit that aims to empower and inform local Latinos. The goal was to build trust between police and Latino community members so they do not hesitate to call for help as victims of crime or come forward as witnesses.

Reporting of crimes has been decreasing recently among Latino families and individuals, said OLA executive director Minerva Perez. That’s due partly to myths that need to be broken, she said. 

“Some of those myths might exist around the willingness or the interest in hearing and communicating with Latino members of the community who are victims or witnesses to crime and this I do believe is a myth,” Ms. Perez said. “I know that law enforcement wants people to come forward to report crime as victims and witnesses. It gets tricky when the language barrier exists.”

People might hesitate to report crimes for a number of reasons, Ms. Perez said. For example, someone may be scared to jeopardize an undocumented family member, even if they weren’t involved in a crime.

During the training, Ms. Perez said, OLA was thrilled to learn how often Riverhead police use the resources they have to communicate with the Latino population in the community on calls, such as a live translation service. Seeing how Riverhead police employ the technology offers a learning opportunity for all East End law enforcement, she said. 

Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said the live translation service has helped a lot to communicate in Spanish when necessary. He noted that some officers have been working on their own to build their proficiency in Spanish.

This type of training is ongoing, Chief Hegermiller said, “so we always have to be aware and make sure that we’re covering all the bases. 

“We have a diverse community,” he said. 

A major goal of the training was to find ways to establish trust, and communication is a key to that so that people are comfortable reporting crimes. 

“That’s what it’s all about, no matter what,” Chief Hegermiller said. 

The training took place from 9:45 to 11:15 p.m. over five weeks, at the end of police personnel shifts. The sessions were meant to establish an open dialogue with the trainees, who included police officers, sergeants and dispatch members, Ms. Perez said. 

Topics covered included early migration trends, how immigration channels have changed and what challenges exist in communication, Ms. Perez said. 

Trainees offered a “wish list” of potentially life-saving information they said is important to be relayed among Latino community, which included marine safety tips and making sure that people are aware of their address in case of an emergency. 

OLA conducted similar training with the Southampton Town Police Department last year, and Ms. Perez said the organization appreciated being able to bring it to Riverhead.

“We are fortunate to have so many caring members of law enforcement in Riverhead,” she said.

Locals And Visitors Gather In Sag Harbor For 'Interdependence Day' Walk

By Jon Winkler  Jul 4, 2018 1:59 PM

Waves of local residents and summer visitors walked up and down Main Street in Sag Harbor on Wednesday for the "Walk For Interdependence: Keep Our Families Together."

Organized by community outreach groups and local churches, the event started at 11 a.m. at the John A. Ward Memorial Windmill with participants holding signs and walking in protest of the treatment of immigrant families at the U.S./Mexico border under President Donald Trump. JON WINKLER PHOTOS

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A Mass Rally in Sag for Immigrant Families

By Alex Lemonides | July 4, 2018 - 1:26pm

A march and rally on Wednesday in Sag Harbor, organized by local advocacy groups and congregations, protested the fragmentation of immigrant families at the border. It was an East End iteration of marches that took place in cities across the country on Sunday.

Protesters marched the length of Sag Harbor from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. "It's not really a normal protest," said Kathy Engel, who helped organize the event. "It's more of a celebration."

The gathering began and ended at the windmill at the foot of Long Wharf, where children and adults spoke out about the importance of family unity, songs were sung, and dances danced.

Children wore shimmering blankets, sometimes called "space blankets," in solidarity with children who are separated from their parents at the border and given similar ones for warmth. 

Denise Silva-Dennis of the Shinnecock Nation led the assembled crowd — estimated at 400 by Sag Harbor Police Chief Austin McGuire —  in a short Shinnecock language lesson and a pledge of interdependence. Those assembled promised to "denounce policies and behaviors that separate, and embrace justice and unity. We hereby pledge interdependence with each other and all life."

The heat was intense, and at the end, Minerva Perez, the director of Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, which helped organize the rally, jumped in the water near the windmill to cool off. After a few seconds, she was joined by children. 

All Images by Durrell Godfrey

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“Interdependence” Day Protest Marches on Main Street

BY Peter Boody July 4, 2018

Hundreds of people gathered at the foot of Long Wharf for speeches, poems and a prayer followed by a peaceful parade up and down the sidewalks on Main Street in the midday heat on Wednesday, July 4. The event was billed as an “Interdependence Day” demonstration against the separation and detention of families at the U.S border with Mexico.

As many as 400 people participated in the event, which drew bemused gazes, thumbs up and a few cheers from pedestrians and drivers as well as a few wisecracks: “ICE is nice, say it twice,” chanted a man in his 20s in front of Schiavoni’s Market. A teenager crossing Main Street glanced back at the walkers over his shoulder and said out loud to no one in particular, “They came here illegally.”

The walkers, young and old, many with banners and signs, at one point filled the sidewalk from the head of the march as it passed the Golden Pear, across Main Street to Fishers Home Furnishings and down the sidewalk on the west side of Main Street to its tail at LT Burger. The procession took about a half hour to make the entire circuit back to Long Wharf.

“Usually I’m in Southampton” for the big parade on July 4, said Denise Silva Dennis of the Shinnecock Nation, one of those who spoke to a crowd that by 11 a.m. jammed the foot of Long Wharf and the lawn around the John A. Ward Windmill before the walk began.

“I’m on the float and I like to dress up in my regalia as we all do,” she said. “But this was a very special day because this is the first day ever, after all those parades,” of “actually speaking about justice and equality and really what the true meaning of what the Fourth of July is about. It’s about independence, independence for everyone.”

Quoting Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, she said, “This Independence Day let us remember that patriotism is not really watching fireworks and parades but also shining a light on injustice when we see it.”

“The United States was founded as an act of bold resistance,” she said. “The Declaration of Independence we celebrate today expresses the right to protest and exercise that right and that is what we are doing today.”

“It’s immoral to sperate families and immoral to lock children in cages,” declared Kimberly Quinn Johnson, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork, “and I will say that this is not a new moment in this country’s history. We have a long and dirty, shameful history of separating children from families, of separating children of enslaved people, selling them off as property, of separating, stealing away indigenous children from their families, putting them in boarding houses to civilize them. We can do better and we as a community must demand that we do better.”

“We’re here because we heard a call,” said Minerva Perez, executive director of OLA (the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island), an organizer of the event and the first speaker. “We heard a call and we were led by our hearts, we were led by our wombs, we came together to say that today will not be like just any other day, that today we are going to come together with the knowledge that right now something has to change, that we will not accept the fact that children are separated from their families, that families are criminalized that are seeking safety on our shores, and we will not accept that fact.

“You are here because you care, and you refuse to cower in hate or anger,” she continued. “And we will not walk away from this challenge. Together we will not walk away. We will stay here, and we will throw as much love, as much truth, as many votes as it’s going to take to reverse this.”

Commenting that “not a day goes by” for OLA “that we don’t receive a call for help from a vulnerable Latino in our community,” she noted about the support organization that was founded in 2002 and said, “we will be here long after this administration is gone.”

Initially sponsored by Temple Adas Israel, OLA and the South Fork Unitarian Universalist Congregation, by Wednesday more than 25 organizations and individuals had signed on as sponsors of the event, including Racial Justice East End, the Children’s Museum of the East End, the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, Canio’s Cultural Café, PEER (Progressive East End Reformers), Solidarity Sundays and the Hamptons Lutheran Parish.

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OLA Of Eastern Long Island Hires General Counsel

By Jon Winkler June 19, 2018

OLA of Eastern Long Island, an advocacy group for the Latino community, has hired a full-time general counsel.

Andrew Strong, 38, of Springs said he will act as a “conduit” to connect Latino residents to legal resources throughout Long Island and New York.

“These services are more difficult to access out here,” he said. “In a city, you could throw a stone and hit an attorney. It can be more difficult for OLA’s population.”

“Solid legal help is not only not easy to find if you’re working class but it’s going to be harder to find representation you feel comfortable about,” said Minerva Perez, OLA’s executive director. “Sometimes people won’t take it all the way because of fears of drawing attention to their lives that lead to exposure.” 

Latino men and women can be especially vulnerable to exploitative situations involving wages and documentation of work hours, as well as eviction practices that are “not so scrupulous,” Ms. Perez said. 

She cited the $82 million mortgage fraud scheme orchestrated by former Suffolk County Legislator George Guldi, who spent three years in prison after being accused of falsifying loan applications and using straw buyers to scam homeowners in Southampton as an example of a serious incident requiring “cost-effective, high-quality” legal representation. She also noted the need for legal assistance for victims of domestic violence, assault, and crimes involving children.

“We should be addressing and helping them so that the victims will no longer feel victimized,” Ms. Perez said.

Mr. Strong graduated cum laude from Northwestern University Law School and spent seven years practicing at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Netherlands. He also represented the prime minister of Kosovo, an independent country in southeastern Europe, in consecutive war crime trials and worked for the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Counter Terrorism, adding to his experience in international human rights law and international criminal defense litigation.

He currently lives with his two children and wife, Rachael, in her hometown of Springs.

Ms. Perez met Mr. Strong a year ago, and Ms. Perez commended his ability to encourage dialogue, be respectful of his clients and learn as much as possible in any given situation. 

“He’s such a great personality,” she said. “We needed someone who’s open and doesn’t assume the worst in any situation. It’s a long process involving a lot of conversation, but it’s no drastic change to what we’ve been doing here. It’s just a better way of doing it.”

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A Conversation With Andrew Strong

By Christine Sampson, June 13, 2018

Organización Latino Americana of Eastern Long Island (OLA) this week announced it has received a three-year commitment from donors Linda and Michael Donovan to fund the hiring of a full-time general counsel for the non-profit organization for the first time. Andrew Strong, of Springs, a human rights attorney who spent seven years working at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on war crimes cases, has been appointed to the position. Mr. Strong spoke to The Expressabout his background and his new role with OLA.

What inspired you to become an attorney, and specifically an attorney that takes on human rights matters?

I think like many law students, I wanted to practice law because I saw it as a tool to change things I felt were unfair to people. As those really general feelings began to crystallize or firmly set in my mind, I came across John Yoo and Jay Bybee’s memos arguing for the use of torture in the War on Terror. Those memos and the subsequent practice of state-sanctioned torture left me outraged. After reading them, I knew that I wanted to focus on human rights.

What inspired you to work with OLA?

I think OLA is performing a critical service to our community and for its long-term health. I strongly believe that we need to ensure that basic human rights are met for all members of this community. OLA’s mission is consistent with that, and it’s inspiring.

What are your goals for the new OLA position?

Our goals are focused on several areas. Some of them include ensuring all members of the community have unfettered access to public education; assessing and increasing public transportation on the East End, and building capacity on the East End to help individuals from the Latino population with legal issues ranging from mortgage fraud to immigration.

Besides your knowledge and background in law, what other skills do you bring to OLA that will be useful in making an impact here on the East End?

Outside of my law background, I think my connection to this community is a huge asset. I live in Springs, I have two children — a third on the way — and I want to work to ensure this community is as strong, vibrant and positive for my children as it is for me. I think approaching the position and constantly asking the question, ‘What is best for the long-term health of this community?’ is a critical part of the job, and is why having someone that is a year-round resident and invested in this community strikes me as a benefit.

In general, do you think there is a lack of empathy or compassion in the realm of human rights these days? What steps can people take to encourage greater understanding among themselves?

I don’t think there is less empathy today than in the past. It is important to remember how far we have come in the last few generations and how much better off we are at addressing lots of human rights issues. I think human rights, as a general idea, can be very difficult to relate to on a daily basis when you’re busy with making a living and family. I think that when presented specifically with a real human struggling with real problems, people, especially out here, are extremely compassionate and ready to help. The biggest difference I can see in the way we relate to each now is that some portion of the conversation about human rights in our community is done from behind a computer on comment sections and other online media. Removing that layer of interpersonal relationship allows people to write and communicate in much more polarized ways and express views that come across as extremely aggressive, even when in truth there is more commonality to be found. And I think it pulls the dialogue to more extreme ends of the spectrum.

Serie de Retratos Captura las Caras de una Comunidad Diversa

By Christine Sampson June 13, 2018

Por Christine Sampson y Ana Kestler

Cada persona fotografiada tiene un nombre, por supuesto, pero los sujetos en los últimos retratos del aclamado fotógrafo Philippe Cheng se muestran sin nombre por una razón.

Las fotografías capturan las caras, las personalidades, el espíritu de muchos de los clientes, voluntarios, seguidores y colaboradores de la Organización Latino Americana de Eastern Long Island (OLA), un grupo diverso de personas que Cheng documenta en una nueva serie en curso, a blanco y negro titulada “Soy OLA.”

“No estamos etiquetando a nadie ni mostrando sus nombres a propósito,” dijo Minerva Pérez, directora ejecutiva de OLA. “Solo queremos mostrar el espectro de la humanidad de quienes están involucrados con OLA.”

Algunos de los sujetos de Cheng pueden ser reconocidos como líderes prominentes de instituciones religiosas u otras organizaciones sin fines de lucro en el East End, pero él dice que su objetivo es tratar a todos con el mismo nivel de importancia y comunicar punto más amplio.

“Todos somos parte de la misma comunidad,” dijo Cheng. “Somos uno.”

Vinieron del trabajo o de la escuela, de todo el East End, al estudio de Cheng en Bridgehampton durante varias tardes recientes cuando la luz natural era ideal para las fotografías. Muchas de las mujeres llegaron sin maquillaje.

“Muchas personas estaban saliendo de su zona de confort, por lo que hay nerviosismo en un cierto nivel, pero hay una sinceridad de espíritu,” dijo Cheng. “Aunque pasamos poco tiempo juntos, de alguna manera presionó un botón emocional: esto es lo suficientemente importante el día de hoy como para decir: ‘Soy como mi vecino.’”

El proyecto Soy OLA comenzó con una oferta de Cheng para ayudar a Pérez a renovar el sitio web de OLA. El sitio web necesitaba nuevas imágenes, y si hay algo en lo que él es bueno, es en imágenes cautivadoras.

“Quería asegurarme de que las imágenes que estábamos compartiendo en el sitio web estuvieran enfocadas en las artes, mostrando a los miembros de nuestra comunidad latina divirtiéndose, celebrando la cultura, celebrando quienes somos, y no solo íbamos a mostrar imágenes sobre inmigración o trabajadores, sino que íbamos a compartir la conversación complete,” explicó Pérez. “Philippe sabía que eso me interesaba, y dijo ¿qué tal una serie de retratos?”

Pérez agarró un pañuelo de papel y se secó las comisuras de los ojos mientras continuó: “Todavía hay tantas imágenes negativas que se difunden en las redes sociales y en otros lugares, y hay tantos temas que son tristes. Esta serie de retratos le permite a nuestra comunidad local tener estas caras hermosas llenas de historia, orgullo y belleza, para recordar que esta es nuestra comunidad. No es solo un encabezado, sino que estas son las caras de los miembros de nuestra comunidad y tenemos la suerte de tener a estas personas entre nosotros, todas ellas.”

Una voluntaria de OLA que ofreció ser fotografiada, Lina, dijo que nunca antes se había hecho un retrato formal.

“La gente verá las fotos y se preguntará cual es la razón, qué hace OLA, y buscarán información. Quizás se involucren si lo encuentran interesante, y las personas que ya están involucradas estarán interesadas en involucrarse más,” dijo Lina en español a través de un traductor.

Lina dijo que los resultados de Cheng son hermosos, profesionales y elegantes, y que el formato en blanco y negro llama más la atención porque todo lo demás en el mundo es generalmente a color.

Durante su sesión de fotos, Lina dijo, “Cheng fue muy agradable con todas las personas, muy cálido y acogedor, especialmente con los niños, así que fue una buena experiencia. Él es una muy buena persona al querer ayudar a OLA y transmitir el mensaje.”

No todos están sonriendo en su retrato, pero está bien, dijo Pérez. Cada imagen simplemente representa un momento auténtico.

“Había solamente un elemento natural, una belleza natural, una luz natural,” dijo. “Philippe está presente en el otro extremo de la cámara y opta por darle al sujeto un peso tremendo, pero no de una manera pesada. Él está elevando a cada sujeto usando esta luz natural, simplemente deseando saber quién es esa persona.”

Cheng dijo que el éxito de la serie de retratos recae en sus sujetos.

“Realmente es la gente la que hace las fotos. Yo soy testigo,” dijo.

Hasta ahora, hay más de 30 retratos en la serie Soy OLA. Si bien actualmente vive en el sitio web de la organización,, Pérez espera armar una exposición de galería en el futuro. Cheng está de acuerdo.

“En el mundo de mis sueños, tendremos miles de retratos de personas que tienen ese tipo de interés en la igualdad,” dijo.

Otro aspecto del proyecto que Cheng espera incluir es la representación de aquellos que no pueden mostrar sus caras por una razón u otra, por ejemplo porque pueden ser inmigrantes indocumentados. Él imagina un retrato de una persona que sostiene una especie de tablero negro frente a su cara.

“Probablemente se sorprendería” al ver que entre todas las caras sonrientes, dijo, “pero darse cuenta de una de las razones por las que OLA existe, especialmente en este clima político.”

Pérez dijo que la serie Soy OLA ayuda a las personas a ver sus semejanzas mutuas.

“Parece que somos todos de la misma familia. Hay un punto de conexión,” dijo.

Cheng hizo eco de esos sentimientos.

”Cuando lo desglosas, todos somos uno,” dijo. “En estos tiempos, es importante recordar que no estamos aislados.”

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Portrait Series Captures the Faces of a Diverse Community

By Christine Sampson June 12, 2018

Every person pictured has a name, of course, but the subjects in acclaimed photographer Philippe Cheng’s latest portraits are displayed nameless for a reason.

The photographs capture the faces, the personalities, the spirits of many of the clients, volunteers, supporters and collaborators of Organización Latino Americana of Eastern Long Island (OLA) – a diverse group of people that Cheng documents in a new, ongoing, black-and-white series called “Soy OLA.”

The title translates to “I Am OLA.”

“We’re not labeling anyone or showing their names on purpose,” said Minerva Perez, OLA’s executive director. “We just want to show the spectrum of humanity of who is involved with OLA.”

Some of Cheng’s subjects may be recognizable as prominent leaders of religious institutions or other non-profit organizations on the East End, but he says his objective is to treat everyone with the same level of importance and make a larger point.

“We are all part of the same community,” Cheng said. “We are one.”

They came from work or from school, from all over the East End, to Cheng’s Bridgehampton studio during several recent afternoons when the natural light would be most ideal for pictures. Many of the women came without makeup on.

“A lot of people were stepping outside of their comfort zones, so there’s nervousness on one level, but there’s a genuineness of spirit,” Cheng said. “Even though we spent only a short amount of time together, it sort of pushed an emotional button – this is important enough today to say, ‘I am like my neighbor.’”

The Soy OLA project began with an offer from Cheng to help Perez revamp OLA’s website. The website needed fresh imagery, and if there’s one thing he’s good at, it’s compelling imagery.

“I wanted to make sure the images we were sharing on the website were focused on the arts, showing members of our Latino community enjoying themselves, celebrating culture, celebrating who we are, and we were not just going to show images around immigration or workers, but that we were going to share the full conversation,” Perez explained. “Philippe knew those were interests of mine, and said what about a series of portraits?”

She grabbed a tissue and dabbed at the corners of her eyes as she continued: “There are still so many negative images that are put out on social media and other places, and there are so many topics that are sad. This portrait series allows our local community to have these beautiful faces full of story, of pride, of beauty, to remember that this is our community. It’s not just some headline, but these are the faces of our community members and we are lucky to have these people among us – all of them.”

One OLA volunteer who offered to be photographed, Lina, said she had never had a formal portrait taken before.

“People are going to see the photos and wonder what it is for, what OLA does, and will inform themselves. Maybe they will get involved if they find it interesting, and the people who are already involved will be interested in getting more involved,” Lina said in Spanish through a translator.

Lina said Cheng’s results are beautiful, professional and elegant, with the black-and-white format calling more attention because everything else in the world is generally in color.

During their photo shoot, Lina said, Cheng “was very nice with all of the people, very warm and welcoming, especially with the children, so it was a good feeling. He is a really good person to want to help OLA and get the message out.”

Not everyone is smiling in their portrait, but that’s okay, Perez said. Each image simply represents a pure moment.

“There was just a natural element, a natural beauty, a natural light,” she said. “Philippe is present on the other end of the camera and chooses to give the subject tremendous weight, but not in a heavy way. He is elevating every subject using this natural light, purely wanting to know who that person is.”

Cheng said the success of the portrait series lies with his subjects.

“It’s really the people who make the pictures. I’m the witness,” he said.

So far, there are more than 30 portraits in the Soy OLA series. While it currently lives on the organization’s website,, Perez hopes to put together a gallery exhibition in the future. Cheng concurs.

Immigrant Advocacy Group OLA Of Eastern LI Hires General Counsel

"The relative isolation that many of our most vulnerable are experiencing is compounded by an escalation in exploitation." — Minerva Perez

By Lisa Finn, Patch Staff | Jun 15, 2018 3:46 pm ET

SOUTHAMPTON, NY — Immigrant advocacy group Organización Latino-Americana has hired full time general counsel.

According to OLA of Eastern Long Island's Executive Director Minerva Perez and the OLA board, East End attorney Andrew Strong was hired after a need was recognized "to deepen dialogue related to local policy and practice to better incorporate the protection, communication, and access needs of our full community."

Perez said she has sat at the table with county, town, and village leaders from Suffolk County, East Hampton, Southampton, and Riverhead.

"To be involved in various discussions related to public safety, transportation access, education access, and communication strategies has been an honor, but one that I will not be able to sustain without the appropriate bandwidth," Perez said.

Strong's focus will also include the creation of better East End legal networks and collaborations on a variety of topics that will offer local access to legal counsel that is either pro bono or "low-cost and high integrity," she said.

"The relative isolation that many of our most vulnerable are experiencing is compounded by an escalation in exploitation," Perez said. "We cannot stand by and watch as people are scammed, threatened, and bullied into accepting worsening conditions related to wage theft, worker safety, mortgage and housing scams, immigration scams, domestic abuse, and sexual assault, among others."

Strong has a degree in history and music composition from Middlebury College and is a cum laude graduate of Northwestern University School of Law. He has extensive experience in international human rights law and international criminal defense litigation, having spent seven years practicing at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Netherlands, where he successfully represented the Prime Minister of Kosovo in consecutive war crimes trials before working for the United Nations as a special rapporteur for counter terrorism, a release said.

Locally, he focuses land use, zoning and municipal law with the Law Offices of Richard Whalen.

His wife is from East Hampton and the couple has two sons, three and two.

The position has been funded by Linda and Michael Donovan for the next three years, Perez said.

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Organización Latino-Americana Mental Health Workshops Help Calm Fears In Latino Community

By Amanda Bernocco | May 15, 2018

With markers in her tiny hands and creative juices flowing through her veins, a young girl began drawing a picture of herself dressed as a superhero. 

In her drawing, she had long brown hair and wore an orange mask hiding her identity. A thought bubble defined the girl’s mission: “Time to save the world.” 

The girl drew the picture while sitting inside the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton last month, during a mental health workshop sponsored by the nonprofit Organización Latino-Americana, or OLA. The workshop, called Circulos de Fuerza (“Circles of Strength”), was conducted by three local licensed social workers to help soothe increasing levels of fear and anxiety within the Spanish-speaking community, particularly due to fears related to a stepped-up intensity of immigration enforcement. 

Bryony Freij, a social worker at East End Pediatrics in East Hampton, one of the medical professionals at the workshop, said the superhero drawing is one of her favorite exercises to do with children facing anxiety. The exercise is simple: Ms. Freij instructs the children to think about what their life would be like if they were a superhero. What would their superpowers be? What would people call them? Then they draw the image.

The young girl, whom Ms. Freij did not identify because of the sensitive nature of the workshop, knew exactly what her superhero identity would be. Her name would be “Super Cool Rock Girl,” and her superpower would be to “see the future.”

In the picture, she wears a green shirt with a red heart on it, paired with an orange skirt and purple cape. 

The girl took the picture home with her and was instructed to hang it next to her mirror so she can look at it every morning. 

“It’s just getting them to start off their day by letting them find their inner strength,” Ms. Freij said. 

At work, Ms. Freij said she has been seeing increased levels of stress in children—especially since January, when President Donald Trump took office, and it was uncertain how tough his crackdown on immigration policies would be. 

She recalled one scenario in which a 6-year-old told her he thought Mr. Trump would take his parents away. Multiple children have told her they fear going to school because they don’t want their parents to be deported when they are gone. She said she has two patients who become “completely terrified” when they are in the car and see the flashing lights of a police car. 

“These are real fears,” Ms. Feij said. 

In fact, children appear to be worrying so much that Ms. Feij said she is seeing an increase in anxiety symptoms among those she sees in her office: frequent nightmares, worries about going to school, stomachaches, headaches, a lot of crying and a loss of appetite.

While sometimes it’s necessary to get professional help, there are steps Ms. Feij said parents can take to lessen a child’s anxiety at home. The biggest culprit, she said, is television news, to which she recommends limited exposure.

“Kids get little snippets, and it turns to a big, scary world,” Ms. Feij said of children watching the news. 

Additionally, she said parents should encourage physical exercise, do breathing exercises as a family, and to talk to their children. She said parents should honestly answer children’s questions about immigration in a calm and factual manner. 

“I think ‘We’ll get through this together’ is an important thing for kids to hear from their family members,” Ms. Feij said. 

Social workers Carolina Agudelo and Oscar Mandes, who also helped run exercises during the mental health workshop, could not be reached for comment this week. 

Minerva Perez, executive director of Organización Latino-Americana, said the April workshop, which was free to participants, was attended by 57 parents and children. She said this week that she is looking forward to running more workshops. 

“We received additional funding to continue these workshops,” Ms. Perez said in an email last week. “We are hoping to take them on the road to better reach communities impacted by lack of transportation and increased isolation.” However, no dates for future workshops were set as of this week. 

Ms. Perez said the exercises for adults during last month’s workshop were also effective. She recalled an exercise where blindfolded adults waited to be carefully led by a partner through an obstacle course. The objective was to see what it feels like to put trust in one another and what it feels like to take responsibility for the care of one another.

“There is laughter and smiles and play,” Ms. Perez said of the exercise. “This is an adult activity to remind us to not miss out on play while we navigate dire issues related to trust and how best to help those around us.”


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Immigration Anxiety the Focus at Packed OLA Forum

By Judy D’Mello | May 2, 2018

The crammed pews of Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor one evening last week served as a reminder of the community's deep concern over current immigration policies, which has only heightened following the April 9 arrest of Luis Marin-Castro, a 31-year-old employee of Wainscott Main Wine and Spirits and a sommelier at Nick and Toni's restaurant who has lived in East Hampton for 20 years.

The particular issue that the public has come to focus on is the seemingly greater discretion now allocated to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, raising questions about the extent of that agency's powers and the rights of its detainees.

To that end, Organizacion Latino-Americana, an advocacy group for the Latino community on the East End, hosted a part-instructional, part-rallying immigration forum at the church on April 25. Minerva Perez, the organization's executive director, presided at the gathering, which drew several South Fork activists, including April Gornik and Toni Ross.

President Trump has declared that anyone living in the country illegally is a target for arrest and deportation, and the number of immigration arrests has gone up by more than 40 percent this year. While the Obama administration deported record numbers of undocumented immigrants, federal agents at the time were ordered to focus on serious criminals and recent arrivals. The current administration has erased those guidelines, allowing ICE agents to arrest and deport anyone here illegally.

Freed of past legal constraints and bolstered by a stricter approach to immigration offenses, ICE is operating more like secret police, swooping down on deportees in unmarked cars, or knocking on doors of private homes while wearing civilian clothes, Ms. Perez said.

Christopher Worth, an immigration lawyer based in East Quogue, said at the meeting that the current tactics of "arrest everyone first, ask questions later" violate immigrants' constitutional rights and constitute racial profiling. Furthermore, unlike in criminal court, immigrants facing deportation are not appointed public defenders.

"They are using unscrupulous tactics," said Ms. Perez.

Mr. Worth offered some advice: Don't open the door to anyone you don't recognize, he said. "Once you open your door, it's an invitation." As such, law officials can say they were willingly invited in and therefore did not require a warrant.

Instead, he suggested, if a language barrier exists, "have a printed card ready that asks who they are, the reason for the visit, and if they possess a warrant. Simply slip it under the door."

He also stressed that no one can be randomly pulled over in his or her car without having committed an infraction or driving through a designated security checkpoint. "If they pull you over for no other reason than suspicion," he said, "they cannot make an arrest."

The use of ruses is nothing new to law enforcement, but it is problematic in areas that are heavily populated by immigrants, such as the East End, where police and elected officials have tried for decades to distinguish the local law enforcement officials from federal immigration agents. There has been a concerted effort to build trust among the immigrant community so that they can interact with police here without fear of deportation. That appears to have shifted, Ms. Perez said.

"We must insist that our local police disentangle themselves from ICE," she said at the meeting, drawing applause. "Citizens should speak out at local town board meetings."

She urged everyone to demand that town and village police officers build trust among residents so that anyone, regardless of immigration status, can feel safe in reporting a crime. Otherwise, as Charlie Beck, the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, said in a Los Angeles Times interview, "a shadow population" that fears interaction with law enforcement is created, and it becomes an easy target for abuse or extortion because of a fear of contacting the police.

Putting pressure on local authorities was a major part of the meeting, and Ms. Perez circulated three petitions for those in attendance to sign and state that they "stand with OLA" on all three issues. She will present the signed petitions to local and state officials.

"My timeline is yesterday," she said during a phone conversation on Friday. "I want to get these in front of officials now."

The first petition, which she believes is paramount in protecting a person's constitutional rights, demands that ICE officials present a judicial warrant rather than an administrative one when making an arrest. The difference between warrants is significant, she said, as a judicial warrant is an official court document, usually with the designation of a specific court and signed by a judge. It serves as evidence that there has been due process backed by probable cause.

An administrative warrant, meanwhile, is simply a document signed by an ICE agent stating that a person is being designated for possible arrest and possible deportation proceedings. An administrative warrant is not signed by a judge, nor does it pass constitutional muster.

"An administrative warrant," she said, "is an absolute violation of our Fourth Amendment," which guarantees "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. . . ."

The second petition she circulated goes back to the point of demanding better communication and trust-building between local law enforcement and community members. It also insists that live translation services be available at all town and village offices.

The final petition is one that has been on the table for a while, asking that public transportation be improved so that working people, students, and the elderly, many of whom do not have the luxury of owning or leasing a car, can still be a vital part of the community.

Ms. Perez said that she is urgently pushing forward the petitions simply because "something's got to give. How can we continue to add fuel to the fire and then say, 'Oh, we have a fire?' " She referred to the fear and uncertainty that have spread among undocumented residents, many of whom have lived here for decades.

"They're messing up a beautiful thing," Ms. Perez said of the symbiosis that has existed for years in this community, which openly beckoned undocumented immigrants to work in the boomtown of construction and service jobs that have defined the South Fork, but which now, in the wake of suddenly more conservative politics and rewritten national policies, is penalizing them. For the very people who helped build this community, those policies, she said, have turned every waking day into a gamble.

"If I hear about an influx one more time," she said, "I'll scream. Immigrants have been coming out here for a very long time."

Underscoring her point is a recent statistic that emerged from an informal survey conducted by the Springs School: Ninety-nine percent of its current eighth graders, who will soon leave Springs for high school, were born in the United States.

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Fear, Anger Grow In Wake Of More ICE Detentions

By Michael Wright May 1, 2018 3:38 PM

Outrage over a recent wave of detentions of local residents by officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement continued to swell this week among supporters of a Latino community that advocates say is being unfairly “hunted” by federal officers.

Swelling budgets and staffing levels in the past year, critics say, have pushed the focus of ICE beyond seeking to deport only those with violent criminal histories and no legal immigration status—those whom President Donald Trump has spotlighted to justify ramping up immigration enforcement agencies.

The resultant uptick in detention sweeps, say the Latino leaders and the families of those detained, has pulled apart families of U.S. citizens and sowed chronic fear in the lives of long-established members of the East End community.

Governor Andrew Cuomo last week lashed out at an ICE sweep that the agency said had led to the detention of 225 people in the New York region, and issued a “cease-and-desist” demand, threatening a lawsuit by the state.

Latino advocates from the East End were careful to note that changing federal policies, from a local level, is not likely within reach. They urged those impassioned by the recent arrests to channel their energy toward support efforts and outreach that can help local residents who are beset with fear or struggling to help a detained loved one.

At a gathering at Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor last week, leaders of Latino advocacy groups said that the recent sweeps show that ICE has turned its sights from violent criminals to anyone who has an arrest record—a single DWI, some from as many as 10 years ago, appears to have been a common trigger.

“This has now become a hunt, and our community is the prey,” Minerva Perez, president of Organizacion Latino-Americana, a community advocacy group, told the crowd on Wednesday, April 25. “But we are not here to talk about what ICE is doing, because that distracts us from what we can do to make a difference.”

Ms. Perez told the large crowd—which included congressional candidates, a number of local government officials and several prominent business owners—the best ways to help the local Latino community face the storm of detentions: lobby for a better support network of mental health services for fearful children, press local police to increase outreach to Latinos so that ICE detentions would not erode trust in local law enforcement, and press for improved language translation services for local police departments, and for better public services, like additional county buses, to help those struggling to navigate daily life.

Nonetheless, much of the conversation focused on tactics that immigration agents have used in recent arrests and how Latino residents can assert the legal rights they do have, documented or not.

Of particular concern were reports that ICE agents had pulled over cars on Flanders Road recently and detained passengers. How many, if any, people had been detained in such a way, Ms. Perez said she did not know, but the specter of federal agents shifting gears to randomly pulling over vehicles to check for undocumented immigrants raised accusations of racial profiling and illegal search and seizure.

However, this week a spokeswoman for ICE said that random stopping and searching of cars is not something the agency’s officers can do.

“Anytime ICE is out in the field, they have a target in mind,” said ICE’s New York region communications director, Rachael Yong Yow. “If they are pulling a car over, it’s because they saw the person get in the car, or they know the person may be in that car.

“We’re not profiling—we’re not looking for a certain type of person, a certain race of person,” she added. “Our last sweep included people from Ireland and Russia to Antigua and the Ukraine, people from all over the world.”

Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki confirmed this week that he contacted ICE after receiving calls about cars having been pulled over on Flanders Road near Hampton Bays, and that the agency had said its officers had stopped at least one vehicle. He said that he’d been told the stop, or stops, were related to the agency’s search for a particular person for whom the officers had a detention warrant.

Because ICE officers use unmarked vehicles, the chief acknowledged, there could be some worry about whether legitimate law enforcement officers were behind the wheel. He suggested that anyone with doubts about a car trying to pull them over could call 911 and drive to a well-lighted, open area.

He said he had suggested to ICE officials—who typically do not alert local law enforcement before conducting detention sweeps in local jurisdictions—that they begin to inform local police when they may be looking to pull over a vehicle, so that public safety dispatchers could inform a worried caller that the vehicle behind them is ICE officers.

“We want to make sure that everybody is safe and protected from people posing as law enforcement, which occasionally happens,” Chief Skrynecki said. “If ICE had given us the information that they were in the area, and we got a call from someone concerned about being pulled over, we’d be able to say, yes, that is an ICE vehicle and you should pull over.”

The rights the occupant of a car has if stopped and questioned by ICE officers were also debated at the meeting last week. At a home, Ms. Perez noted, officers may only enter if they have a warrant with reference to a specific address—and advocates for the immigrant community have printed cards that residents can give to officers saying they do not grant entry to the home if such a warrant is not presented.

Attorneys told the crowd that a car is a different story.

“They can say they have a reason to think the car has someone in it that they are looking for,” immigration attorney Chris Worth said at the OLA meeting. “Then they can ask questions that could lead to reasonable suspicion with regard to another person in the vehicle.”

In either instance, ICE officers may detain anyone else present who does not have valid immigration status, Ms. Yong Yow said—though she said that in most instances, if people do not already have an active deportation warrant issued for them, they would typically be processed, fingerprinted and released.

The longest-lasting impact of the tactics that ICE agents have applied in sweeps, advocates worried, was the chilling effect it may have on the willingness of undocumented immigrants to report other crimes to local police, for fear of inviting law enforcement—whose duties, they may not understand, diverge from those of ICE officers—to their homes.

Ms. Perez said that some cities have reported that crimes reported by Latino residents have dropped by as much as 40 percent since the Trump administration ordered more aggressive deportation efforts. She said her organization gets calls regularly from young girls, mostly U.S. citizens, who have been sexually assaulted and didn’t report the crimes to police, because they are afraid that if they bring the police to their houses, they will endanger relatives who are undocumented. “They pull back,” she said.

In the wake of the increase in ICE detentions—which some reports say have increased 40 percent nationally in the last 12 months, and have included several residents of the South Fork—heads of police departments across the East End have said that their goal is to make the difference clear between their duties and those of ICE, in hopes of discouraging that pull-back among Latino residents.

“Our policy starts with the notion that we would like to have and maintain a good relationship with all residents in our community, documented or undocumented,” Chief Skrynecki said. “We see those relationships are beneficial both to the police and the community, and we want the Latino community to feel comfortable reporting crimes to us.”

Ms. Perez said that while local law enforcement may be laboring to erase the division with the immigrant community, ICE agents and their quickly growing detention warrant lists clearly pay little heed to concerns about such side effects.

“They are not scrupulous,” she said of ICE. “They make their own rules.”


OLA Issues Call to Action to Help Vulnerable Community Members

By Christine Sampson May 2, 2018

The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s activity on the East End has hit a level that the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island considers an all-out ruthless hunt, according to the group’s executive director, Minerva Perez.

In response, Ms. Perez has issued a passionate call to action for all local residents to help ICE’s targets — the vulnerable population of undocumented neighbors — feel safer in their own community.

“I’m not going to stand here and tell you how we’re going to undo current federal decrees, but I will share with you ways we can protect and support those among us who are most affected by these decrees,” she said.

OLA is circulating three petitions — a “red petition,” a “white petition” and a “blue petition.”

The red petition calls for local law enforcement agencies to stop honoring ICE administrative warrants, which are not signed by judges but are still used to detain community members simply on the suspicion that they are in the United States illegally. OLA says this practice is unconstitutional.

“There is nothing about this administrative warrant that is making us safer,” Ms. Perez said.

The white petition addresses another of OLA’s critical platforms: public transportation that covers enough area and is reliable. “Suffolk County is not providing viable bus transportation to its full community,” it reads.

The blue petition is also aimed at local law enforcement. It demands that officers are given access to live translation services both at headquarters and in the field so that community policing is safer, fairer and more effective. “At a time when trust and communication are needed to ensure the safety of all, we need to increase access to law enforcement for many who are too fearful to report crime as a victim or witness,” it reads.

“These are our top three priorities,” Ms. Perez said. “We are working toward immediate solutions — action we are going to be doing with your help.”

Many of the more than 100 people at Thursday’s forum signed these petitions and took home blank copies to solicit more signatures from friends, relatives and neighbors.

Ms. Perez reported the activities of ICE regionally have increased, with agents in unmarked cars engaging in what she said was racial profiling to pull over cars with Latino drivers and passengers, often hauling them off right then and there to hold them in the Riverhead jail. But, Ms. Perez said, sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether it is an actual police officer in an unmarked car attempting to pull over a driver. To help drivers determine whether they are being pulled over by an actual officer in an unmarked car, Ms. Perez advised them to use their cellphones to call 911, provide their information and ask the dispatcher if there is an officer attempting to pull them over. They should also pull over to the nearest well-lit, public parking lot that is likely to have video surveillance.

For those who may see such an incident taking place, Ms. Perez advised witnesses to not get involved, but rather to attempt, in a safe manner, to take photos or videos and send them to OLA, which is maintaining records of these incidents.

OLA has also hired a full-time attorney, who will be with the organization for at least three years, thanks to new funding from a donor.

Ms. Perez told the audience it is counterproductive and irresponsible for people to think, speak and act in ways that subdivide the community based on immigration status. She also said while people should be friendly, they should not go overboard in asking how people are doing or offering help, as it may cause someone to “clam up or shut down.” She instead suggested simply handing someone your business card as an introduction, an idea she borrowed from Kathryn Szoka, co-owner of Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor.

Ms. Perez also called for people to combat the spread of misinformation by staying informed.

Maria del Mar Buena, the editor of the online news outlet Riverhead Local en Español, who spoke at the event not as a journalist but as a community member, urged people to speak up in support of those who are being attacked.

“The Latino community needs the support of the non-Latino community,” she said. “We are stronger together.”

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With A Dearth Of Viable Public Transportation,                                                    A Private Group Is Stepping Up For Emergency Trip

Feb 6, 2018 5:44 PM By Kate Riga

According to Google Maps, the drive in East Hampton from a home in Springs to East End Pediatrics is a snap: nine minutes. The online GPS lists only the driving option under its “recommended travel modes.” 

Walking is more laborious: one hour, 22 minutes. For the public transit option, Google Maps draws a blank.

In fact, according to Bryony Freij, a licensed clinical social worker at East End Pediatrics, trying to take a bus to an appointment would add three hours to the trip—one way.

“We have new mothers pushing their strollers along [Route] 27 in the blistering heat, in the snow,” Ms. Freij said on Friday. “One time, we had a Good Samaritan pick up a new mother along the highway, because he couldn’t stand to watch her push her little baby through the torrential rain.”

According to Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, that particular gap is being targeted for change, after Ms. Freij brought it to the attention of East Hampton Town and Suffolk County leaders at a recent transportation working group meeting. 

“We have got to fix that,” Ms. Fleming said on Monday. “We’re looking to change the internal 10B and 10C bus routes to better serve East Hampton.”

Last fall, the county cut eight bus routes, three of which served the South Fork, and the problem has become so acute that a private group is stepping in to help fill the void.

Organizacion Latino-Americana or OLA, an advocacy group for the Latino community on the East End, is offering temporary free and confidential van rides to doctors’ offices three days a week.

“There are not a lot of parameters around it right now, but we’re trying to highlight pediatric, OB-GYN and cancer appointments,” said Minerva Perez, OLA’s executive director, on Friday. “We only have the money to last through the winter, so for now we’re going to be the little organization that could.” 

Two anonymous couples donated a seven-seater minivan, as well as money for insurance, gas and hiring a driver. According to Ms. Perez, it’s still enough to fuel the effort only until April.

“The bus service is inept,” she said of the county’s system. “It is not a luxury—it is a right to get to the critical pieces of your life.” 

She added that though her organization is dedicated to serving the South Fork’s Latino population, it would not deny anyone the service who needed it. 

For some, the shortcomings of the county’s infamous public transportation system—with infrequent and undependable service, antiquated routes, and a county trying to make changes with minimal funding—are more than inconvenient: they’re dangerous. 

According to Ms. Perez, fear of the repercussions from even a traffic stop prompts many undocumented immigrants to miss their appointments rather than take the risk. 

“Immigrant fear is through the roof right now,” Ms. Perez said, citing an anti-immigrant climate as the cause. “People won’t tell their doctors that they’re struggling to make it to appointments, because they’re constantly worried that there’s a bad side to telling.” She added that a language barrier often prevents patients from understanding and trusting doctor-patient confidentiality.

“Patients show up hours before appointments when their spouses drop them off on their way to work, because they share one car,” said Ms. Freij. “The bus system is so unreliable, patients go to the emergency room at night when they can, after work.” The trips to the ER, rather than regular medical visits with a doctor, raise the cost of the care.

Ms. Freij agrees with Ms. Perez that things have gotten worse in the past year. “I work primarily with Spanish-speaking kids and families,” she said. “Since Trump, there is a rising fear of being on the roads.

“We’re thankful for what OLA is doing, but our own county should be addressing this shame,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to rely on private money.” 

Ms. Fleming, who has campaigned on improving public transportation, said that she and her transportation working group are working hard on the issue. “A glaring problem is that these bus schedules haven’t been changed for 30 years,” she said, adding that she is currently meeting with members of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s Public Works Department to figure out how to adjust the routes to meet the most need. 

“It’s a chicken-and-egg problem,” she said. “To make the system more robust, we need more riders. But we need a more reliable system to get more riders.” 

The county has developed the “TransLoc Rider App” to help passengers track buses on their phones, hoping to entice people back to public transportation. 

Ultimately, many of the problems with the buses come down to money, an issue Ms. Fleming recognizes. “There’s no real funding for marketing the app,” she admitted. “We’re trying to make the changes now that we can.” 

Ms. Fleming said she has been a vocal advocate for getting state money to help fix the problem. She also recently refiled legislation at the county level calling for a temporary moratorium on ride-sharing companies—like Uber and Lyft—until the surcharges are funneled into county transportation funds. 

“It’s not right for us to adopt these ride-sharing services without regulation or support,” she said, adding that the companies were willing to funnel the surcharges into county funds, but that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office stepped in and pushed to divert the money into state coffers to fund the MTA, or Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Mr. Cuomo’s office did not immediately return a request for comment. 

“I’m glad that OLA has stepped in to fill the need, but I don’t think this is something that needs a private solution,” Ms. Fleming said. “This is a need that a decent public transportation system should meet.”

Ms. Perez said she plans to collect as much data as possible over the next few months, presenting it to the county as she goes. “I know that they’re broke and that the budget constraint is real,” she said. “Bridget Fleming has been accessible, but we’re trying to show her the urgency of the situation.

“This is not just a Latino problem, or an OLA problem,” continued Ms. Perez. “This is everybody’s problem.”

Latino nonprofit to give free rides to East End doctors’ offices

Organización Latino-Americana aims to fill a void on the South Fork, especially among residents who need to see a pediatrician and have limited or no access to bus or other transportation.

By Vera Chinesevera.chinese@newsday.comUpdated January 17, 2018 4:49 PM

An East End Latino advocacy organization is launching a free transportation program to help residents get to pediatric and other doctor appointments.

The nonprofit Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island will focus its efforts on transporting those who have appointments to see pediatricians, but rides would be available to any Latino resident who does not qualify for Suffolk County Accessible Transportation, as well as non-Latinos who need assistance in some circumstances.

The rides will be available in Southampton and East Hampton towns on Monday, Wednesday and Friday through April, said Minerva Perez, the group’s executive director. No starting date has been set yet and the schedule may shift.

Advocates said the service is needed on the South Fork, where county bus service is sporadic and where it can take hours to travel short distances. Or, residents may be undocumented or unlicensed and thus avoid driving, Perez said.

“The fear around transportation is real,” she said.

Two donations will allow the nonprofit to start the program. Laura Solinger and her husband, Steven Muth, of Sag Harbor donated their 2005 seven-seat minivan, and an anonymous donor gave $15,000. That money paid for vehicle insurance, registration and the hiring of a driver, Perez said.

Solinger said she was inspired to get involved with Organización Latino-Americana after hearing Perez speak at the private Hayground School in Bridgehampton, where her youngest child is a student.

“I think they’re doing great work for the community,” Solinger, a defense attorney, said of the decision to donate the van. “The community needs to know they have the support of a lot of people.”

Byrony Freij, a Spanish-speaking therapist who offers counseling at East End Pediatrics in East Hampton, has seen the challenges the Latino population faces in traveling to get medical treatment. Some households have only one car, usually in use during the day, she said. Sometimes children will miss school because they must be dropped off early for their appointment. She also pointed to the difficulty public transit poses for mothers taking their newborns to pediatrician visits when they are still recovering from childbirth.

The trip from Springs to her East Hampton office, normally a 15-minute drive, can take more than two hours by bus, with much of that time spent waiting for transfers, she said.

“It’s a huge relief,” Freij said of having a van available. “I’ve mentioned it to some of my patients who have been eagerly waiting for something like this to come along. But it’s a shame that it has to be a nonprofit that is bringing this forth” rather than a government agency, she added.

Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyack) said although she is happy to see Organización Latino-Americana provide the service, she hopes the county can adjust its bus routes in the future to better serve the community. Suffolk County cut eight money-losing routes last year, including three on the South Fork, and bus routes haven’t been changed in three decades, she said.

“It’s not a long-term solution,” Fleming said. “We’re working on the long-term solution.”

Riders can call Organización Latino-Americana at 631-899-3441 to schedule rides or to learn whether they are eligible for the program.

Una Conversación con Minerva Pérez

Por Christine Sampson y Gaby Cabrera

Funcionarios electos y organizaciones de abogacía en común han identificado la falta de transporte público en el Sur Este de Long Island como un problema grave para muchas personas. Organización Latino Americana de Long Island (OLA) se está encargando de este problema este invierno con un programa piloto para proveer transporte de emergencia para personas que no califican para ser transportado a través del condado de Suffolk y los Pueblos de East Hampton y Southampton. La Directora Ejecutiva de OLA, Minerva Pérez, nos explica los detalles del Programa y cómo encaja con la misión de la organización.

Read this article in English here

Entiendo que el Programa de Transporte va a efectuarse a mediados de enero y corre hasta abril. ¿Me podrías contar más sobre las metas y logísticas del Programa?

Como solo témenos un vehículo tenemos fondos para pagarle a un conductor a tiempo parcial y tendremos tres días completos para ofrecer a los residentes de los pueblos de East Hampton y Southampton. Vamos empezar con oficinas de doctores (pediatras). He aprendido que los niños no están llevados a sus sitios con la frecuencia que es necesario debido al grave problema del transporte. Un ejemplo es que, en Springs, el bus se puede demorar tres horas para llegar a la clínica en Pantigo Rd. Cuando yo escuché esto yo dije “Esto es una locura necesitamos hacer algo al respecto inmediatamente. Debido al frio y al miedo y peligro de manejar sin licencias la gente está aisladas de las cosas que necesitan hacer ya sea yendo al doctor, yendo a la tienda a comprar comida o yendo a la dispensa de alimentos (Food Pantry). Vamos a trabajar con los severamente necesitados que no tiene acceso al Transporte de Accesibilidad de los Pueblos de East Hampton o Southampton incluso del Condado de Suffolk. Este servicio no es exclusivamente para la comunidad Latina También vamos ayudar a los demás miembros de la comunidad. Vamos a contratar a alguien que tenga una licencia limpia y asegurar el vehículo y conductor.

La Segunda parte de este Proyecto es que nos gustaría juntar más información. Este es un poquito de lo que hemos visto. Queremos saber cuáles son las gentes que no están siendo atendidas, cuáles son sus historias. Cuando se termine el invierno podremos tomar esta información y compartirla de una manera positive con el Condado. De pronto no esperaremos hasta abril si es que hay datos críticos que hemos obtenido de esto, lo compartiremos de forma inmediata con los Pueblos.

¿Que hizo posible este Proyecto?

Algunas cosas, he estado proyectando mis ideas a algunos patrocinadores quienes me han apoyado en el pasado y al mismo tiempo recibí una llamada de la nada de gentes que me escucharon hacer una presentación y querían donar un miniván. Todo se fue dando y la junta de OLA me apoyado bastante. Nada de esto fuera posible sin la ayuda de ellos. A pesar de que OLA es una mezcla de Artes, Educación, y Abogacía hay ciertas cosas de las que no podemos dejar de ayudar. Estamos encantados de ayudar de cualquier manera que podamos.

¿Porque es importante un Programa como este en el Sur Este de Long Island?

Minerva Pérez: Es bien aislado y mucha gente no se da cuenta de eso. Transporte Publico especialmente el bus es una necesidad aquí y nos hace una gran falta. La necesidad se amplifica más ahora con el frio que estamos teniendo y encima de eso hay más personas con miedo de manejar porque no tienen licencias. Esto afecta a los más vulnerables por eso no podemos permitir que esto pase. Otra parte de esto es empleo y mano de obra, hemos hablado con trabajadores y los estragos que tienen. Deberíamos tener buses que satisfacen las necesidades de las personas en esta comunidad y no lo están hacienda.

¿Como encaja esto con la Filosofía general de OLA?

Abogacía para el 2017 ha tomado un giro diferente debido a la necesidad. Hacemos bastante abogacía y podemos decir con gran asombro que esto representa un gran vacío en un servicio que nuestro Condado o Pueblos deben tener. Nosotros vamos a llevar estos casos y decir que vamos a aprender y que vamos a presentar a nuestros municipios o educar al público. Nuestra abogacía está a nivel de políticas, pero no se llega a este nivel hablando de políticas primero. La mayoría de nuestros problemas es que el liderazgo empieza de arriba hacia abajo y no lo opuesto que sería hablando con las personas que están pasando por los problemas y viendo cual problema. La estrategia de OLA es juntando estos datos de primera Fuente y llevarla a los legisladores.

Nuestro mayor propósito es abogar para un mejoramiento de todas las personas del Este de Long Island y la mayoría de estas personas en estos momentos son Latinos.

Para aprender más sobre el Programa de Emergencia de OLA llame al (631) 899-3441 o visite nuestra página


OLA of Eastern Long Island will be presenting our 14th Annual Latino Film Festival for the full weekend Friday, Nov 17 – Sun, Nov 19 at three iconic East End venues: Parrish Art Museum, Guild Hall, and Vail-Levitt Music Hall. Films from Chile, Mexico, Colombia and the U.S. explore a range of themes. All films are Spanish language with English subtitles. Several filmmakers available for interviews and will attend the festival.

Friday, November 17 at Parrish Art Museum, Watermill:  (Free for members and $12 for non members). Span/Eng museum tour and food and drink reception by Golden Pear. Films start at 7pm "Neruda" Chilean poet becomes a fugitive in his own country.  Also: LI Primere of  "Desde el Principio" Two voice actors reveal a shared tragedy.

Saturday, November 18 at Guild Hall, East Hampton: LI Premiere of "Translúcido"  Man learns he has 3 months to live and chooses his own fate. 6pm doors open. 7pm film starts. Post show Q&A with actors and director. $10 General $20 Preferred seating. 

Sunday, November 19 at Vail-Levitt Music Hall, Riverhead:

1pm "El Jeremías" for all ages. Mexican family discovers their eight year old boy is a genius. $5 for all tickets. 

8pm "Los Nadie" for 16yr olds and older. Five Colombian teen friends navigate life amidst a screamo punk music scene. $10 General Admission $20 Preferred seating. 9:30-11pm food and drink reception with live music concert featuring MilaTina. Concertand reception free with ticket purchase. 

Tickets for 11/17 found on Parrish Art Museum website

Tickets for 11/18 and 11/19 call 631-899-3441 for questions 


Point of View: Two Ears, One Mouth

Posted September 20, 2017 By Minerva Perez

Four hours a night, once a week for 12 weeks. No, I was not binge watching bad TV. I was taking part in a reinstated Southampton Town program that connects civilians to the inner sanctum of police work.

From Riverside to Sagaponack and from Eastport to Sag Harbor, many people do not realize the breadth of the area covered by Southampton Town police. Active police personnel total just under 100 people, which is not a lot considering the distance between sectors and the needs of a not so sleepy little resort town. After my 12 weeks were up, I was thankful for the time spent and the relationships formed with law enforcement and my peers. This did manage to feel like family as promised by the new Chief of police, Steven Skrynecki, at his welcoming address to the class.

Our class was made up of about 20 folks of all different ages and backgrounds. The academy ran from February through May.

During our classroom time, we covered topics related to: use of force, gang intelligence, drug identification, drug task force, DWI roadside checks, domestic violence, and human trafficking. In the field, we shot actual guns with simunition rounds (plastic rounds), toured helicopters, emergency response vehicles, watched K9 units in action, did role playing exercises with fellow students as partners, experienced EVOC training as passengers in fast moving and expertly controlled police cars, viewed disturbing yet effective video training on distracted driving, and were asked to make split second gut wrenching decisions on how to respond to deadly force via an interactive screen with several different scenarios requiring that you shoot your weapon or risk either being shot or letting some innocent bystander or hostage be shot.

At the end of this training, we were then asked to schedule eight hours of ride along time with police officers in their vehicles. I chose 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on a Thursday and 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. on a Saturday.

Some of the impetus for me to take part in this civilian police academy came from my work with OLA of Eastern Long Island. I was graciously allowed to connect other Latinos to this academy to gain a deeper understanding of law enforcement while also allowing law enforcement to experience Latinos not in crises, but Latinos with genuine interest and concern for the safety of law enforcement.

Over the course of the 12 weeks, under the skillful and enthusiastic direction of Lieutenant Sue Ralph, we engaged in frank conversations about use of force, fear of police, safety of officers, active shooter scenarios, communication, asset forfeiture and other challenging but necessary community conversations.

The class was made up of a range of backgrounds including mental health professionals, EMS worker, court officer, retired teacher, active teacher, construction worker, and more. I was often surprised at certain perspectives but welcomed the ability to debate with respect and thoughtfulness.

I was most impressed with the effort made by many of the trainers (all law enforcement with 15-plus years of experience) to illicit our opinions on these difficult topics. The intention was not to defend or shoot down any sentiment that was not immediately pro police. I viewed it as an honest curiosity about the opinions we all came to the table with. Many an evening, we found ourselves still in discussions well after 10 p.m.

Given the variables of life on the East End, I will never seek to reduce any of this experience to one blanket statement or another. Some of the work I do, requires me to continue to question policies and practices of this police force. I would be remiss if I did not.

During the training, I found myself not fully satisfied with certain protocols and yet blown away by the care, patience and skill members of the force exhibited while out on ride-alongs with them.

The answer, I’ve learned and continue to learn, is in the conversation. The only way to make statements about what law enforcement can do or should do or actually does is to be in an active conversation that allows as much information in as commentary out. The “two ears and one mouth” adage applies nicely here: Talk less and listen more. We will always be entitled to our opinions, but being mindful of how our statements effect the lives of officers and residents alike, is a crucial lesson I came away with.

I am now a member of the Southampton Town’s Civilian Police Academy Alumni. I am looking to support the great work being done in the Explorers program as well as the Shop with a Cop initiative. I will remain in this conversation, for better or worse, as long as I am able. I feel I am among family. Not the family of a 1950’s Campbell’s Soup can, but the real dysfunctional kind that knows as long as we have communication, care and respect for each other, we will overcome some of the toughest obstacles.

Groups Celebrate Empowerment at Two Forums

Liz Abzug, left, will moderate a panel for the Pierson Women’s Issues Club that will include Minerva Perez, Katie Lee, Kathleen King and April Gornik. Courtesy photos

By Christine Sampson

A pair of upcoming events aimed at empowering young women to achieve their fullest potential will bring quite a few extremely accomplished women to Sag Harbor and East Hampton on Friday and Saturday.

At the heart of the mission of the Pierson Women’s Issues Club is exploring feminism. Working toward that goal, the club will host a panel on Friday at the high school in an event titled “Feminism Now: Issues, Ideas and Inspiration.”

Liz Abzug, who founded the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute in honor of her mother, the late New York State Congresswoman Bella S. Abzug, will give the keynote address and moderate a panel discussion.

The keynote speech will be “about women, power and politics, and how we need to have young women to grab the mantle of leadership in the 21st century,” Ms. Abzug, a part-time Sag Harbor resident, said in an interview. “They need to complete our unfinished business.”

The panel will include Kathleen King, who built Tate’s Bake Shop — now a nationally known cookie brand — from the ground up, beginning in 1980 in North Sea. Her cookies were voted the number-one cookie in America in 2011 by Consumer Reports, and are found on grocery store shelves across the United States. Joining Ms. King on the panel will be Minerva Perez, the executive director of Organización Latino-Americana (OLA) of Eastern Long Island, which focuses on advocacy, education, the arts and bridging relationships between Latino and non-Latino communities.

April Gornik, an internationally acclaimed artist who calls North Haven home, will also be a panelist. Her work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Museum of American Art and more. She is also a dedicated community volunteer and activist, most recently leading efforts for the Sag Harbor Partnership to purchase the Sag Harbor Cinema property damaged during the December 16 Main Street fire. Katie Lee, a celebrity chef and co-host on the Food Network show “The Kitchen,” is the final Pierson panelist. Ms. Lee has authored numerous cookbooks and a novel, and is active in the organizations Feeding America and 96 Elephants.

The Pierson panel will begin at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a meet-and-greet at 9 p.m. Baked goods made by club members with the help of Ms. King will be served at the event.

On Saturday at Guild Hall, the nonprofit organization i-tri will host a “Women in Science” panel that begins at 12:30 p.m. with a special screening of the film “Hidden Figures.”

To be moderated by Dr. Max Gomez, a medical correspondent for CBS News, the i-tri panel will include six scientists, researchers and teachers whose lists of accomplishments are long: Brooke Phillips, a Ph.D. student at Stony Brook University who is researching the planet Mars and its potential for habitability; Jennifer Gatz, who teaches Advanced Placement biology and research in the Patchogue-Medford School District; Dr. Bonita London, a social and personality psychologist whose expertise is in the factors influencing success among historically underrepresented groups on the basis of gender, race, and sexual orientation; Dr. Nancy Hollingsworth, a genetic researcher and professor at Stony Brook University; Gitte Pedersen, a chemical engineer and entrepreneur who has worked for the Danish government and many biotech companies; and Kimberly Barbour, the marine program outreach manager who oversees the Back to the Bays Initiative and Marine Meadows Program for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

Both events are open to the public. For more information on the Pierson event, visit For more information on the i-tri event, visit

OLA Continues Advocacy in Face of Deportation Threats

By Emily Weitz

A near capacity crowd flooded the Bridgehampton Community House Friday night to stand with the immigrant community of the East End.

Minerva Perez of the Organizacion de Latino Americanos of the East End (OLA) brought officials from Long Island Jobs With Justice to the forum to help concerned members of the East End collaborate on forming a rapid response network, which is designed to help people who find themselves in a confrontation with immigration authorities.

Jobs With Justice began helping Long Islanders organize response teams before Donald J. Trump was elected president. In 2015, President Barack Obama authorized the Department of Homeland Security to ramp up immigration raids on recently arrived immigrants, and according to members of Long Island Jobs With Justice, they often found the targets of these raids were women and children, resulting in families being torn apart.

“To come to the United States to create a better life for their children is not an uncommon experience,” said Anita Halasz, executive director of Long Island Jobs for Justice. Ms. Halasz experienced this herself, when she emigrated from Romania at the age of 4 with parents escaping the oppressive regime there.

“I do this for the parents who are trying to do the same thing for their children that my parents did for me and my sister,” she said.

When President Trump was elected, Ms. Halasz said there was a spike in those requesting services, and the organization has been busy helping communities across Long Island organize so they can respond if their neighbors are in trouble. Individuals can call a legal aid hotline at (844) 955-3425 and will then be connected to a local network of people.

“Fifty percent of deportations in New York State happen on Long Island,” said Ms. Halasz. “The community is taking it within their hands to protect the people that live in their communities.”

According to Ms. Perez, the workshops are not about harboring violent criminals, but are about making sure individual know their rights. Walking people through what Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can and can’t legally do is critical in making sure everyone is safe, she said.

“Knowing your rights is something OLA does a lot of,” said Ms. Perez. “We work with many partners in setting up a network of response.”

OLA just wrapped up a legal workshop at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, offering vulnerable people access to free legal services to understand what immigration officers can and can’t do. One of the most basic things to know is that if ICE comes to the house without a judicial warrant, they have no right to enter, said Ms. Perez. A judicial warrant is different than a legislative warrant in that it displays a judicial seal and is a direct court order. If that seal is not present, people have no obligation to open their doors, she said.

Ms. Perez and OLA have also been talking with local police departments about new practices they’re adopting.

“I think there will be a lot of positives there,” said Ms. Perez, “though there also may be more we have to stay on top of.”

OLA is also working at getting into East End schools to help support populations it believes are vulnerable as well. Currently, schools are safe zones, where ICE is not authorized to go. There are other public arenas, as well, that are considered sanctuaries, where community members should not be fearful.

“The law states that ICE cannot enter into schools, hospitals, churches, or demonstrations,” said Ms. Halasz. “If they do, they are doing something that is not legal and it should be documented.”

This was the second major component of Friday’s meeting: documentation. Carlos Sandoval, the award winning documentary filmmaker of “Farmingville” and “The State of Arizona,” recently joined OLA’s efforts.

“From my experience in Arizona,” said Mr. Sandoval, “we saw the most extreme laws we thought possible. Those laws were put forth by a small group, and that small group is now in power. The laws we are seeing now are the extreme.”

As a result, he believes, documentation is crucial. Modeled on the Copwatch movement, Migrawatch is something anyone can participate in. Since nearly everyone carries a computer in their pockets via a Smartphone, everyone has the capability to be filmmakers and photographers at all times.

“We have to work with local officials to keep them accountable,” said Mr. Sandoval. “We have to act as witnesses to maintain this as a healthy community, a safe community, where people aren’t hiding.”

In the first 100 days of the Trump administration, town halls in East Hampton and Southampton have been packed with local residents interested in protecting the rights of immigrants. Reports of widespread fear and anxiety about possible deportation and disruption of families have been presented to town boards and local police departments. As of now, much of the impact of laws like a federal proposal to deputize local law enforcement officials to act on behalf of ICE, remains to be seen. Police officials in both East Hampton and Southampton towns have said they will not act on behalf of ICE.

“This law is a way to try to get local communities to engage with immigration,” explained Mr. Sandoval, “to deputize local law enforcement to be immigration officers… We have every indicator that immigration will be at the forefront of this administration.”

Documenting and witnessing are ways that ordinary citizens can be a silent presence, without agenda or intent to disrupt any legal process, said Mr. Sandoval. Long Island Jobs With Justice also trains people in how to accompany people to court. Just knowing that they’re not alone, and that someone is watching, has a profound impact on both the person in court and officials, organizers say. Those interested in volunteering their time can visit

OLA Feels the Urgency of Now

Beth Young, April 06, 2017

If you’ve attended any public meeting on the South Fork in the past couple months, chances are that Minerva Perez, Executive Director of the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, has been there advocating for a better relationship between the Latino community and local government here.

Ms. Perez took the reins as executive director of OLA in early 2016, after six years working as the domestic violence shelter director of The Retreat, and just before a national election that hinged, to a great degree, on President Donald Trump’s pledge to increase immigration enforcement.

Since early this year, Ms. Perez has been engaging with local community leaders on how to protect the East End’s Latino community members in a national climate that has become increasingly hostile to immigrants.

OLA was originally an offshoot of the East Hampton Town Hispanic Advisory Committee organized by founder Isabel Sepulveda de Scanlon and incorporated in 2002.

“We have an amazing executive director, and she can run with the bulls,” said Ms. Sepulveda at a Pachanga for Peace & Unity held by OLA at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor March 11.

We caught up with Ms. Perez in late March to talk about her vision for the future of OLA.

Q: Did you anticipate you’d be this busy when you became executive director last year?

I’m trying to not be spun out in a million different directions just because of this election. It certainly has directed efforts in a stronger way, but toward some of the same things we’ve already been doing — looking at the relationship between the Latino community and the police. The trust has to be there.

What’s happening with exploitation, like wage theft, worker safety, access to education in the schools, there are things we were talking about six or eight months ago. Now, we’re on another planet, with all these other levels on top, but some of the same things remain important.

Q: You’re dealing with more fear?

At CMEE on April 13, we’re having a law clinic for parents in Spanish on emergency planning for temporary custody of your children. These are already horrible things to have to bring out. As of a couple days ago, the New York Bar Association had not decided on the best template for power of attorney forms. People getting so nervous. They want to do everything as quick as they can. Some of that stuff is fine, but you might be in a situation where you’ve just signed over your children to someone and it could be the wrong thing.

We want to be able to put out as much explicit information as we can. It makes their household healthier to take the fear down a notch. Those levels of fear are so unhealthy, and are immediately transferred to children. We’re working on two other law clinics in Hampton Bays and East Hampton.

Q: Are you holding any other public forums?

On April 14, we’re holding a Rapid Responder and Accompaniment volunteer training in partnership with Long Island Jobs with Justice at the Bridgehampton Community House from 6 to 8 p.m. I would like to pack that place. There are so many people out there that want to help and they really want to be put into action. I want to get everyone together and feel the positive power of pending action and not just “we’re gonna talk about this.” Rapid Responders can be as involved as civil disobedience, stopping something from happening, or an active protest. It could be a hotline or a phone chain that lets people know about certain actions that are happening and gives them quick access to volunteers. Rapid Responders can also be documenting, and we’ll be discussing the legal implications of when you can video and record peoples’ voices.

Q: You spend a lot of time working with East End law enforcement. How is that relationship?

I believe in law enforcement. We are never going to get things we need from law enforcement if we put them in a corner. That’s what happened with Suffolk County. I don’t want to be in a situation, on a local level, where all we’re doing is fighting with law enforcement.

When it comes to reporting crimes, reporting domestic violence, sexual assault, in general, as a victim or a witness, the perception of how local law enforcement works with immigration is important.

I acknowledge that law enforcement has to work with other law enforcement. They need to have alliances. No one’s saying that they created this problem. They didn’t create this fear, but it’s here and it’s something that we’re trying to work on together. Knowing that you do your job as law enforcement to protect and serve the community, you need to think about the ways that a vulnerable person might perceive you as being connected to immigration.

All of this is not a Latino issue. It’s a public safety issue. People can’t be afraid to report crimes.

The bad people are still going to be the bad people and they’re going to use all these things as a way to exploit people further. Then victims look to other people for protection. That’s not good. We need the police to be the only source of protection that we can all go to.

Q: How does the interaction between local law enforcement and immigration work?

In the past, it was more targeted. They’d hold people for immigration for 48 hours, and sometimes they’ll say “we held and held and they didn’t come so we let him go.” We’re not living in that world anymore. They’ll have someone there in 15 minutes. In past, if they were holding someone, it would have been a guy with a really bad rap sheet. Now immigration targets range from overstaying your visa to being a threat to public safety at the terrorist level and everything in between.

If local law enforcement is being asked to hold, they might not get all the information. The only thing they should be asking for is a judicial warrant. Let a judge decide if it’s reasonable search and seizure. Local law enforcement is still hashing that out. I had a meeting the other day with East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and the East Hampton Chief of Police and town attorney. All the East End chiefs are considering a policy on this topic, on where they want to stand and make that decision together.

Q: What is the difference between an administrative warrant and a judicial warrant?

An administrative warrant can be for anything from overstaying a visa to a nonviolent misdemeanor years ago. The police are waking up to the fact that the focus is not just on super-violent convicted criminals. There is interest from immigration on many kinds of people, who the only thing they have done is a violation of immigration law. That kind of request does not come with a judicial warrant. It’s a semantics game. It’s a violation of the fourth amendment against unlawful search and seizures to hold someone without a judicial warrant. Are you going to put your town in a liable situation if you hold someone, even for an hour?

We’re in this crazy rocky terrain where up is down and down is up, and in middle of all that, what do we have to hold on to other than our Constitution? If we lived in a community that was rife with violent crime and drug lords on every corner and this is what you need to do to shake this up and make this safe, a part of me would say, yeah, maybe that’s ok, but we don’t live in that town. We live in a great town that’s got great stuff going for it, great community. So what are we gaining? If it’s that important, just let the federal side get a judicial warrant. Let those folks figure out how they need to put their ducks in a row.

Q: Do you find that a lot of U.S. citizens don’t realize that many constitutional rights apply to all people?

Yes. you don’t even have to be documented to fight and die for this country. We’ve got veterans of wars that are being deported right now.

The fact is that now any kind of interaction with law enforcement is scaring the heck out of people. For example, having a fake ID is a felony. But the parallel I like to draw is that everyone that lives out here that has a teenager, they probably had a fake ID at one point. In terms of what the consequences are, a teen getting into a club is one thing, but the consequence of a guy trying to drive to work not being able to ever see his family again? It’s crazy.

I try to keep these conversations on a local level, because in the federal level, it doesn’t go anywhere. There are some things going on with CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, where American money goes to arm governments that use it against their own people, and then they flee and come here. I can’t even get into that. Everyone just starts to feel guilty.

Q: Do you have resources to help on the North Fork?

Im doing a Latino diversity training for the police here in Southampton. I want to be able to do that in East Hampton, Southold, Riverhead and Shelter Island. It would be great to have volunteers to deputize people to search out information in school districts, to see if they have written policies and procedures, and how they’re accepting emergency plans that parents are submitting to them.

Q: How did you end up at OLA?

I moved out here in 2002 to 2003, and I started hearing about a lot of negative stuff going on with Steve Levy as Suffolk County Executive. I grew up in Miami, which is very integrated, then I lived in New York City and then I came out here and started hearing about all this madness and I said who the heck is working with the Latino community? Everyone said Isabel, Isabel, Isabel. In 2005-6 I signed on as volunteer executive director, but then I had a full time job. I curated and doubled the OLA film festival, did a lot of talk at the county legislative body, and then I had to step back.

I joined The Retreat and was there for six years as the shelter director, but there was more I needed to do. I just have a lot of energy right now, and there was only so much I could really do within that context. I wasn’t really fitting into that model.

In talking with Isabel, I thought ‘its kind of like a startup, even though it’s existing.’ I could help build it up, help the board get healthier. This was in February of 2016, before the election. I joined knowing it was a huge risk, that maybe I couldn’t even sustain being here. I just wanted to really believe in the mission.

But OLA cannot be formed on crisis alone. We’re still maintaining all of our missions of arts, education and advocacy. I’m planning our 14th annual film festival and adding another venue, hopefully the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall in Riverhead.

I have a part-time development and outreach associate, Itzel Nava. She’s amazing. She’s a recent college grad coming back home, a reverse brain drain. I don’t want to be the only face to OLA. It’s a detriment.

I just got funding for a position I created after seeing how unexciting and terribly unsexy it is to vote locally, and doing some work with the Latino community on voting in last year’s election.

We want to hire a civic engagement coordinator, who will be energizing and activating a Latino voter base at the most hyperlocal level possible — school board elections, village elections, town elections, and picking the most important school board elections, based possibly on the number of Latinos in the district.

We’ll gather information on three hot topics in the school district, from bilingual programing to fake turf on the fields, and build and engage the Latino voter base, creating walk lists and phone banking systems, and mobilizing a small group of volunteers to go out and knock on the doors of every single Latino voter in the district.

People want to jump to more Latinos on the school board, but you don’t just jump to that. Why the hell would anybody want to put themselves in the position where ‘I’m the token person, and I’m going to have to explain to you over and over again that I don’t just eat rice and beans and salsa dance.’ Why would I put myself through that? I’m an intelligent person with a good education and not much free time. I can offer it, but I’m not going to be insulted while I offer it. How much can you put on someone?

We need to shift the dialogue enough so that we can bring these very smart, capable people out of the woodwork and say all right, now is the time. There are people around you that get it. There’s a reason to do this.

Q: Do you think you’ll ever run out of energy?

Not yet. I would really like to bring OLA up to a certain level that it is sustainable, because it wasn’t sustainable a year ago. We were able to double our board, and these board members are engaged.

It is this moment that the Latino community, if OLA can stick with it, can be brought out into the light and people will be able to share their expertise in a way that’s healthy. What could happen is the opposite of that. We could have something that ends up being confrontational, and that’s not good.

We’ve got kids right now hiding in basements because their mom is freaking out. You think that kid is going to feel all so American? All they are now is angry or embarrassed or ashamed. We can’t have a huge Latino community right now that all they want to do is fight with a Bonacker or tell a cop ‘those aren’t my rights and I’m gonna videotape you,’ even if the cop’s being a nice guy.

What are we going to do to develop a healthy community where the whole aim is that we are working together, we see common interests? This is our future. I see 55 percent Latino in this school, 45 percent here. We’re not going anywhere. These are our future doctors and lawyers. What are we going to do to ensure that this is an integrated, healthy, loving community where we can all exist and we can still have a thriving economy?

Overflow Crowd Turns Out for OLA Immigration and Civil Rights Forum

A large crowd was beyond standing-room-only during a Immigration and Civil Rights Free Community Forum that was hosted by the Organizacion Latino-Americana (OLA) of Eastern Long Island at the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Bridgehampton on Tuesday night. Michael Heller photo.

By Stephen J. Kotz

With the Trump administration announcing this week new, tougher standards that will make it easier to deport those who are in the country illegally, and rumors flying about the presence of federal immigration agents in the community, Latinos and their supporters have begun to organize themselves for what they expect to be a more hostile environment.

Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Catholic Church was bursting at the seams Tuesday evening when the when the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island (OLA) brought in representatives from a number of advocacy groups for a bilingual forum on immigration and civil rights.

Last Thursday, a full house squeezed into East Hampton Town Hall to lobby officials to not cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, and cheered when East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the town had no intentions of deputizing its police to act as ICE agents.

OLA also called on people to express the same sentiment to the Southampton Board when it meets Tuesday, February 28, at 6 p.m. On Tuesday, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman largely echoed Mr. Cantwell when he said town police would continue to work with ICE to apprehend felons and dangerous criminals but would not take on day-to-day immigration enforcement duties.

At Tuesday’s forum in Bridgehampton, a crowd of about 400 people filled every pew, sat on the floor in the church’s wide center aisle, stood along the walls, and even spilled into the sanctuary to hear messages that were practical, inspiring and chilling.

“People are here to help themselves, help others, and help their communities,” said Minerva Perez, OLA’s executive director. Panelists fielded questions from the audience, and when the forum ended, they were quickly surrounded by a thick knot of people asking questions.

“There’s a lot of fear in the community and there is good reason for that,” said Christopher Worth, an East Quogue immigration attorney, noting that in the past immigration officials targeted those with serious criminal records or those who had been deported before. Under the new guidelines, “anyone with any kind of criminal record might be a priority for removal,” he said.

Mr. Worth said it would take weeks or months before the new federal guidelines to be fully put in place. “Now is a good time to take all that emotion and channel it toward preservation,” he said, urging people to get their paperwork in order and draw up plans to take care of their loved ones in case they are detained.

He also urged undocumented Latinos to keep a low profile. “Now is not the time to get into trouble. Now is not the time to have tinted windows or hang your flag in the rearview window,” he said. “Don’t do anything that gives you any excuse to interact with the police.”

Jose Perez of Latino Justice told the audience, “our Constitution applies equally to everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a citizen. It gives rights to all, regardless of who lives in the White House.” He said that immigrants do not have to let police in to their homes if they do not have a warrant and have the right to request attorneys and not answer questions.

Cheryl Keshner of the Empire Justice Center said a grassroots effort would help beat back the challenges posed by the new climate in Washington D.C. and urged those in attendance to lobby their local governments to not allow police to become immigration agents.

“It’s not a crime to be an immigrant,” she said to swelling applause. “We are united and we are here together to say we will protect immigrant communities.”

Ms. Keshner urged immigrants to prepare a plan in case they face detention or deportation proceedings. “Keep an emergency list, who to call in case there’s a problem,” she said. “You should make an emergency plan for your children — I know it’s difficult. You need to identify who is going to be responsible for your children in case you are detained.”

Asked how to talk to children about the threat of deportation, Ms. Keshner suggested that people “tell your children you are not a bad person. You came here because you wanted a wanted a better life for yourself; you wanted a better life for your children.”

In East Hampton last Thursday, Mr. Cantwell said although the president had signed an executive order allowing towns to work hand-in-hand with ICE, “the town of East Hampton will not enter into such an agreement.” Mr. Cantwell said while the town would continue to work with federal agencies, when appropriate, “the policy of the town and the police has not changed today from what it was six months ago or a year ago.”

“I understand people are afraid and I can’t blame them,” said Mr. Schneiderman, who added the only thing that has changed in his eyes was “the rhetoric and the fear.” He said town police would continue cooperate with federal law enforcement agencies, where appropriate. “I haven’t seen any directive that the town has to do anything differently,” he said.

At Thursday’s East Hampton Town Board meeting, Daniel Hartnett, a social worker with the East Hampton School District, said fear is growing in the Latino community.

“I’m here to speak for children, American citizens, who come with increasing anxiety and sadness to school because they are afraid they are going to be separated from their parents, and are afraid to leave their homes in the morning because they are not confident their families will be intact when they return,” he said.

Christine Sciulli said she had been asked to step in as guardian for a family of immigrants, whose daughter is a good friend of her daughter.

“They pulled me aside and asked me if I would take care of their kids if they were detained,” she said. “They don’t want their kids to be upset if they come home and I was there, if I came to school to pick them up, or if I was called in the middle of the night to come over.”

“Now this girl is afraid to go to school,” she continued. “It’s a nightmare for these kids and it affects other kids in the classroom.”

Local Lawmakers Say Immigration Enforcement Is Not The Job Of Local Police

By Michael Wright

In a week when immigrant advocacy groups staged protests around the region against President Donald Trump’s efforts to ramp up enforcement of immigration laws, the South Fork’s lawmakers said Southampton and East Hampton towns will not deputize their local police to enforce immigration laws.

Both East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said this week that they see no reason for their towns’ respective law enforcement agencies to change the level of cooperation with the federal Department of Homeland Security that they’ve practiced for years by taking advantage of a federal policy allowing local police to be deputized as Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. 

Both supervisors, however, said their departments will continue to cooperate and communicate with federal enforcers with regard to immigration status information about people who are arrested for “a serious crime,” as Mr. Cantwell put it—separating the towns from the so-called “sanctuary cities” that have pledged not to share any information with federal immigration authorities.

Mr. Cantwell was blunt about the issue, saying the town will not change its longstanding policy with regard to cooperation with ICE.

“The Town of East Hampton will not enter into such an agreement with the federal government,” Mr. Cantwell told a standing-room-only crowd in East Hampton Town Hall on Thursday night, February 16, drawing applause. “Our enforcement personnel are not immigration officers. It’s not what they do. We do not seek out illegal immigrants during enforcement actions.”

The Southampton Town Police Department will have a new chief taking its reins later this year, and Mr. Schneiderman said specific town policies will have to be discussed further. But he was highly critical of the idea of deputizing local officers and extending the amount of time local agencies detain those they have arrested for minor crimes.

He recalled that in 2004, when he was a Suffolk County legislator, former County Executive Steve Levy had proposed having some County Police officers deputized as federal immigration agents. “It was extremely volatile at the county level, and it led to tremendous fear in the Latino community,” Mr. Schneiderman said on Monday. “The debate then was the same as it is now. It’s not a matter of not communicating or of not cooperating with ICE—we’re conferring with them all the time on criminal matters.

“I don’t think anyone is going to argue that someone who came here illegally and commits a violent crime should stay—they should be deported,” he continued. “There’s a case to be made that that isn’t the case with people who haven’t caused any problems. But I prefer [immigration policy] stay at the national level where it belongs. At the local level, it’s important our resources are focused on keeping people safe.” 

The statements by the two supervisors were spurred by an executive order last month by President Trump instructing the Department of Homeland Security to advance the effort to deputize municipal police departments to help the federal agency enforce immigration laws. The order created no new federal policy or law and did not expand the powers or mission of federal immigration authorities. Local police nationwide have had the ability to be deputized for more than 20 years, but few departments have ever taken on the duty, largely because of the logistical burdens it would create.

Despite rumors of incidents locally, there have been no credible reports so far on the South Fork of a widening of existing enforcement policy, which focuses on undocumented people facing criminal charges. Nonetheless, with the Trump administration’s aggressive stance on immigration sowing fear of immigration sweeps and sudden detainments solely for immigration issues, stories this week abounded of families living in fear.

At an East Hampton Town Board meeting last week, supporters heaped pleas on the board to assuage the concerns of many immigrants.

Minerva Perez, executive director of Organizacion Latino-Americana, or OLA, a Latino community advocacy organization, asked town lawmakers to instruct police not to abide by 48-hour detention requests from ICE on individuals who have run afoul of the law for only minor issues, like vehicle and traffic law infractions. Ms. Perez said that if fear of immigration enforcement in any interaction with police finds roots, it could lead members of the immigrant community to withdraw from interaction with law enforcement, with disastrous consequences. 

“The rupture of trust that vulnerable members of this community could have with law enforcement and the town is a breach of trust for us all when victims and witnesses begin to fear calling for help,” she said. “We owe it to ourselves to protect what we have and not accept an agenda that has no care for what we know to be a beautiful and safe community.”

Mr. Cantwell agreed that if immigrants fear the role of local police, it is counterproductive to protecting public safety. “There is a significant downside when people are underground, when they are afraid to report crimes,” he said. “That doesn’t work to benefit law enforcement in our community. That’s the kind of fear we have to overcome.”

Supporters asked the town to take a proactive stance in reassuring the Latino community about its plans to not bring immigration status into the town’s daily public safety enforcement. Some suggested community outreach efforts to assuage the fears within the Latino community—including instances of children sobbing when dropped off at school because they feared their parents could be detained while they were in classes, and some families asking friends to care for their children should they be whisked away suddenly.

“I’m here tonight to speak for the children, American citizens, who come to school each day with increasing sadness—they are not confident their family will be intact when they return,” said Dan Hartnett, a teacher and social worker at East Hampton High School. “Communities that work best are built on trust. Let’s build our protocols, especially with the police, on trust.”

“You cannot be passive about this,” said another speaker on Thursday, Bill Chaleff. “History is stained by passivity.”

Just hours earlier, federal ICE investigators had been in East Hampton in search of an unidentified individual with multiple felony charges against him or her. Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo confirmed that the federal agents had been in the town but could offer few details about their mission’s movements or success.

“There were ICE agents in town today to conduct an investigation into a repeat felony offender with a last known address in East Hampton,” Chief Sarlo said in an email on Thursday afternoon. “We ask all law enforcement agencies who come into our jurisdiction to contact our desk in the interest of safety. They did advise us they were here but did not ask for any assistance from us.”

The chief said he did not know who the person the federal agents were seeking was, what the crimes he or she was charged with or had been convicted of, or whether the agents located him or her.

Around the country on Thursday, immigrants and advocacy groups staged labor stoppages and protests over Mr. Trump’s immigration policies that organizers dubbed “A Day Without Immigrants.” Hundreds attended a show of support in Hampton Bays.

Mr. Cantwell’s stance on the town’s enforcement policies drew fire from supporters of more stringent immigration enforcement on Facebook and in online forums. Mr. Cantwell countered that the town’s stance was steered by fairness and prudence.

“We care about this issue,” he said. “We live in a multicultural community. We need to be fair to our immigrant community and respect them, and we intend to do that. We understand the fear.”

East Hampton Town Declines Trump Directive on Immigration

By Joanne Pilgrim | February 17, 2017 - 1:04pm

Minerva Perez of Organizacion Latino Americana asked the East Hampton Town Board on Thursday to maintain separation between local police and federal immigration enforcement efforts.Durell Godfrey

East Hampton will not take an enhanced role in enforcing immigration laws, Supervisor Larry Cantwell told a packed meeting room at Town Hall on Thursday night.

The town, Mr. Cantwell said, will not ask the Department of Homeland Security to authorize its police officers to take people into custody solely for immigration violations. Last month, President Trump issued an executive order instructing the federal officials to deputize local jurisdictions for that purpose, should they request it.

We understand how the immigrant community is an important part of our economy and our culture, and we intend to respect that.”

— East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell

The town will not change its policies, Mr. Cantwell said. In cases involving criminal activity or deportation orders, police will continue to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But, he said, “We do not seek out illegal immigrants in the process of law enforcement.”

“We ask for a separation of immigration and local law enforcement in all ways legal and possible,” Minerva Perez of the Organizacion Latino Americana, an advocacy group, told the town board.

“We are aware of the changes in federal immigration policy and the confusion from it, as well as the fear caused by it,” Mr. Cantwell said.

A number of people who might be affected by the increased federal push on immigration enforcement were reportedly too fearful to attend Thursday's meeting.

Several speakers urged town officials to take proactive steps to ease growing worries among East Hampton’s immigrant population, and to make it very clear just when and why someone's immigration status would be checked, or an undocumented immigrant be subject to deportation.

“Help us to bring down the levels of fear,” Ms. Perez asked.

Mr. Cantwell said town officials, including Police Chief Michael Sarlo, were consulting federal and state officials, including the office of the New York State Attorney General, about the changing immigration policy.

“We’re evaluating impacts on people who live and work here in town,” he said. “I think all of us feel an obligation to the community. All of us as individuals have a responsibility to reassure people that we know that it’s going to be okay,  that we’re going to help them. . . . We understand how the immigrant community is an important part of our economy and our culture, and we intend to respect that.”

“Communities are built on trust,” said Daniel Hartnett, a social worker for the East Hampton School District. “We need to trust our institutions, especially the police. Let’s build our protocols on that.”

“East Hampton has always been a town of good neighbors,” said Betty Mazur, an Amagansett resident. “Perhaps we can call this, in an official way, a ‘good neighbor town.' ”

The town board could then issue a public statement to that effect, she said, “to indicate to our good neighbors what it is they can expect from the town and from all of us as good neighbors.”

East Hampton Pledges to Protect Immigrant Community

 Posted by Beth Young •  February 17, 2017

Community members, mostly non-Latino, packed the East Hampton Town Board meeting room Thursday evening to ask the town board to take a stand on immigrant rights.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, the son of immigrants who was raised in East Hampton, pledged Thursday night to not participate in President Donald Trump’s executive order allowing local police departments to serve as immigration officers.

He made the statements before a packed crowd of community members organized by Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island Executive Director Minerva Perez, who addressed the town board during the public comment period at its regular meeting.

Members of the mostly non-Latino crowd shared stories of friends and neighbors who were afraid to come to town hall to speak, or who had been advised by their attorneys to not appear in public, of undocumented friends who’d asked them to take care of their American-born children if they were deported and of mothers who are suicidal because they do not know what will happen the next time they check in with immigration authorities.

Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell (right) pledged support for immigrant rights, while Councilman Fred Overton (left) looked on.

“A recent executive order grants authority for local officials to enter into agreement with the federal government to perform the function of immigration officers in relation to the investigation, apprehension and detention of aliens. The Town of East Hampton will not enter into this agreement with the federal government,” Mr. Cantwell told the crowd early on in the meeting.

“I feel strongly about that. The policy of the town and police has not changed,” he said, adding that, in cases of serious crimes, the town police will cooperate with warrants from other agencies.

“People should be held accountable when it’s a serious crime, but our enforcement personnel are not immigration officers. That is not what we do. We do not seek out illegal immigrants,” he added.

Mr. Cantwell said federal immigration policies are currently in flux, and the town is seeking guidance from the New York State Attorney General’s office on how to respond to these changes.

“The earth is moving below our feet, moment by moment. We’re all in same boat when it comes to trying to understand what’s going on and how to deal with it,” he said, adding that he plans to continue a dialogue with community members on how to continue to protect immigrants.

“Many of our parents are immigrants. My mother and father were both immigrants. Immigrants are very important to our economy,” he said, adding that community policing only works when the public trusts the police. “We need to respect that and we intend to do that.”

Ms. Perez spoke passionately about the need for a judicial warrant before the town police cooperate with other agencies.

“I ask that you fully and without question abide by our United States Constitution,” she said, referencing routine traffic stops that can lead quickly to federal involvement for undocumented workers. “Search and seizure without a judicial warrant is unconstitutional and puts this town in potentially libelous situations.”

“To hold an individual at the request of federal immigration without being provided with a judicial warrant is not what we should be doing,” she said. “If their crimes were serious, immigration would have no trouble obtaining a warrant.”

“These good people of our community want only to get back to their lives, which mostly consist of helping to make sure this resort town runs smoothly in the summer,” she said. “When victims and witnesses fear calling for help, we are living in a community that does not resemble the diverse, imperfect, but peaceful community we knew only a few months ago. Please do not wait for the perfect time to come forward with your statements of support and strategy. There will be no perfect time but right now.”

Julia Chachere, a nurse/midwife at Hudson River Healthcare in Southampton said she has seen “mass fear and panic” among her clients in recent weeks.

Doula Julia Chachere and Clinical Social Worker Dora Romero.

Her co-worker, Clinical Social Worker Dora Romero, who came to the United States from Colombia 35 years ago, said one of her clients last week was told to bring her passport to an immigration appointment, and was planning to leave behind documents protecting her children and then drink poison before going to her appointment.

“We do see, day in and day out, the stress people are going through,” she said.

Architect Bill Chaleff said that two of his immigrant friends had been planning to accompany him to the meeting, but were advised not to by their attorney because they would have to give their names and the proceedings would be televised. 

“You cannot be passive about this. It is critically important that there is a major outreach by the town. These are the people who make this town work,” he said.

Robert Brody, a volunteer English as a Second Language teacher, said he’d asked his students to address the town board but they were too frightened to come.

John Leonard, a Sag Harbor attorney who has regular business in East Hampton courts, said in the past few weeks he’s had “mothers crying in his office” and he is helping people make plans for potential deportation.

He pointed out that, under state vehicle and traffic law, the second time you are cited for driving without a license it becomes a misdemeanor.

“We certainly would not want an unlicensed operator charge to be a basis for deportation,” he said, adding that immigrants shouldn’t have to rely on Suffolk County’s “Byzantine public transportation system.”

“People should be able to go to work,” he said, adding that the community should pressure the state to change the vehicle and traffic law.

Community members listened to the testimony.

Dan Hartnett, a bilingual social worker in the East Hampton School District, choked up with emotion when he told of the students and parents he sees every day who are afraid their families will be separated by immigration authorities. He said his office is putting together preparedness packets for families with information about their rights.

“Our community is built on trust,” he said. “We need to trust our institutions, especially the police.”

Mr. Cantwell said that he does feel a responsibility to make East Hampton a safe place for immigrants.

“We may not make all this right, but right now it is important that we come together as a community,” he said. “We all have a responsibility to assure people living here that it’s going to be ok.”

Ms. Perez asked the supervisor to think carefully about what local police activities can have an effect on immigration.

For example, she said local police departments often fingerprint victims and witnesses, and those fingerprints can be sent to federal authorities and be used to track people.

“We do have a responsibility in the way local law enforcement is interacting with people here,” she said.

OLA is also holding a community forum on immigration and civil rights next Tuesday, Feb. 21 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Bridgehampton’s Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Church at 2350 Montauk Highway, and the group is planning to raise similar concerns at Southampton Town’s next board meeting on Feb. 28 at 6 p.m.  


Immigrants Fear Uncertain Legal Future

Police chief seeks to reassure anxious residents

By Christopher Walsh | January 26, 2017 - 3:25pm

President Donald Trump’s pledge to deport undocumented immigrants and deny federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities, those where local officials have said they will not cooperate with federal immigration authorities, has unnerved many South Fork residents. Those lacking legal status and their advocates are further concerned by the recent reversal of policy regarding immigrants by Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, who announced that he would no longer ask for a warrant before detaining immigrant inmates who may be subject to deportation.

Under the sheriff’s new policy, county correctional facilities will hold immigrants who have been detained on other charges, and for whom federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement have issued “hold” notices, for up to 48 hours, allowing that agency time to take them into custody.

 On the other hand, last week Eric Schneiderman, the New York State attorney general, announced that he is going to issue guidelines to local governments explaining how to resist federal immigration enforcement. In addition, earlier this month in the first of six state-of-the-state addresses, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed a fund that would provide legal representation for immigrants.

These conflicts between governing bodies have sown confusion among undocumented residents and their advocates. “There’s a lot of fear,” Minerva Perez, the executive director of Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, said on Tuesday. “Some is well founded, but some might be able to be alleviated a bit if we can get more information.”

Uncertainty, she said, promotes fear, “which is only doing unhealthy things to the community, both the undocumented and the documented.” She said immigrants charged with minor crimes, such as housing or automotive violations, and even victims of domestic violence, are worried about being labeled criminals and targeted for deportation.

“No one in the Latino community wants violence, criminals, or bad people on the street. We just want to make sure we’re not over-criminalizing groups and tacking on deportation,” she said.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said such fears were understandable but called them unfounded. “Some people are concerned that the sheriff’s decision is going to result in po ice departments going out and chasing people out of houses and deporting them. There’s a lot of misinformation caused by some heightened rhetoric. Some of it is not justified by the facts,” he said.

“There’s been a lot of rhetoric about building a wall and having people deported, and people are scared,” Mr. Cantwell said. “We should do what we can to reassure people that that’s not going to happen in this community. There is no policy in the Town of East Hampton to barge into people’s homes and deport them.”

Chief Michael Sarlo of the East Hampton Town Police Department also sought to assuage undocumented residents’ anxiety. “The only time our agency would be concerned with a subject’s immigration status is if they were arrested and charged with a crime and if during the processing of that arrest, we received an ICE hold hit and the subject would be wanted for removal,” he wrote in an email Tuesday.

 He also said ICE places holds only on those in the country illegally who have been convicted of a crime or face “serious criminal charges for which they have failed to appear in court.” The chief said such individuals are rarely encountered in East Hampton, “and when we do there are actually occasions wherein federal officials will tell our department that they will not be able to get out here within the 48 hours, so we process them and either present them for arraignment or release them on bail or appearance ticket for the charges for which they are in custody with our agency, as we would any other defendant.”

Despite positive discussions with law enforcement officials in East Hampton and Southampton, the Latino community remains fearful, Ms. Perez said. “Who’s not going to the hospital, who’s not calling 911, who’s not reporting a crime?” she asked. “The urgency is not letting law enforcement and public safety break down at the expense of fear.”

 Chief Sarlo further sought to relieve anxiety by reiterating that the ICE hold procedure applies only to those both in the country illegally and who have committed or been convicted of a serious crime. “Reporting a crime, being involved in an accident, being the victim of theft, etc., does not trigger our agency checking immigration status or running a person through the federal database.”

Mr. Cantwell said on Tuesday that he had not received word from the state attorney general about interaction with federal immigration authorities. “We certainly would want that before we came to conclusions as to how the town would deal with this,” he said.

Ms. Perez is continuing to follow what is being said about undocumented residents, “so we can put out there what is a reasonable request, so the most vulnerable on the East End are not dealing across the board with unnamable fear.” Undocumented immigrants, she said, “are working, getting their kids to school, and are part of our community.”

Immigrants Fear Uncertain Legal Futu

“One sentiment that I’ve enjoyed receiving is real kind of surprise that someone didn’t know that aspect of that culture,” Minerva Perez, the executive director of the OLA, said. “People walk away experiencing something that was unexpected and usually really great.”

The Rural and Migrant Ministry, a nonprofit that seeks to represent New York’s rural and migrant communities, had the opportunity to present a five-minute video before “Un Tango Mas” on Friday. The video showcased the organization’s June human rights march for migrant farmers in Albany.  

“People get very surprised because they have no idea what we do,” Boris Martinez, a Salvadoran migrant farmer on the North Fork and member of the Rural and Migrant Ministry, said. “We work 70 hours [a week]. We don’t have paid holiday. We don’t have a bonus. I have no benefits.”

This event came just days after Donald Trump was named President-Elect. Trump’s 10-point immigration plan promises to ramp up deportation and build a wall on the Mexican border. Some guests expressed concern about what this meant for them.

“We’re already in shock because of the victory of Trump,” Martinez said. “All the farmers like me are together and will do whatever we have to do.”

The festival offered a haven for the local community to come together regardless of political views.

“Art typically, or historically, is the answer to times like these,” Perez said. “It lets us into each other’s cultures.”

Although this year’s event, which saw more than 200 people, featured mezcal tastings and an art exhibition tour at the Parrish, it encompassed more than just a fun night out. Part of OLA’s mission is to connect and unify the Latino and non-Latino communities within the East End.

“People think they know about us, but they don’t really know about us,” Isabel Sepulveda, a Chilean immigrant and founder of OLA, said. “We are from 22 different countries. So I thought [the film festival] would be a good way to educate the people without bad taste.”

Young Americans


ON SUNDAYS, at a baseball field in Amagansett in the late 1980s, Oswaldo Palomo bided his time on the bench waiting for a chance to play. He was 24, recently arrived from Costa Rica, and was working as a beach attendant and bellhop at the Panoramic View hotel in Montauk.

He and his brother were the only Latinos on a local adult softball team, rubbing shoulders with fishermen and firemen, artists and businessmen.

“They didn’t expect me to know how to play ball,” Palomo said. “The first year I had to wait until the second game of the doubleheader. I was sitting there (thinking), ‘Those guys are going to get to know me.’ ” Palomo knows what to do with a bat and a mitt. He’d grown up playing baseball. His great-grandfather had introduced the game to Costa Rica. His father played baseball for the Costa Rican team at the Pan-American games in Chicago in 1959.

Eventually, Palomo got to demonstrate his abilities — even as a pitcher. “I was on the starting team. It was great.” He eventually became lifelong friends with some of the locals on the team.

Years later, when his two sons entered East Hampton High School, Palomo volunteered as an assistant coach for the school’s baseball teams. By then, with steadfast support of his employers during a seven-year application process, Palomo had become a U.S. citizen.It was a significant moment, a way to cement the bond with his adopted hometown. “One time I told someone, ‘I am a Latino Bonacker!’ ” he said.
“I am a Latino Bonacker.” Oswaldo Palomo on third base at East Hampton High School’s baseball diamond.

The desire to be recognized as Latino and also be fully counted as American is familiar to the thousands of Latinos who have arrived here in the last few decades and made this their home. It’s not difficult to see why they came to the East End, with its immense prosperity, good schools and jobs, and idyllic landscape. Many have since found rewards and opportunity — they are the first to say so. But for almost every one of them, getting here, adapting, and proving themselves has been a personal struggle, a struggle that’s been exacerbated in the past year by a presidential election that made immigration, and Hispanic immigration in particular, a centerpiece. Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, went so far as to cast Latino immigrants as criminals and an economic burden.

All this comes as many Latinos have worked their way into the middle class. Many have arrived at a crossroads where their identities and fears as immigrants diverge from their desire and their right to be American.

Compounding the tension are pressures everyone who is not rich faces here: The South Fork has become so expensive it’s now squeezing out all the working and middle classes, Latinos included, the very people it depends on to survive as a year-round and summer community.

Making Good

Things were different in 1995 when Miguel Morales first saw East Hampton’s main street. Prodded by his wife, Nelva, he’d saved money for months to pay for a flight from Venezuela to New York to visit his sister-in-law. Sitting in her car one spring morning, they made the turn into the village. It seemed like a movie: the grand houses, the old windmill, swans floating in the pond. Morales, whose grandmother sold eggs in the streets of Caracas, decided then and there to make East Hampton his family’s home. “It was the perfect place,” he said. His story, like that of so many others, is one of perseverance, success, frequent setbacks, and many helpful hands along the way.

Latinos began trickling into this area in the 1970s. In 1980, according to the census, there were 293 Hispanics in East Hampton. It’s not quite clear which nationalities can claim to be the original pioneers — the early arrivals were mostly Mexicans, Costa Ricans, and Colombians — but most, like Morales, were lured by accounts from relatives and friends of a bucolic seashore resort where people were friendly and you could find endless work at a decent wage.

“Your family, your friends always would find a job for you,” said Morales, sitting at the stone counter of his newly redone kitchen in Springs, wearing a T-shirt with “Life Is Good” printed on it.

Within a few days of his arrival, Morales found work spackling and painting for a construction company.

“I started at seven days a week,” he said.

Finding a place to live with his wife and their two sons wasn’t as easy. Rents were high, and there were waiting lists for the most affordable options. For all the hardships recent immigrants have faced and continue to face, examples of generosity and kindness from employers, church groups, school staff and new friends abound. Carolyn Snyder, who runs Round Swamp Farm, took a liking to Morales, he said. Snyder leased his family a cottage on Three Mile Harbor Road in East Hampton and didn’t raise the rent for seven years. By that time, Morales had become foreman, and his American employer had sponsored — and paid most of the costs of — his application for U.S. citizenship.

By the late 1990s, with the local economy on fire, the South Fork was being transformed by a new, larger wave of Latino immigrants that many, even the earlier Latino arrivals, felt was overwhelming.

“The town changed a lot since 2001,” Morales said. “The new immigration was different. They went into town, into the streets, to the train station to look for work. There were too many. People started to complain, because it changed the look of the town.” Census figures are notoriously defi- cient when it comes to counting heads in a seasonal community, especially one where a sizable number of residents may not be living in traditional housing. But the official tally indicates that between 2000 and 2007 the Latino population in East Hampton doubled to about 5,500, or more than a quarter of its full-time residents.

It was a prosperous — and tumultuous — period. Construction and landscape work was booming, jobs were plentiful, and banks were offering lowinterest loans. Many Latinos became skilled stonemasons, painters, carpenters.

They thrived, and bought houses and new pickup trucks. Emulating local tradition, they drove their pickups onto the beaches to fish, or picnic, or watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July.

But they weren’t always welcome at the party. Not wishing to sound like victims or complainers, most of the people we interviewed for this piece were loath to describe specific incidents of xenophobia and racism, though many said they’d encountered it.

Morales, too, benefited from the economic boom of the early 2000s. He acquired an ’86 Camaro Z-28 and, in 2005, bought his house. In 2007, he invested in his own construction company, Waterside. He bought a new truck and obtained a home-improvement contractor’s license, workers’ compensation, and liability insurance. It was an expensive risk, and, as luck would have it, poorly timed. The economy tanked by early 2008, and for nearly three years there was little work. Life turned bleak. Many Latinos left the area.

“I didn’t have the money to feed my family,” he said.

Business eventually returned, and Morales and his family persevered. They are now part of Long Island’s growing middle class. Their youngest son, Luis, a college graduate, is about to join the police academy. Their eldest, David, works in the pool business. Their house in Springs is worth a substantial sum.

On weekends, Morales tends his garden or takes one of his classic cars for a spin.

“My neighbors think I’m a rich man,” he shrugged bashfully.
“What Latinos have to do . . . is find a way to be American. demonstrate that we can work for the country, not just for me.” Miguel Morales at home in Springs

Latinos now constitute more than 18 percent of the population of Suffolk County (which was around 1.5 million in the 2010 census) and, as a group, contribute more than $3 billion a year to the local economy. Although Latinos trail other immigrant groups in median income, two-thirds of Latino households on Long Island have an income of $40,000 or more, and a quarter of Latino households earn more than $100,000.

You can still see lineups of Latino men on corners or at the train station, waiting for day jobs, but they comprise less than one percent of the community, according to a Fiscal Policy Institute report issued last year.

The Morales family’s experience belies the stereotype of Latino immigrants coming here just to work and send cash home before heading south again. Latinos here are investing in their own businesses, paying property taxes, sending their children to public schools, volunteering with community organizations.

These investments — time, money, passion — are transforming their identity. They speak Spanish and follow soccer teams from Guatemala or Mexico or Ecuador. But many, like Morales, now consider themselves Americans. Americans who desire to give back.

“Some Latinos tried to make East Hampton like their country,” Morales said. “I am here because the system here is better than the system in Venezuela. . . . What Latinos have to do . . . is find a way to be American.

Demonstrate that we can work for the country, not just for me.”


Getting immigrants to engage politically and socially in the larger East End community is Minerva Perez’s daily challenge.

One morning in late August, between planning sessions for a voterregistration drive and organizing a Latino film festival, Perez arrived for a meeting in Sag Harbor on her red Ducati motorcycle. Sitting down in a crowded cafe, she put her black helmet on the floor and started talking about her life. Perez’s father was Puerto Rican. She was born in Manhattan and raised in Miami. She graduated from New York University and spent several years working in theater in the city.

In 2002, at the end of a marriage and with her 5-year-old daughter in tow, she arrived in Sag Harbor to start a new life.

Having lived in cities where Latinos have long been part of the fabric of urban life, Perez was taken aback by the division she found here between Latinos and locals.

“I was struck by . . . this brutal and unbalanced way of viewing of the Latino community,” she said. At the time, 2006, local county officials were targeting the immigrant community. Perez began volunteering for the non-profit Organizacion Latino- Americana of Eastern Long Island, known as OLA. She lobbied against proposed anti-immigrant measures being considered by the County Legislature to criminalize the hiring of undocumented workers.

Last winter, she took over as the executive director of OLA, which was founded in 2002. An essential role of OLA is to encourage Latinos to find their common bonds and cultural connections, and to encourage others to recognize the value of a thriving Latino community here. It also seeks to improve communication between the Latino community and various authorities — police, school administrations, and town officials.

“There is so much more to the Latino conversation than immigration and affordable housing,” she said. “It’s an important time to not just be here to counter the horrible rhetoric on a national level,” but also, she said, to encourage leadership and engagement. “I wanted to see more of the Latino community come forward and be part of that dialogue. But there is a lot of fear.” The reluctance to engage is complex.

Language is a hurdle, as is an ingrained wariness and distrust, and the view that any engagement with bureaucracy (getting a license, enrolling in school, buying insurance) is seen as the first step to being found out, and to deportation.

Rising Tensions

Oswaldo Palomo is now the pastor of the Vida Abundante church in Wainscott, whose congregation is made up mostly of recently arrived, Spanish-speaking immigrants. Many, separated from their country and their families for the first time, are in a state of shock, having arrived here by any means possible, much of the journey by road and on foot, a few dollars in their pockets.

Sitting in his sparely furnished church office, a few baseball trophies and plaques on the shelves, Palomo speaks of the mothers who can’t get their children into school, of immigrants being arrested and facing deportation because they don’t have a driver’s license. His church staff, primarily himself and his wife, Ester, and a few volunteers, are a kind of one-stop community center, providing English and music classes; tax information, and financial and legal advice, to say nothing of spiritual and emotional comfort.

A good deal of Palomo’s life, though, has been dedicated to finding common ground with the mostly white American community around him. It hasn’t always worked out.

Now 52, Palomo no longer plays baseball with the locals. The atmosphere soured, he said, as more immigrants arrived in the early 2000s, moving into the last remaining local working-class neighborhoods in parts of Springs, North Sea, Three Mile Harbor. “Some people didn’t like the Latinos. We were too noisy, we talked too much . . . the loud music.” Complaints to town officials began: overcrowded houses, raucous weekend ballgames and gatherings.

Things got heated not just here, but all over Suffolk County. Authorities began to crack down. Deportations, police shakedowns, and anti-immigrant legislative initiatives followed. Latinos were assaulted and beaten.

In local schools, where Latinos were approaching 30 to 40 percent of the student population in some areas, school board–Latino parent confrontations occurred over the lack of language programs, Spanish-speaking counselors, and available supplies. Bullying of Latino students came out into the open in 2006 in East Hampton when a skinhead and his friends cornered three teenage Latino students in a shed and threatened them with a chain saw.

Palomo, who established his church that same year, felt the widening cultural rift and hostility. He found himself straddling the line, chiding his parishioners both to turn down the volume and stand up for their rights, to pay their taxes and fight injustice. Unease increased with the political impasse in Washington, D.C., which blocked any attempts at immigration reform. Paths to citizenship became fewer. Requirements were contradictory and selfdefeating, local Latinos said. At the local level, however, school districts began better relationships with bilingual teachers and programs.

Night Raid

In February 2007, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, staged a series of nighttime raids that shook the South Fork Latino community.

One of the houses belonged to Adriana Leon, then a 30-year-old Ecuadorian house cleaner, and her family.

Federal agents arrived at 4 a.m., pushed their way into the house in Springs and burst into bedrooms.

“When I woke up they were right beside my bed, telling me, ‘Get up! Get up!’ I was so scared. I thought there was a fire in the house.” The agents had guns. They pointed lights in Leon’s face. They pulled her out of bed and rounded up everyone in the house. Her daughters were half-dressed, screaming, and covering themselves; her 4-year-old son, left in the bedroom, called out for her.

ICE agents were looking for Leon’s ex-husband, who hadn’t lived in the house for many years. But they didn’t have a warrant, and all of Leon’s extended family were naturalized U.S. citizens living in a house that they had bought jointly in 2000. The agents eventually realized their error, but outside, in the dark, Leon saw other Latinos rounded up and taken away.

In the days following the raid, Palomo’s church helped free from detention most of those swept up in the raid and organized meetings with advocacy groups. At one meeting, a group of 22 decided to file a federal class-action lawsuit against ICE, and Leon agreed to be the lead plaintiff. “I wanted to fight for our rights.” Taking on ICE and the U.S. government was daunting, but, almost six years after the case was filed, the court in 2013 ruled in favor of Leon, requiring a restitution payment of $1 million and that ICE follow specific guidelines when conducting home searches, such as having a Spanish-speaking agent ask for “valid consent” before entering a resident’s house.

The decision was groundbreaking. It established certain immigration enforcement policies nationwide.

“They were trampling on the rights of Latino families,” said Foster Maer, the senior litigation lawyer at LatinoJustice.

Leon carries on now, helping with Bible study classes at the Vida Abundante church in the evenings after her housecleaning work is finished. Her main concern these days is familiar to anyone: She finds it increasingly difficult to live here, with housing prices pushed ever higher by summer residents and wealthy urban expats. “People, not just Spanish people, but many Americans too, are begging just for a place to live,” she said.

Acceptance of Latinos and the pace of assimilation is slow, those interviewed for this article agreed, but it has accelerated among the second and third generations.

Palomo’s own two sons are college-educated adults now, with families of their own, living thoroughly Americanized lives — one, in real estate in Miami, the other a lobbyist with a firm in Boston.

Charting Their Own Future

Maritza Guichay and her younger brother, Juan Carlos, arrived in East Hampton from Ecuador in the late 1990s when they were 8 and 9 years old, having heard only rosy stories about America from their aunt. Their father, Ricardo, who had attended military college, traveled overland to America in 1988, coming first to Montauk, where he had cousins, and finding a job as a dishwasher.

Juan Carlos Guichay and his sister Maritza Guichay at home in Springs

During the first 10 years, Ricardo became a mason and went back and forth to Ecuador three times to visit his wife and his growing children. But it wasn’t until 1999 that the family was permanently reunited in Springs. They arrived at night at their uncle’s small house where there was little room to spare.

It was not the pretty picture their aunt had painted. “When you first arrive those are not the beautiful things that you see,” said Martiza, now 30, wearing small pearl earrings and sipping water at Starbucks in East Hampton.

Thrust into this new world with no English skills, Maritza and Juan Carlos struggled to adapt. Maritza said her first day in school, not knowing anyone, not wearing a school uniform as she had in Ecuador, was “the worst experience of my life.” Juan Carlos, whose 10th high school reunion was this fall, remembers being isolated. “I was bullied a lot,” he said. He got into fights.

One boy singled him out for constant harassment for being Latino, making Juan Carlos’s life hell.

Juan Carlos and his sister have since reached goals unimaginable to their parents. Today, Maritza is an accountant with a degree in business administration from Stony Brook University and Carlos has a degree in architecture from the New York Institute of Technology.

Both are members of the East Hampton Town Latino Advisory Committee, which was set up earlier this year with a broad mandate to improve communication and relations between the town and the Latino community.

“Before, the people who came didn’t think about education,” Maritza said.

“They needed to feed their family. They thought they were going back home. But now our community has a well-educated generation who knows exactly what’s going on, and they’re the ones who are going to make a difference for the other people.” Maritza continued: “This is my hometown. My family is here.

My life is here. This is my community.” In 2012, the East Hampton School District succeeded in bolstering Latino involvement in the schools and local education by hiring a Spanish-speaking liaison, Likewise, as co-chair of the town advisory committee, Maritza is leading a charge to boost town-Latino communication by holding direct meetings with Latinos in Spanish. Additionally, the committee is working with other organizations like OLA to get Latinos to the polls for local and national elections.

Perez likens Latinos to the Irish, German, and Italian immigrants who came before them, and who made vital contributions to American culture.

“I see the Latino community right now as a breath of fresh air,” she said, “through its work ethic, its faith, and a real strong desire to make sure their children are educated.” This story went to press before the presidential election of Nov. 8. Undoubtedly, the Moraleses, the Palomos, the Guichays, and the Leons will have watched uneasily as the returns came in. Whatever the outcome, they, like all American families, will celebrate on Thanksgiving.

“I believe in Thanksgiving,” Leon said, in the garden of the East Hampton Library, where she sometimes reads. “It’s something for all the immigrants, and we are one of them.”

EH LAC, Chief of Police Sarlo and Suffolk County Sheriffs office on Eviction and Landlord Tenant rights video please click this link below;

13th Annual OLA Latino Film Festival Comes To Parrish And Guild Hall

By Nancy Kane

The OLA Latino Film Festival turns up the heat in its 13th year of providing cultural diversity awareness through films on the East End. The Organización Latino-Americano of Eastern Long Island presents an engaging two-night celebration of Latino/Hispanic movies as well as a Q&A with filmmakers, bilingual docent-led tours at the Parrish Art Museum, a mezcal tasting and more.

A beloved annual tradition, which is, by design, an all-inclusive affair hosting film fans of all ethnicities, will be held on Friday, November 11, at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill and on Saturday, November 12, at Guild Hall in East Hampton.

This year marks the first time that independent films are highlighted, in addition to a big-budget one. Films from Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela and one from an American-Mexican director will all be screened this weekend.

While Minerva Perez has been curating the film festival since 2007, this is her first year in her new role as OLA’s executive director. Ms. Perez became the first paid executive director for OLA in March. She said she believes the festival is both exciting and important, and her enthusiasm was contagious as she talked about this year’s films, the event in general and the challenges facing OLA. 

“Our mission at OLA is arts, education and advocacy,” she said from her home in Sag Harbor. “The film festival is one way to bridge the cultural divide within the Latino communities and more importantly, among all our communities.”

Ms. Perez is quick to point out the attendees are not all Hispanic. 

“We strive to be very inclusive,” she said. “We want everyone to come and see these amazing films and to get to know this community. Wouldn’t it be great if people were not talking about a great Latino film, but rather just a great film?”

Ms. Perez, who took over from OLA founder and president Isabel Sepulveda de Scanlon, strives to get the right lineup of films—both features and shorts. “We want to get a well-known motion picture to anchor the festival and draw crowds, but we wanted to balance that and introduce independent, emerging artists,” she said.

With a reputation for being edgy, the OLA Film Festival has found a partner in the Parrish Art Museum for the first night, which has hosted the fest for the last 10 years.

“We are thrilled to partner once again with OLA, and delighted to make the film program as well as the current exhibition accessible to the Spanish-speaking community of the East End,” said Corinne Erni, the Parrish’s curator of special projects. “As a center for cultural engagement, the Parrish is committed to outreach efforts and programming that support and reflect the region’s diverse cultural heritage.”

Opening night will include a screening of the award-winning 2015 Argentinian independent film “Un Tango Más (Our Last Tango),” written and directed by German Kral, and executive produced by Wim Wenders.

“Un Tango Más” tells the story of the most famous tango dancers in Argentina—María Nieves Rego and Juan Carlos Copes— in a creative documentary format that spans from the couple’s initial meeting in the ’40s as teenagers through present day. The couple relate their unique experiences to a group of young dancers who are moved to interpret the story into tango dances of their own. 

The film, which screens at 7 p.m. on Friday, is preceded by a bilingual tour of the exhibition “Artists Choose Artists” with Parrish Art Museum docent Grisel Baltazar at 5:30 p.m., followed by a reception featuring a Doña Sarita Mezcal tasting. Doña Sarita Mezcal is imported by a local family, the Kiembocks, who have lived in East Hampton for 40 years and run the hardware store there.

“I love that we can bring different cultural nuances to the weekend with things like this,” Ms. Perez said of the tasting.

Ms. Perez is quick to point out that the festival is only one event in a series of year-round programming that makes up part of OLA’s mission. The organization is known for its advocacy on behalf of Latino and Hispanic residents.

“My role is to learn from the on-the-ground scenarios that I am involved with on behalf of the communities,” she said. “Then I need to take what I learn and create the dialogues that need to take place for change to occur. I’m looking at systems to see if they are healthy, or if better communication is needed in certain areas.”

Emphasizing the three-pronged approach of arts, advocacy and education, Ms. Perez said she feels the festival embraces all three.

“It’s so important to continue to focus on the arts. We have all these cultural riches around us, many represented by the Latino community,” she explained. “The festival is just one of the pathways to celebrate our culture and invite everybody in. It’s great for Latinos to learn about other Latinos and celebrate one another’s cultures, traditions and nuances. And it’s great for everyone to celebrate storytelling and art and beauty.”

While Ms. Perez loves “Un Tango Más”—“It’s a gorgeous film,” she said—she is also very excited about Saturday night’s feature film, which will debut at Guild Hall.

“Vengo Volviendo (Here There)” is a film from the directing and producing team of Isabel Rodas and Gabriel Páez, who will be on hand to introduce the Long Island premiere and lead a Q&A with the audience afterward. The film has won accolades from New York to Ecuador, and tells the story of a 22-year-old man who dreams of coming to America, but faces many challenges and sacrifices.

“Vengo Volviendo” is the second film made by Filmarte, which runs Encounters With Cinema, the first self-sustainable organized program of training, producing and distributing alternative cinema in Ecuador.

“Twenty-one talented men and women from rural communities live in an artistic residency together with 11 instructors, where they learn acting, camera, sound, production design and scriptwriting. They write their first feature-length film, based on the oral history of their communities,” Ms. Rodas said. “Vengo Volviendo” is the result of that. 

“As a curator of the festival, I hope that audiences are entertained and drawn into the worlds of each of these films,” Ms. Perez said. “As a community that includes many Ecuadorians, I would love for this film to be an invitation to those not familiar with the beauty and traditions of Ecuador and a reason to engage with their Ecuadorian neighbors. This is a film perfect for 10 year olds and up.”

Ms. Rodas said, “Film opens a gateway to portraying and sharing cultural identity and values in an open dialogue. As Latinos we have a lot to offer and the need to be listened to. Film is a tool to get in touch with our concerns and beliefs and put them out to the world.”

Ms. Rodas and Mr. Páez will travel from Ecuador and stay with a local family for the weekend to take part in the festival.

“We know there is a big community people from Gualaceo, a small town in the Azuay southern province of Ecuador, where the film was shot,” Ms. Rodas said. “It would be amazing to see a mixture of Gualacean/Ecuadorian/Latinos and Americans sharing a night with us to see and discuss film and storytelling.”

In addition to the feature films, the short films include the edgy and provocative “Tereza,” by Mexican/American filmmaker Natalie Camou, and “Normal” by Venezuelan filmmaker Vadim Lasca. 

“Tereza” tells the story of a mother and daughter battling mental illness and “Normal” is about a man and woman brought together by violent political protests.

“These films may make you laugh or cry but at the end of the day they are really a window into a humanity which we all share,” Ms. Perez said. “And that’s the goal. To transcend boundaries. This festival has passion, joy and a little bit of magic.”

Tickets are $10 for each evening. To attend the festival at the Parrish Art Museum on Friday, November 11, visit To attend at Guild Hall on Saturday, November 12, visit Or call OLA at 631-899-3441.

OLA of Eastern LI Presents 13th Annual Latino Film Festival

The Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island (OLA) will be screen independent Spanish language films with English subtitles from Argentina, Ecuador, USA and Venezuela for its 13th Annual Latino Film Festival at the Parrish Art Museum on November 11 and at Guild Hall on November 12.

“Thirteen years ago, OLA founders saw the Latino Film Festival as an effective cultural conduit through which Latinos from different countries here on the east end would find new perspectives in what is often a one dimensional depiction of our varied and rich mix of cultures. Equally effective would be the sharing of these perspectives via English subtitles with English-speaking audiences eager to expand their own understanding of Latino culture,” said Minerva Perez, OLA’s executive director, in a press release issued this week.

Parrish Art Museum will feature “Our Last Tango”/“Un Tango Más,” directed by German Kral and produced by Wim Wenders on November 11. It tells the passionate love story of Argentina’s most famous tango couple in a documentary format. There will be a Doña Sarita Mezcal tasting reception at 6 p.m. and the film will be at 7 p.m. Tickets are free with paid $10 admission to museum.

On November 12, Guild Hall, the directing and producing team of Isabel Rodas and Gabriel Páez from Ecuador will attend the Mezcal Tasting reception and introduce their film “Here and There”/“Vengo Volviendo” — its Long Island premiere. The film tells the story of 22-year-old Ishmael who has an internal struggle about migrating to the U.S. The reception is at 5 p.m. and the film starts at 6 p.m. and costs $10.

Serious Shorts will begin at 8:30 p.m. and be followed by a discussion. The cost is $10 and it is not for viewers under 13. From Mexican American filmmaker, Natalie Camou, the 13-minute film “Tereza” tells the story of a mother and daughter navigating mental illness. “Normal” a Venezuelan film by Vadim Lasca shows a man and woman that are brought together by violent political protests. A combination ticket for all three Guild Hall films is $15.

Tickets for Parrish can be purchased at:, and tickets for Guild Hall can be purchased on Eventbrite at

For more information, please contact Minerva Perez at (631) 871-3408 or at, or visit

East Hampton Town Hall To Host Discussion On Tenants' Rights

November 01, 2016 By Jon Winkler

Town officials will hold a community meeting later this month on tenants rights and civil and criminal issues in the eviction process. The discussion will focus on reaching out to Latino residents, who often face challenges in the process due to language barriers.

The town’s Latino Advisory Committee will be joined by members of the East Hampton Town Police Department and the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office at East Hampton Town Hall on November 21 at 6:30 p.m.

Minerva Perez, executive director of Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, known as OLA, said that she and Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo have been talking about eviction issues for some time and that she looks forward to having a public discussion.

“The eviction process is very confusing and some don’t exactly know the process itself,” Ms. Perez said. “I want to make sure that what leads up to a legal eviction process is known. There is a due process of law and it’s important for people to know that. I just want to make sure the town has that information,” she said, noting that the information would be useful for all residents, not just Latinos.

Police Chief Michael Sarlo said an informational meeting on eviction is something the community needs, similar to meetings recently held with code enforcement officers to address the rental registry law.

“The Latino Advisory Committee has been hosting speakers at their meetings to get pertinent information to Spanish speaking members of our community,” Chief Sarlo said. “After reviewing several situations that have arisen over the past year or so, we thought it would be a good idea to try to convey some basic information regarding the legal process and have a question and answer session at an advisory committee meeting regarding lease agreements, rental issues, etc.” He said town officials are working with leaders in the Latino community to identify where improvements can be made in communication and cooperation with Spanish speaking residents.

“The dialogue has been very productive, as we have also been able to identify areas where we can do a better job training our officers,” he said.

Ms. Perez said she credits the Town Police department for its efforts so far, but sees an opportunity to improve communications between police and the community.

“There is the concern that you want to make sure that everyone can communicate with each other, and this is crucial for violent and abuse situations,” she said. “If you can’t communicate with someone in a deeper manner, it will be tough. What we can do to increase communications means less extra work needs to be done.”

“Community policing is not just a buzz word, it is an ongoing process of being proactive to address the safety and welfare of the citizens, and build relationships that serves the entire community,” Chief Sarlo said.

Tenants and landlords are welcome to participate in the meeting and are encouraged to offer actual examples of incidents they experienced and possible solutions.

“The whole purpose is to be there and add to the dialogue,” Ms. Perez said.

Southampton police work to improve relations with Latinos

Updated October 6, 2016 4:51 PM
By Jean-Paul Salamanca

Southampton Town Police and an East End nonprofit are teaming up to resurrect a program to help promote understanding and trust between law enforcement and Southampton’s Latino community.

The Sagaponack-based Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, which promotes social, economic and educational development among Latinos, will work with the police department this winter to help screen applicants for the civilian police academy program.

“What we’re looking at is civilian understanding of what law enforcement is doing, and building up that understanding and trust,” said Minerva Perez, the nonprofit’s executive director.

he civilian academy, which is scheduled to start in March, had been a longstanding program in the community until it was deactivated a few years ago due to lack of funding and manpower, according to Southampton Town Police Lt. Susan Ralph, who is coordinating the program with Perez.

“It’s a great way to expose that side of the community to police work,” Ralph said. “It will allow them to learn what we do and to build trust.”

Ralph, the department’s Freedom of Information Officer, said the department’s members had noticed that some Latino residents have been afraid to call police, even if they have been victims of crime, because of their legal status.

“We don’t want a portion of the community to feel that if they call us, that we are going to send you out of the country,” Ralph said. “That is not what we’re about. That’s not what any police department is about.”

To participate, residents will be pre-screened and must meet age, background and time commitment requirements. They will undergo a 12-week intensive training program and learn about the challenges, daily operations and dangers that police face, and receive hands-on training in how police conduct building searches and traffic stops. At the end of the program they will accompany veteran officers on their tour to experience a day on the job.

Perez will lead six weeks of diversity training for Southampton police officers that is designed to provide insight into the Hispanic community through class exercises and discussions. Local Latino residents may also be brought in as guest speakers.

Perez worked on similar initiatives with the town’s police when she was executive director of The Retreat, an East Hampton-based domestic violence shelter, and said she is excited about the opportunity to work with the department again.

“It won’t be just me talking, it’s also a lot of listening of things [police officers] would like to see,” Perez said. “What kinds of miscommunication they find, what kinds of ways will be better for them, what information that’s lacking that is going to help them do what they do best.”

Latino Community Encouraged To Participate In Revamped Police Program

October 04, 2016 By Jen Newman

The Southampton Town Police Department will bring back its Civilian Police Academy training program next year—and a local nonprofit is focusing on getting members of the Latino community to participate. 

The 12-week program, which will start in March 2017, will enable residents to learn firsthand how local law enforcement operates. Members of this intensive training will also explore the challenges and dangers of being a police officer, including by taking part in a ride-along with a veteran officer at the end of the program. Southampton Town Police Lieutenant Susan Ralph, who will be in charge of the Civilian Police Academy, said the classes will be taught at department headquarters and involve classroom lectures on law as well as practical and hands-on experience with the techniques officers use to protect themselves, as well as to enforce DWI laws. 

“This will allow the community to bridge the gap between the police and the community we serve and allow citizens to experience what we experience,” Lt. Ralph said. “I think it is very important with what is going on across the country.” 

OLA, the Organización Latino-Americana—a nonprofit agency that works to inform, empower and celebrate Long Island’s East End Latino and Hispanic communities—is encouraging Latinos to participate in the program in order to open up communication with law enforcement officials.

Although the department has not officially started sign-ups, OLA is putting together its own list of applicants for the program. The Civilian Police Academy was previously run yearly under the name “Citizens Police Academy,” which has since been changed to “civilians” to include the entire community, according to OLA’s executive director, Minerva Perez.

She said the program is important not only to teach the community what goes into being an officer but also to build trust and improve communication between the department and residents.

“We want the community to understand what police are involved in,” she said. “We all have the same goal in mind—we want this to be a safe community for everyone.”

Recently, Southampton Town appointed a new bilingual police officer, Julian Davila, who is now in the police academy, and who grew up in Hampton Bays. 

“I think it’s important that we have diversity within our department and Julian, I think, will be an excellent member of the department,” Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said after the Town Board unanimously passed a resolution to appoint the new officer. 

Ms. Perez will also lead the Latino portion of the six-week training diversity training sessions for police officers in the winter. She said she hopes to make it lively, engaging and most of all effective. 

Lt. Ralph said official applications for the civilian academy will be available in January. Those who would like to get on OLA’s list for the academy, or to learn more it, can reach Ms. Perez at

Volunteers with the Organizacion Latino-Americana of Long Island displayed a sign reading “your vote counts” in Spanish on Sunday during a voter recruitment drive at an athletic event.

Organizacion Latino-Americana

Once an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, Lucia Martinez of East Hampton will cast a ballot in the November general election for the first time as a naturalized citizen and newly registered voter.

Ms. Martinez saw how the major parties’ political campaigns were shaping up this year, heard what she said were discriminatory statements made all too often, and realized she wanted her voice to be heard.

“I never thought about voting or anything until this election. That’s when I decided I needed to do it,” said Ms. Martinez, a single mother who has been in the United States for more than 20 years and, after a three-year process of applying for citizenship, successfully achieved her goal about 11 years ago.

“At the beginning I felt nervous,” she said, referring to the voter registration process. “I thought, ‘What if they don’t count me?’ Then I felt very confident when they took my information and I received in the mail my card that said I’m registered to vote and where to go to vote.”

No one had to encourage Ms. Martinez to register, but she knows that will not be the case with other immigrant citizens who are eligible to do the same. That’s why she will be volunteering over the next several weeks with Organizacion Latino-Americana of Long Island, which recently received a grant to run a get-out-the-immigrant-vote registration drive on the East End.

The grant was provided by the New York Immigration Coalition and will vary in size up to about $10,000 based on the final expenses OLA incurs while registering new voters. But Minerva Perez, OLA’s executive director, said the funding will go far to “turn the tide of this apathy or feelings of powerlessness” that people may have during this election cycle.

“There’s so much going on that would make a person say, ‘Why bother?’ . . . That will never serve us as a country,” she said. “I want OLA to be a voice that counters that and says, ‘We need to do everything we can to put all of our voices in the mix.’ ”

OLA will set up tables in different communities at places like supermarkets, church events, and sporting events. There will also be door-to-doors and phone calls, for which names will be drawn from a special database to which Ms. Perez has been given access through the New York Immigration Perez has been given access through the New York Immigration Coalition. The process involves helping someone fill out a voter application form and making sure it gets to the Suffolk County Board of Elections by the registration deadline — applications must be postmarked by Oct. 14 and received by the board of elections by Oct. 19.

The grant stipulates that OLA’s efforts must be nonpartisan, meaning that support of specific political parties or candidates may not be encouraged during the voter registration process, Ms. Perez said.

OLA has an initial goal of registering 500 people, but Ms. Perez said she would love to see it climb into the thousands. The effort will also include the recruitment of new voters from other minority groups.

“I’m not going to turn someone away if they don’t have recent immigrant status,” Ms. Perez said. “There’s the connection also with diverse voters — linking up with other groups that might be African-American or Shinnecock, for example. We’ll make sure there is a focus on that as well.”

The New York Immigration Coalition calls immigrant voters “a powerful force” that has the ability to impact government policy.

Indeed, a “partisan divide over immigration” is emerging as a key issue in the 2016 presidential race, according to The Harvard Political Review. The journal reported in January that Republicans’ or Democrats’ “links to specific demographic groups,” such as Latino voters to name just one, may sway the vote. The Harvard Political Review cited research showing that among naturalized immigrants, 62 percent identified as Dem­ocrats. The blog Democracy: A Journal of Ideas has said voting by naturalized immigrants still lags far behind other groups in the general electorate.

According to the 2014 American Community Survey, 18.8 percent of year-round residents in East Hampton Town are foreign born, or about 4,100 people. Of that population, about 53 percent are U.S. citizens. In Southampton Town, the percentage of foreign-born, year-round residents is about the same at 18.8 percent, or 10,800 people, but of that population, 41.3 percent are U.S. citizens.

Isabel Sepulveda, who founded OLA about 14 years ago, said there is a large population of potential immigrant voters, and specifically Latino citizens, to reach out to across all of the East End. She said OLA used to run voter registration drives years ago, but stopped because of financial hurdles.

“This grant is huge,” she said. “We need it so bad. . . . The amount of Latinos who vote is very low. Some people register when they become citizens, but others have not done it.”

She speaks from experience, having observed what went on while working as an election inspector at the polls at Southampton High School for more than 10 years. People, she said, sometimes need “time and encouragement from other people” before registering to vote.

“The culture is different, the language is different,” Ms. Sepulveda said. “A lot of things are different and you need to learn.”

Ms. Martinez said she hopes the grant given to OLA will help get more new Latino citizens, in particular, registered to vote.

“If we let the people know that it’s safe to register, it’s okay to do it, then it will be helpful,” she said. “But they have to hear from us, from the same Latinos.”

Ms. Perez said momentum is key. “We need to keep generating the interest and excitement, because we need to bring that back into the forefront. You can’t sit on the couch and yell at the TV and get on Facebook and post a bunch of stuff. We need to be positively effective.”

Local Residents Return From Delegation Trip With New Views On Immigration

August 09, 2016  

By Jon Winkler and Kelly Zegers
This past July—as the issue of immigration has been at the forefront of America’s national discussion—a group of volunteers traveled south of the U.S.-Mexico border to see how the poorest Mexican and Central American families live, and returned with a new outlook. 
Fourteen Long Island residents spent 10 days in Oaxaca, the second poorest state in Mexico, from July 9 to July 18 to learn about the working conditions the locals face and the impact the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, has had on their livelihoods. The delegates learned many of the reasons residents there and migrants from Central America give for wanting to come to the United States in search of a better life. 
“We weren’t there to go to another country and point out that country’s flaws,” said Minerva Perez, a Sag Harbor resident and the executive director of Organización Latino Americana of Eastern Long Island, known as OLA. “We were there to go to a country that has been directly impacted by many U.S. policies and take a look at what we can do as people from the United States and how we can view this as people from the United States.”
The trip was funded and organized by the Hagedorn Foundation, a nonprofit grant-making organization based in Roslyn that supports other organizations on Long Island that pursue social justice issues, immigration reform and civic engagement.
“We make a grant through a local immigration program to an organization called Witness For Peace,” said Sandra Dunn, the program director of the Hagedorn Foundation. “I’ve been making this grant to them since 2010. We usually take 10 to 15 people, go down to the capital city of Oaxaca, also called Oaxaca, and we learn about the root causes of migration. I’m always looking for people who are involved in their community and/or connected to an education network, like a classroom or a library. The point is to have those people come back and share what they’ve learned with their networks and communities.”
The Hagedorn Foundation was founded in 2005 with funds left to Amy Hagedorn when her husband, Horace Hagedorn, the man who helped market Miracle-Gro fertilizer into a multi-million dollar success, died. Mr. Hagedorn left his widow $60 million dollars to start the foundation that would help support Long Island organizations looking to make a difference. 
Ms. Dunn said that Hagedorn is a “spend-down” organization, meaning the foundation would use all of its assets overtime instead of applying for more money. Because of this, Ms. Dunn said that Hagedorn will have spent its remaining funds by 2017 and will therefore close its doors permanently, which makes this recent delegation trip all the more significant.
“Part of our mission here at the Hagedorn Foundation is to ease people’s reactions to the truths of immigration,” Ms. Dunn said. “One way we do that is by educating local Long Island residents about immigration. This trip is meant to educate Long Islanders who may not have daily contact with immigrants. They may have different opinions on immigration, but this is a way of immersing them in a place in Mexico that has had a lot of out-migration to other parts of Mexico and the U.S. to learn what the root causes of migration are. Beyond that, I think when people are dealing with facts and first-hand experience, they are better able to educate others and inject facts into the debate to create more understanding of the issue and to make Long Island a more welcoming place.”


In addition to Ms. Perez, two other residents from the East End were a part of the delegation, Leah Oppenheimer, of Sag Harbor, a social worker at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, and Lisa Votino-Tarrant, a resident of the Shinnecock Indian Reservation and an administrative assistant at Wuneechanunk Shinecock Pre-school. 
The delegation spent time meeting with families and non-governmental organizations to learn about the issues. One day, they learned about the effects of border control by meeting with families who had not seen loved ones for years at a time after they crossed the border into the United States, recalled Ms. Votino-Tarrant, who said they sat with families in their homes and listened to their stories. 
“Families were going longer with their loved ones being away. So what used to be every year, every two years, then became every seven years, every 10 years, every 13 years, because it was just that much harder to get across the border at that point, and certainly much more dangerous,” Ms. Votino-Tarrant said. 
Ms. Perez said the group met a woman who had not seen her husband in 15 years after he went to the United States to work, only to find out that he had been killed in a car accident without further explanation as to why or how it happened.
She said that, here in the United States, she meets the migrants who are trying to do the best for their families. But in Oaxaca, “I was meeting with people who were left.”
The hardest day for Ms. Votino-Tarrant was a visit to a migrant shelter in Oaxaca, filled mostly with people from Central American countries hoping to escape violence in their hometowns. There, migrants are allowed to stay three days as they make their way to the border. 
The group met 18 men who openly shared their stories. One man had walked for 13 days from El Salvador to get to the shelter and arrived just the day before.
Another, a 19-year-old named Rudy who was working to return to the United States, told Ms. Votino-Tarrant he fell in love with the country and built a great passion for music, something he was able to show when he performed at the Rose Bowl. 
“They wanted to know: Would they be safe? And we didn’t have really good answers for them. And it was hard, it was really hard,” Ms. Votino-Tarrant said.
She bonded with the men about soccer teams. “It was just like a normal conversation that you would have with anyone. But you know that no matter what, migrants face violence at some point along their journey. And if they haven’t faced it yet, they will.” 
For Ms. Perez, a major takeaway was recognizing how trade policies, such as NAFTA, have played a role in hardships that make life difficult for people in Mexico, and as a result lead to migration north.
“The scales are so far tipped,” she said of inequalities between the local farmers and big companies that import goods into Mexico. 
Also through NAFTA, silver and gold mountaintop mining by transnational companies has decimated farmland and divided communities as locals get jobs with those companies. Ms. Perez recalled meeting a woman who was working to defend the land that was being encroached by mining.
The woman was only about 26 years old, but the look in her eyes made her seem older, about 45 years old, Ms. Perez said. “She had been through so much. She had been shot in the leg. Her fellow leader in this fight against this mine happening was killed.”
The woman walked with a cane and spoke quietly. 
“It was just almost chilling. You're leaning in to hear what they're saying and to grasp this fearsome, quiet, power that they have,” Ms. Perez said. “Her life is in danger, but she's meeting with us and telling us about this, and that was tremendously moving.”
One couple the delegation met stood out to Ms. Oppenheimer: The couple had returned to their home village to teach sustainable agriculture techniques, including how to grow crops without pesticides, which are difficult for farmers to afford.
“They are people who are educated and have chosen to go back and make their home villages better,” she said. “It was very moving.”

Teaching A Lesson At Home

Each of the women have thought of how they can apply their delegation experience to their lives and work now that they are back home on Long Island. 
Ms. Votino-Tarrant said she wants to share what she has learned, perhaps through presentations at East End libraries. 
“Basically just trying to share the information that I learned any way I can, even in just normal conversations I have with people,” she said, especially when someone might bring up a misconception about immigrants.
In terms of OLA, which focuses on arts, education and advocacy, the experience will help color choices for its annual film festival in November. 
Ms. Oppenheimer, who teaches literacy at the Children’s Museum of the East End, will take what she learned to her work. While on the trip, she noticed how children in Oaxaca did not have easy access to books.
“Kids’ books in Oaxaca, Mexico, cost more than what people make in several weeks,” she learned. There was a library, she said, but it never appeared to be open whenever she passed by.
Seeing that has inspired her to start looking into how she can make sure that new immigrants become socialized into the culture of libraries and books, so that children can learn.

Springs School Board Continues To Face Community Concerns Over Latino Outreach

By Jon Winkler

A vote to form a Latino Parents Committee that some expected at Tuesday night’s Springs School Board of Education meeting did not take place, but instead the meeting became a platform for several residents to continue to speak out about what they say is the lack of connection between the school board and the Latino community of Springs. 

Resident Tatiana Tucci asked the board if there would be the appointment of a bilingual clerk to help bilingual parents register their children for the upcoming school year. Keri DeLalio, the Board’s director of human resources and pupil & personnel services, said that there were bilingual volunteers working with the clerks to help make the enrollment process easier. 

“A lot of times we hear that the Latino community doesn’t get involved because we don’t care or we don’t listen,” Ms. Tucci said. “We do care and we want to be informed! But most of the time we don’t feel welcome.”

Also present at the meeting was Minerva Perez, executive director of the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, who said she hoped to participate in a vote on the creation of the Latino Parents Committee. The organization posted on its Facebook earlier this week that a vote was to take place, but it was not on the agenda. Ms. Perez still took the time to address the board about the need for leadership within the board to connect with the Latino community. She said that the school board must blaze a path for Hispanic leadership within the school district. 

The last to speak at the meeting was Chris Tucci, who is married to Ms. Tucci. 

“The number of people on staff of Spring School who help Latinos are few and far between,” Mr. Tucci said.

The next Springs School Board of Education meeting will be on August 29.

Premiando a las Latinas de éxito en Long Island

May 26, 2016

El 19 de mayo la revista Long Island Latino – Magazine & TV y Empowering Women TV & Radio, llevaron a cabo la 2da. edición anual de los premios Latinas de Éxito Long Island (LELI) en el Brentwood Country Club, en el cual se honoró a aquellas mujeres que contribuyen al desarrollo integral de Long Island con su liderazgo, iniciativa, servicio, crecimiento profesional y autenticidad. Fueron nueve categorías que reconoció los logros sobresalientes en la comunidad.

La imagen de arriba registra a los organizadores y honoradas, de izq. a der., (De pie) a Wendy Rodríguez, directora ejecutiva de Empowering Women TV & Radio y USZ; Lina Cruz, coordinadora de Asuntos Latinos, NY Yankees; Lucy Reyes, vicepresidenta de Alerta TV Network; Ana Torres, directora ejecutiva y fundadora de Shepherds Gate Academy; Jairo Zuluaga, director ejecutivo y presidente de Long Island Latino Magazine & TV; Jenny Cruz, directora de Small Business de Bethpage Federal Credit Union; Minerva Pérez, directora ejecutiva de OLA of Eastern Long Island; y Dorothy Gia Santana, fundadora de Latina Moms of Long Island; (Sentadas) Margarita Grasing, directora ejecutiva de Hispanic Brotherhood of RVC; Elizabeth Custodio, vicepresidenta CRA directora de Suffolk County National Bank; Nina McCann, directora de Marketing y Relaciones Públicas de la firma de abogados Uniondale based Forchelli, Curto, Deegan, Schwartz, Mineo & Terrana LLP; Elaine Medin, directora de educación adulta de Central Islip High School; María Isabel Sepulveda, del periódico Voz Latina; y Grace Ioannidis, directora de Servicios para la Mujer, de la oficina del ejecutivo del Condado de Suffolk.

OLA to Assist NYS Attorney General’s Office in Presenting Wage Theft & Workers Rights Workshops                                  May 16, 2016

OLA of Eastern Long Island was contacted by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office to assist with a series of presentations and workshops on Wage Theft and Worker’s Rights.

OLA will be hosting this series of workshops and will be reaching out to all leadership within the Latino Community to share information and encourage participation. This series will be done in Spanish and English and it will be open to all interested persons via RSVP.

The date and location have not been set as of this press release. We are aiming for late June, July and August. All interested in attending should email or call Minerva Perez, OLA Executive Director: – 631.871.3408.

OLA of Eastern Long Island fue contactado por la oficina del Attorney General Eric Schneiderman solicitando ayuda con una serie de presentaciones y talleres sobre elrobo de salarios y derechos delos trabajadores.

OLA of Eastern Long Island fue contactado por la oficina del Attorney General Eric Schneiderman solicitando ayuda con una serie de presentaciones y talleres sobre elrobo de salarios y derechos delos trabajadores.

OLA será el anfitriónde estos eventos y busca acercarse a la comunidad Latina para compartir información y a la vez  fomentar su participación. Los talleres se realizarán tanto en español como en inglés y estarán abiertos a todas las personas interesadas vía RSVP.

Al momento de la publicación de esta nota, no se ha definido una fecha para este evento. Nuestro objetivo sería para finales de junio, julio y agosto.


OLA Looks To Bridge Gap Between Springs School District And Latino Community

April 12, 2016  By Jaime Zahl

Approximately 80 parents, students and community members packed into the Springs School Commons Room on Monday night for the district’s first Board of Education meeting to formally offer Spanish translation. 

During the meeting, two bilingual Springs teacher’s assistants, Lillian Flores and Ana Jacobs, sat in the back of the room translating for about 15 Latino parents who chose to speak. Following the third budget workshop presentation for the 2016-2017 school year and other agenda items, the board announced that they are now working with Hispanic advocacy group OLA of Eastern Long Island in hopes of creating better communication between the district and its Latino community, which accounts for more than 50 percent of the district’s population. “We had a meeting last week where we were talking with that community organization about how we can improve our communication also,” said board member Timothy Frazier. “I want you to know we are listening. We’re trying our best. We’re trying to put things into practice that we can given the limited resources that we do have,” he told the crowd. 

OLA’s Executive Director Minerva Perez said the group reached out to the Springs School Board and Superintendent John “Jay” Finello after meeting with many Latino parents in the district who shared stories about trouble registering their children, a lack of translated materials and problems with the language barrier over a multi-year period. In one instance, Ms. Perez said that a parent said it took over a month to register their children at the district. “OLA is doing everything it can as a local, community-based organization, with all its members living on the East End, to make this a dialogue between a local community-based organization, Latino parents and the school board,” said Ms. Perez. 
Two weeks ago OLA’s board of directors and six Springs Latino parents met with Mr. Finello, school board members Barbara Dayton and Timothy Frazier and Springs School Interim Business Administrator Carl Fraser to begin a dialogue about the gap between the district and the Latino community.     

“It was a two-and-a-half hour meeting and overall everything that was being expressed by the superintendent and by the board were all the things that OLA and the Latino parents would want to hear,” said Ms. Perez. “The problem is that’s not what’s been happening. The only way to reconcile that is to say ‘put it in writing and let’s commit some action. Let’s commit to some agreements that are not only saying everything you just said, but creating some actions to go along with it.’

At that meeting, Ms. Perez presented the board and Mr. Finello with specific commitments suggested by OLA, one of which was a consolidated packet of all the district’s policies for new parents that could help them adhere to registration procedures. At the time of the meeting, Ms. Perez said she requested the board’s policy for registration, but was only given a generalized registration packet that provided little insight into policies.

“OLA would love to see those policies and protocols made transparent,” said Ms. Perez. “We want to get into the business of moving everything forward and integrating and incorporating these parents who want to be better involved in their child’s education, who want to be more supportive of the school.” The district lists 24 of its adopted policies on the district website. According to Springs School Board President Elizabeth Mendelman, the district has been in the process of updating its policies with its attorneys. Ms. Perez said OLA would also like to see the addition of a Latino parents advisory committee and other ways of getting them more involved in the district that would not require additional funding.  “That’s what I saw when I met with these Latino families. They were talking about being more involved, about making sure their child gets a great education. That’s really what OLA is working to put together.” 

Ms. Perez said the Spanish translation at the board meeting was a great first step. “Whether or not it was a little cumbersome, they really did seem to embrace it and I thought that was great,” she said. “Now all eyes are on the board, the superintendent, to look at this and to understand that this community of Springs wants to see the right thing happen.”

OLA Mira Para reducir la falta Entre Springs Distrito escolar y la comunidad latina

April 12, 2016  By Jaime Zahl

Aproximadamente 80 padres de familia, estudiantes y miembros de la comunidad llenaron el “Commons Room” en la escuela de Springs el lunes en la noche con el Consejo de Educación para ofrecer formalmente traducciones en español por primera vez.

Durante la junta, dos asistentes de maestras bilingües, Liliana Flores y Ana Jacobs, se sentaron en la parte de atrás del salón para traducirles a aproximadamente 15 padres latinos que decidieron hablar.

Siguiendo la presentación del tercer taller del presupuesto para el año escolar 2016-2017 y otros puntos en la agenda, el consejo anunció que están trabajando ahora con el grupo de asesoría a hispanos, OLA del Este de Long Island, con la esperanza de crear mejor comunicación entre el distrito y su comunidad latina, quienes constituyen más del 50 por ciento de la población del distrito.

Timothy Frazier, miembro del Consejo de Educación dijo: “También tuvimos una junta la semana pasada con esa organización de la comunidad donde hablamos de cómo mejorar nuestra comunicación”.  También dijo, “Queremos que sepan que estamos escuchando.  Estamos haciendo nuestro mejor esfuerzo.  Estamos tratando de poner las cosas que podamos en práctica, dados los limitados recursos que tenemos”.

Minerva Perez, la directora ejecutiva de OLA, dijo que habían contactado al Consejo de Educación de Springs y al superintendente, John “Jay” Finello después de haberse reunido con varios padres latinos en el distrito que compartieron historias sobre problemas al registrar a sus hijos, la falta de materiales traducidos y problemas con la barrera del lenguaje en el transcurso de varios años.

En una ocasión dijo la señorita Perez que un padre dijo que tomó más de un mes registrar a sus hijos en el distrito.

“OLA está haciendo todo lo posible, como una organización local basada en la comunidad, con todos sus miembros viviendo en el este de Long Island (o el “East End”) para hacer esto un diálogo entre la organización, los padres latinos y el Consejo de Educación”, dijo la señorita Perez.

Hace dos semanas el Consejo Directivo de OLA y seis padres latinos de Springs se reunieron con el Sr. Finello, los miembros del Consejo de Educación, Barbara Dayton y Timothy Frazier y Carl Fraser, administrador de empresas interino de la escuela de Springs para empezar un diálogo sobre la brecha entre el distrito y la comunidad latina.

“Fue una junta de dos horas y media y en general todo lo que estaba siendo expresado por el superintendente y el Consejo eran todas las cosas que OLA y los padres latinos querían escuchar”, dijo la señorita Perez.  “El problema es que eso no es lo que ha estado pasando.  La única manera de reconciliar eso es decir, pónganlo por escrito y comprometámonos a tomar alguna acción.  Comprometámonos a algunos acuerdos que no sólo digan lo que acaban de decir sino creando algunas acciones que vayan de la mano con eso”.

En la junta, la señorita Perez le presentó al Consejo y al Sr. Finello compromisos específicos sugeridos por OLA, uno de los cuales era un paquete consolidado de todas las políticas del distrito para nuevos padres que les pudiese ayudar a adherirse a los procedimientos para registrarse. Durante la junta, la señorita Perez dijo que solicitó la política para registrarse del Consejo pero sólo le dieron un paquete de registro generalizado que sólo proveía una pequeña visión de las políticas.

“A OLA le gustaría ver que se hicieran transparentes esas políticas y protocolos”, dijo la señorita Perez.  “Queremos que las cosas avancen integrando e incorporando a estos padres quienes quieren estar más involucrados en la educación de sus hijos y quienes quieren dar más apoyo a la escuela”.  El distrito lista 24 de las políticas adoptadas en la página de internet del distrito.  De acuerdo con la presidente del Consejo de la escuela de Springs, Elizabeth Mendelman, el distrito ha estado en el proceso de actualizar sus políticas con sus abogados.

La señorita Perez dijo que a OLA le gustaría ver la adición de un comité de asistencia a padres latinos y otras formas de tenerlos más involucrados en el distrito y que no requiera de fondos adicionales.

“Eso fue lo que vi cuando conocí a estas familias latinas.  Ellos hablaban de estar más involucrados, de asegurarse de que sus hijos tengan una buena educación.  Esto es en lo que realmente OLA está trabajando”.

La señorita Perez dijo que la traducción al español durante la junta con el Consejo fue un gran primer paso.

“Haya o no haya sido un tanto incómodo, realmente parecieron acogerlo y creo que eso fue increíble”, dijo ella, “ahora todos los ojos están en el Consejo, el superintendente, que vean esto y entiendan que esta comunidad de Springs quiere ver que sucedan las cosas correctas.”

"Soy Maria, Soy Mujer”                                                                                               

A celebration of the power, beauty, and triumph of the Latina

Featuring Live Mesmerizing Drumming to mixed Latino Music by Carolina Fuentes                                                                                                                                           Staged reading of "Soy Maria" by Minerva Perez                                                                                                                                                                                     Spoken word performances by Latinas

OLA Tackles Domestic Violence With 'Soy Maria' At Guild Hall Saturday

March 30, 2016 By Jaime Zahl

Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, popularly known as OLA, is kicking off its 2016 season of events with a one-night-only performance of the original play “Soy Maria,” written by the advocacy organization’s newly instated executive director, Minerva Perez.

The play, spoken entirely in Spanish, tackles the issue of domestic violence in the Latino-American community. Ms. Perez originally wrote “Soy Maria” five years ago based on her experiences serving as The Retreat’s director of residential and transitional services, running a 24-hour domestic violence crisis shelter. She said the play’s focus did not stem from any indication that domestic violence is more prevalent in the Latino community; rather, it stemmed from the taboo surrounding its discussion.

“In the Spanish community, although we’re in the 21st century, there’s still a stigma,” Ms. Perez said. “Your mother tells you that, ‘That is life. You have to suck it up.’ I think this is important because it gives people a voice. It puts a face on the problems we have within the Hispanic community.”

In order to portray that sense of community, Ms. Perez wrote the play as a series of 16 monologues—each read by a different character. She said she wanted to convey that a victim of domestic violence is never in it alone—there is always someone else who is a witness, or who will be affected by what’s happening to the victim. “There’s going to be a whole community of people that are connected to this victim of domestic violence ... it’s not just how we look at domestic violence, as one single victim. It’s the entire community of so many different socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s everywhere,” she said.

Playing the lead role of Maria, a woman trapped in a domestic violence situation, is radio personality Ana Maria Caraballo. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Ms. Caraballo moved to the U.S. to study radio and has climbed the ranks in recent years to become promotions director for JVC Broadcasting, which includes popular Long Island radio station La Fiesta 98.5, where she hosts the morning show.

Ms. Caraballo, who has worked with Ms. Perez on four other productions including an all-Latino staging of “The Vagina Monologues” in Bridgehampton, said that “Soy Maria” struck a nerve when she first read it a few years back.

“When I was in high school … I was a victim of that type of violence—more psychological abuse than anything—with my ex-boyfriend,” Ms. Caraballo revealed. “And you don’t think that it happens at that young age, but it does and you stay there because you don’t tell anyone. You don’t tell your parents, you don’t tell anybody.

“And I’ve seen it,” she continued. “I’ve seen it with my family. I’ve seen it with relatives. I’ve seen it with friends, and they go back and they stay and then something bad has to happen for them to understand it. Sometimes they had the opportunity to look for support and not just say, ‘This is the cards that I was given, I have to deal with them.’ Because a lot of [victims] feel guilty too.”

For this particular production, Ms. Perez decided to alter the original ending. Looking to make an impact on the audience, she had written a tragic end for Maria. Taking into consideration the real-life death of Lilia “Esperanza” Aucapina—the Ecuador native who was found hanged in Sagaponack late last year—Ms. Perez opted for an alternate conclusion. 

“I wrote that five years ago, so it had nothing to do with her,” Ms. Perez said of the original script. “But because of her, I wanted to change the ending and make it a happy ending. Not just happy, but a hopeful ending.”

The entire evening of entertainment, which is titled “Soy Maria, Soy Mujer,” or “I Am Maria, I Am Woman,” will also feature the drum stylings of Chilean musician Carolina Fuentes of the band Mr. No Shame, as well as a series of spoken word poetry presented by local performers.

“This is a celebration, essentially,” Ms. Perez said. “It’s a celebration of the beauty, the power, the triumph of a Latina woman ... And it is a celebration because that kind of strength and spirit is hard won. It can’t just be given to you. ... You have to win it hard and that’s what Maria shows everyone.”

“Soy Maria, Soy Mujer” will take place at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton, on Saturday, April 2, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $11.54 for general admission and $22.09 for reserved seating. Visit

By Kitty Merrill

"It was completely tragic," Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said this week, discussing the death of Lilia Aucapina. "The circumstances around it are very sad. I can't undo that. But we can discuss the commitment police made in investigating the situation and we can do a better job communicating."

This week, Schneiderman plans to meet with Aucapina's family, police, and Latino advocates to review an analysis of the investigation.

Aucapina was reported missing in October. The Sagaponack woman's body was found in the woods near her home 40 days after the initial report. Police deemed the death a suicide, but the medical examiner's ruling wasn't handed down until the end of February.

As time wore on, family members and eventually representatives from the advocacy group LatinoJustice raised questions about the way Southampton Town Police handled the case. Theories abounded, with some feeling police were too quick to determine the deeply religious woman killed herself. People wondered why it took so long to find the body, why a "thorough" search that included a K-9 unit was fruitless. Misinformation about the location of the body spread. People wondered whether local cops investigated the case aggressively enough, whether they committed adequate resources to the case, whether Latino lives matter to police.

Within weeks of the discovery of Aucapina's body, family members asked the case to be turned over to the county homicide squad. Suspicion was cast on Aucapina's estranged husband, Carlos, who allegedly violated an order of protection his wife had in place the day she went missing.

Schneiderman took office in January and the family and LatinoJustice continued to ask for a probe into how police handled the case. Last week, the supervisor met with police and poured over details of the investigation. He reviewed the long- aborning coroner's report, which affirmed the preliminary determination.

It was a suicide.

"Everything matches up," Schneiderman said.

Within four hours of the missing persons report filing, police began a parallel track of investigating it as a homicide, the supervisor reported. "You can't say police didn't devote enough resources, they absolutely did. You can't say they didn't investigate other possibilities [besides suicide], they absolutely did."

Schneiderman vowed to share any element of the investigation that can be discussed with Aucapina's family. "Whatever the family wants, I'll give them," he said.

While Schneiderman hopes a thorough briefing will assuage the family's concerns, he realizes there may be a broader issue – a general reluctance on the part of the Hispanic community to trust police. "If people feel we don't value Latino lives as much as others, we have a problem with perception," he said. He hopes representatives from LatinoJustice and Minerva Perez, the new executive director of OLA, can help bridge any divide between law enforcement and the Latino community.

What's Next?

"When something like this happens, you think, "How do we prevent the next one? Is there more we can do as a community?" Schneiderman observed.

He believes there are resources to help people in crisis that they may not be aware of. "I want to make sure people are aware there are services available and if there are holes, I want to make sure they are covered. Whenever there's a tragedy, you want to prevent the next one," he said.

While reaching out to the victim's family and the community at large is a socially just act, it's also a practical one. Schneiderman noted that in some Southampton School districts, Latinos are no longer the minority. Population numbers prove outreach to the Latino community is more than merely kind; it's a necessity.

Beginning a conversation that enhances relations will, said Perez, "strengthen the whole fabric of the community."

The idea of finding ways to reach out to immigrants is in "such a beginning stage," Perez noted. But, she continued, "It's definitely hopeful."

Like Schneiderman, the advocate believes that communication with the Aucapina family in the specific case and with the Latino community in general, is key. "I was so happy to hear Jay was ready . . . to have the hardest questions come your way and allow a dialogue to happen that wasn't happening last year . . . what we do now is really about dialogue."

Even if it wasn't the case, the message put out during the Aucapina investigation was that it wasn't okay to ask police questions. "Perception is reality and we're responsible for that. You have to be responsible for the perception you're creating," she said. "You have to start off being okay having questions asked of you."

On Monday, Southampton Town Police Chief Robert Pearce acknowledged, "There are definitely a lot of things we have to work on as far as cultural awareness." Interacting with the surging Hispanic population, "There are challenges, without a doubt," he said.

Speaking generally, he said one can understand the fear that interaction with police could lead to deportation. "But that's not our mission," he emphasized.

As the Latino population has grown, he said, "We have more and more encounters with the Hispanic community. We have to adjust."

The use of a language line program to interpret for non-English speakers has been expanded in the department, and Pearce is looking to hire more interpreters.

"We're always looking for ways to address the concerns of the public," Pearce continued. "We want to have open ears."

STPD's handling of the Aucapina case "rocked the community," Perez opined. But with the meeting planned this week, and Schneiderman's willingness to begin a dialogue aimed at enhancing trust between the police and the public, she believes, "Southampton Town is in a good position to completely turn it around."

Minerva Pérez,  nueva directora de la fundación OLA   

Minerva Pérez, es otra de las Latinas que se unen a la lista de personalidades que vinieron a conquistar el Corazón de los estadounidenses, su amplia experiencia en temas relacionados con la migración la acaban de convertir en la nueva directora de OLA, una organización que se preocupa por la comunidad latina.

La promoción de las artes y la educación son los pilares de su trabajo, en 2008 asumió el cargo directivo de voluntarios de OLA, luego trabajo durante seis años como directora de servicios residenciales y de transición en el refugio Hampton, donde dirigió el departamento de emergencias que recibía a mujeres y niños víctimas de la violencia doméstica.

En el 2008, Minerva estuvo a cargo del festival de cine; dirigiendo y produciendo la obra Monólogos de la Vagina en español presentado en Long Island.  Destacado en caja de texto dentro del contenido

OLA como organización de defensa latina, ha buscado ayudas para educar y capacitar a los inmigrantes esta líder de procesos de migración piensa que “Será importante para la comunidad latina construir puentes culturales, con todas las comunidades para romper con la barrera cultural que en ocasiones nos impide luchar como latino “

La fundadora de OLA, Isabel Sepúlveda de Scanlon, quien también es presidente de la organización, dijo que Minerva Pérez asumirá este nuevo reto con altura, “Ella es genial, ella es fuerte,”

Como directora ejecutiva, uno de los logros que deberá enfrentar Minerva, será el de educar a la comunidad latina sobre la inmigración y la seguridad de los trabajadores, para que logren alcanzar una estabilidad para ellos y sus familias.


Voice for Latinos in Long Island Reaches Across Cultural Divide

By EMILY J. WEITZ FEB. 26, 2016

It would be impossible to try to find one voice for the estimated 25,000 Latinos on Long Island’s East End. Some are wealthy, some are struggling; some are undocumented, and others are American citizens.

But to have no unifying voice in her community was unthinkable for the Chilean-born activist and businesswoman Isabel Sepulveda-de Scanlon. So a decade ago, she created Voz Latina: a volunteer-run monthly newspaper that caters to the Spanish-speaking inhabitants of La Isla Larga (Long Island, to English speakers).

“The community needed information,” Ms. Sepulveda said. “Worldly information.”

Unlike East End publications that mostly report local stories, Voz Latina also features news from other countries.

“It’s about connecting the Latino community with their culture, their world,” Ms. Sepulveda said. “We live here, but we have our tentacles back at home. Voz Latina doesn’t have one place, one community.”

Roger Acosta, a lawyer with a practice in Huntington Station and Riverhead, found Ms. Sepulveda’s passion so inspiring that he wrote the check for Voz Latina’s first ad.

“Newspapers are what create our freedom,” said Mr. Acosta, who lived in Cuba until he was 9. He said he remembers his parents lamenting the lack of freedom of the press.

Ms. Sepulveda said she believed being informed was critical to being empowered. As a co-founder of Organización Latino-Americana, she has striven to strengthen the Latino community on the East End through workshops, celebrations and advocacy. In Voz Latina, she informs readers about local leaders who are sympathetic to the Latino experience, which means that the publication admittedly has political leanings.

“I put things in there so people know who represents them,” she said.

Columns in Voz Latina offer advice on immigration issues, as well as problems out of the public eye such as domestic violence and alcoholism.

“After September the economy really slows,” Ms. Sepulveda said, “and people get stressed there’s not enough money to pay the bills. There’s insecurity, and machismo, which can lead to these issues.”

Ms. Sepulveda said she felt that her mission was to connect the Anglo and Latino worlds on the East End, and she is consciously looking for places where they overlap, like the dance floor.

“There are people who won’t even walk down Main Street because they’re afraid the police will stop them. But when Mambo Loco plays,” she said, referring to a popular local band that specializes in Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican music, “you see everyone on the dance floor. It doesn’t matter if you’re a citizen or if you’re undocumented.”

Ms. Sepulveda said she hoped that Voz Latina, like music, could create a space for communication. She said she often received phone calls and messages on Facebook from readers who needed help and wanted to connect.

“Someone called me up and told me immigration took her son,” she said. Ms. Sepulveda included the story in the paper, along with an article in Spanish that explained what to do if immigration agents came to the door.

“People need to know their rights,” she said.

Angela Quintero, who taught business administration in her native Colombia before moving to East Hampton, writes a column that addresses topics like effective communication and leadership. These are important and often-overlooked skills for people coming to the United States, she said.

“Most immigrants come here looking to achieve their dreams,” Ms. Quintero said. “But they arrive at this totally different culture, and often they have to change their focus.”

Ms. Quintero hopes that instead of surrendering their dreams, her readers will learn how to take an idea that she writes about, combine it with their own aspirations, and create a business plan.

Voz Latina is bilingual: Ms. Sepulveda said she wanted Anglo readers to pick it up to connect to the Latino community, as well as the other way around. Some columnists, like Javier Pérez Mandujano, a life coach from Mexico by way of France, write in both languages.

He said that he wrote in both languages because a column could not simply be translated into another language, because of cultural nuances and sensibilities.

“Sometimes we try so hard to define our culture, we end up confronting,” said Mr. Pérez Mandujano. He said that, while it is important to maintain cultural identity, it is also important to connect. “Voz Latina,” he said, “is a bridge.”

Whether the Latino community has been integrated into East End culture remains a controversial subject. You need only look at the cafeteria tables in the local public schools, Ms. Sepulveda said, to see how the communities are stratified.

Ms. Quintero expressed more optimism. “I believe that there are two communities,” she said, “but we are on our way.”

On Feb. 4, East Hampton started a Latin Advisory Committee, a group of 10 people, eight of whom are Latino. Ms. Quintero is a member of the committee, charged with community outreach. Larry Cantwell, East Hampton town supervisor, said he hoped the Town Board would introduce and facilitate new bilingual workshops with the police and housing departments.

“This population is a significant part of the community, and we want to break down the communication barrier,” Mr. Cantwell said.

Ms. Quintero attributed the strides being made in communication between Latinos and the broader East End community, in large part, to the efforts of Voz Latina.

“It’s not just about language, it’s about culture, it’s about communication,” she said. “Voz Latina connects the community by opening doors into different cultures.”


Organizations Strive to Give Latinos a Voice on East End

By Stephen J. Kotz

A month after being named the executive director of the Organizacion Latino-Americana, or OLA, the East End Latino advocacy group, Minerva Perez has hit the ground running.

This week, Ms. Perez will join with a group of other Latino advocates to press their case on a number of key issues, from workers rights, to driver’s license reform, with New York State lawmakers on Long Island. Later, she will take part in a meeting with Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and the family of Lila “Esperanza” Aucapino, whose death by suicide last year led to charges from the Latino community that police had not taken her disappearance seriously and failed to keep the family informed of developments in the case. In the meantime, she is busy organizing classes for youths and a performance next month at Guild Hall in East Hampton based on a play she wrote.

It’s all part of OLA’s mission to serve as an advocacy, arts and educational organization for the growing Latino community on the East End, Ms. Perez said.

“Within each of those three categories, there is significant work to be done,” said Ms. Perez. “I want to be involved in things that are vital to our community.”

Not only is the local Latino community “a hard working group of people who are constantly being maligned and scapegoated,” but it is much more diverse by age, education and economic class than many East End residents may realize, she said.

Although many Latinos are successful business owners and their children make up a sizeable portion of the East End’s school enrollments, it is still a largely invisible segment of the population when it comes to the political world, she said, with no Latinos in elective office in either East Hampton or Southampton town.

“A lot of them may not be able to vote right now, but they are surrounded by people who can vote, whether it is their kids or relatives,” she added. “To assume they have no voice is to make a big mistake.”

That is a divide the newly formed Latino Advisory Committee in East Hampton Town is hoping to bridge.

“Our goal is to inform and integrate the Latino community into the local government process and provide a link for that community to town government,” said Maritza Guichay of East Hampton, who is serving with Angela Quintero as co-chair of the group.

East Hampton formerly had a Latino advisory committee about a decade ago, but it became inactive, according to Ms. Guichay, who noted that it was Supervisor Larry Cantwell who reconstituted the group last month.

One of its first orders of business, she said, would be to hold a workshop at Town Hall on March 18 at 6:30 p.m. on the town’s new rental law for Spanish-speaking residents, which will be presented in English with Spanish translations.

She envisions the committee holding public forums about once every other month on a variety of local government issues including code enforcement. “We need to get informed about our lives and our responsibilities,” she said. “It is a two-way street.”

Ms. Guichay said the group has a Facebook page, Latino Advisory Committee, and those interested in attending the rental registry workshop can call her at 631-352-0666.

At OLA, Ms. Perez, a native of Miami who studied theater at New York University and ran a small theater in the city before moving east in 2001, said she will embrace the organization’s role as a sponsor of the arts by moving beyond its sponsorship of an annual film festival featuring Latino films.

OLA was founded by Isabel Sepulveda, who for many years served as its de facto director, but she said in a recent interview that Ms. Perez would bring new energy to the organization. “Many of us in OLA believe that arts is an excellent way to build bridges and Minerva has a very strong background in the arts,” she said.

On April 2, OLA will present “Soy Maria, Soy Mujer,” a spoken word and live music performance based on a play Ms. Perez wrote about a victim of domestic violence and her survival and triumph. OLA is also offering art for children, English as a second language, and other classes. Ms. Perez is also working on readying OLA’s new website,, for launch.

“I don’t want OLA to try to recreate the wheel,” she said, noting that many other organizations also provide needed services to the Latino population. “But we can link people together who are doing this good work and bring up the level of discourse.”


OLA Hires First Paid Executive Director

February 09, 2016     By Alisha Steindecker

Minerva Perez, a familiar face at the Organizacion Latino-Americana, is ready to get down to business as the organization’s first paid executive director, focusing on the arts, education and advocacy for the Latino community.Ms. Perez, a Sag Harbor resident, had previously served in 2008 as OLA’s volunteer executive director. She went on to work for six years as director of residential and transitional services at The Retreat in East Hampton, where she ran a 24-hour crisis shelter for women and children fleeing domestic abuse. There was significant Latino involvement at the Retreat as well, she said.

“I left that organization and I was really looking for ways I could be integral and really help grow an organization,” said Ms. Perez, who is 49.

She had moved to the East End in 2002 from New York City, and she raised her now college-age daughter in Sag Harbor. She had studied theater at New York University.

OLA, as the Latino advocacy organization is commonly called, was formed in 2002 to help educate and empower immigrants on the East End, as well as help them to have a real presence in their communities.

“We have to raise discourse on what the Latinos and Spanish community represents,” Ms. Perez said. “It will be important for the Latino community to build cultural bridges, not only with other communities but even within itself. We have to lock our arms together and show that kind of unity without erasing what is so different between these different Latino communities.”

Ms. Perez will also focus finding office space for OLA, although it does have a post office box in Sagaponack.

OLA’s founder, Isabel Sepulveda de Scanlon, who is also the organization’s president, said Ms. Perez is perfect for the job. “She is great—she is strong,” she said. “I know that there is a lot to be done in all advocacy, culturally. It is so much for the youth, for the women, for the family, and it has to be done by a serious organization and a serious person like Minerva.”

As executive director, Ms. Perez also will focus on educating the Latino community about immigration and worker safety. Back when she was volunteering with OLA in 2008, she also directed and produced the only Spanish language “Vagina Monologues” performance on the East End, which she said she hopes to do again, as well as to continue to expand the Latino film festival.

Previously, Ms. Sepulveda had been “trying to do everything” for OLA, she said. “I can see the future of OLA growing, becoming a more professional not-for-profit and going to a higher level,” she said.

“We cover everything for the Latino community, and she really cares—I mean, that to me is the most important thing” she said of Ms. Perez.

Spanish-speaking communities on the East End need more representation, says new director of OLA

February 10, 2016     by Katie Blasl 

Though the East End’s Latino population has grown explosively over the past decade, you wouldn’t know it by looking at the boards of local governments, which do not count a single Latino member among them.

That’s just one of the issues Minerva Perez hopes to address as the new executive director of Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, a non-profit organization that promotes education, the arts and advocacy for the East End’s Latino communities.

“We’re here, and we need some equal representation,” Perez said in an interview yesterday.

Former director of the East Hampton-based domestic violence shelter, the Retreat, Minerva Perez is taking over OLA as its first full-time director. Courtesy photo.

She is the first full-time dedicated director of the organization, which was founded in 2002. It has so far focused most of its efforts on the South Fork and is especially known for holding an annual Latino film festival in Water Mill, but Perez hopes to expand OLA’s advocacy efforts as well as the organization’s presence on the North Fork.

Unifying the Latino communities across the East End, she says, will allow them to speak with a single, clear voice to express their needs – both in the community and in local government.

“If we can’t show that kind of solidarity, we are not going to get what we need, which is, very simply, some equal representation,” she said.

Immigrants on the East End hail from a diverse variety of Central and South American countries, and Perez hopes to use that diversity to strengthen the local Spanish-speaking communities rather than divide them.

“There is so much that is being offered, all the riches of these very specific cultures – whether it’s Columbian or Ecuadorian or Chilean – that unifying this Spanish-speaking population is key to helping raise the whole ship,” she said.

She expressed disappointment with the lack of Latino representatives in local government, both as elected officials and appointed positions. “We’ve got a whole array of experiences to bring to the table,” Perez said. “We have all these folks here doing great work. We’ve got very successful business owners, and we’ve got new immigrants to this area. They need to have a voice.”

One of her first priorities as director of OLA will be to map out the needs of the local communities the organization serves.

“There are so many different aspects to the Latino community,” she said. “It’s not all about immigration and overcrowded housing and 7-Elevens.”

Perez is reaching out to local officials and community leaders to get a better sense of what those needs are and what work is being done to meet them. She sat down with Sister Margaret Smyth, who runs the North Fork Spanish Apostolate in Riverhead, for almost two hours yesterday to discuss the Riverhead Latino community.

“We don’t have any desire to reinvent the wheel,” Perez said. “Rather, we’d like to work with these existing organizations and groups that are already doing such amazing work and see where we can add to that conversation.”

One of the ways OLA has brought the Latino community together on the South Fork is through its annual film festival, which will be held again this fall, along with numerous other performances and art events. Before Perez became director of OLA, she worked with the organization to direct a Spanish-language production of the Vagina Monologues on the South Fork, which was “crazily well received” with more than 150 people in attendance.

“Celebrating these things is what starts raising everything up,” she said. “If all you do is focus on the fight, then you kind of forget what you’re fighting for.”

OLA also holds seminars and panels aimed toward Hispanic residents on topics like immigration, computer literacy, legal education and entrepreneurship. Perez hopes to involve the North Fork in some of those educational events this year.

The OLA Film Festival returns to the Hamptons to present three films over three days at the Parrish Art Museum. Presented by Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, the 10th annual edition opens on Friday with a screening and live music performed by Mambo Loco. The festival continues with a single screening held on Saturday and Sunday. The OLA Film Festival is designed to reveal Latin American culture by presenting well-crafted documentaries and films.

On Friday, the OLA Film Festival begins at 5 p.m. with a screening of the Oscar-winning documentary “Inocente. Following the 40-minute film, live music by Mambo Loco takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. on the Mildred C. Brinn Terrace. Visitors can bring chairs or blankets. Food and drink is available for purchase from the Café by Art of Eating.

Mambo Loco is steeped in the classic music of Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican. Their concerts present the “the best of ‘old school’ Latin and Latin Jazz music,” according to The Parrish. Mambo Loco features Larry Belford (drums and lead vocals), Alfredo Gonzalez (trombone, violin, percussion, and vocals), Bill Smith (piano, melodica, and vocals) and Wayne Burgess (bass and vocals).

“I know them for years and they are very well received” said Isabel Sepulveda, founder and president of OLA. “That is why I proposed them for the Parrish. People always enjoy dancing to their music.”


OLA Film Festival Returns to Parrish

September 12, 2013     By HamptonsArtHub Staff

Mambo Loco.

The film festival continues on Saturday at 3 p.m. with “Tanta Agua,” a narrative film from Uruguay. The final screening takes place on Sunday at 3 p.m. with the Chilean documentary “Salvador Allende.”

“The films presented at OLA are always impressive, thought-provoking, and award-winning,” stated Andrea Grover, Curator for Special Events for The Parrish Art Museum. “Like the kickoff title, "Inocente," which won Best Short Documentary at the 2013 Oscars and tells the real-life story of a Mexican-born, homeless teenager who finds solace in painting. We are especially proud to be celebrating 10 years of OLA with the festival's founder and curator, Isabel Sepulveda.”

Directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, “Inocente” documents the coming-of-age story of a young woman’s drive to overcome the severity of her surroundings. Inocente is a 15-year-old immigrant, homeless and undocumented, who refuses to give up her dream of becoming an artist. Told entirely in her own words, the film meets Inocente at a turning point, when she decides for the first time to take control of her own destiny.

Irreverent, flawed, and funny, the young artist channels her irrepressible personality into a future she controls. Her talent has been noticed, and if she can create a body of work in time, she has an opportunity to put on her first art exhibition. “Inocente” is both a timeless story about the transformative power of art and a timely snapshot of homelessness in America.

“Tanta Agua,” directed by Ana Guevara and Leticia Jorge, tells the story of an ill-fated family holiday. Alberto has not been able to spend much time with his children Lucia and Federico since his divorce, so he decides to take them to a hot springs for a short vacation. But when they arrive at their rented cabin they learn that the pools have closed until further notice because of thunderstorms.

Alberto tries to remain enthusiastic, but moods inevitably turn sour as the rain keeps falling and the walls seem to be closing in. When Lucia meets friends her age, equally bored at the rained-out resort, her vacation starts looking up, but her adolescent rebellion clashes with her father's enthusiastic efforts to have some quality family time.

Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán is one of the international film world’s most acclaimed documentarians. In “Salvador Allende,” he turns to the life of a controversial leader, whose overthrow by an American-backed military destroyed not only his dream of Chilean socialism, but the lives of many of his supporters.

On November 4, 1970, Allende was elected president of Chile and committed himself to the socialist transformation of his country. Three years later, he was deposed by a right-wing coup led by Augusto Pinochet, and he committed suicide before being taken prisoner. His country faced two decades of military-led dictatorship, and his followers faced repression, exile, or death. "Salvador Allende marked my life," Guzmán says in this heartfelt work. "I will never forget.”

“Salvador Allende” holds personal importance to Sepulveda, OLA’s founder and president.

“The Sunday movie is really important for me, because it follows the life of Salvador Allende, the democratic socialist president elected in Chile in 1970, who was overthrown thanks to the involvement of the CIA and Nixon and Kissinger pouring in money to create chaos there,” she wrote.

The Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island presents the 11th annual OLA Latino Film Festival, a dynamic weekend showcase of acclaimed and award-winning recent Latino cinema for a broad audience. Screenings will take place in the Lichtenstein Theater.

Set in Santiago, Chile, Gloria tells the unapologetically frank story of a free-spirited middle aged divorcee’s whirlwind relationship with a former naval officer. 

The film depicts with great realism life in modern day Chile, addressing how gender roles and family life have—and have not—changed despite sexual liberation, consumerism, and capitalism. Gloria was awarded Best Film in the San Sebastian International Film Festival and the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival. Paulina Garcia, in the title role, won two awards for best actress (Hawaii International Film Festival and 63rd Berlin International Film Festival).

Una historia ambientada en Santiago y se centra en Gloria, una mujer mayor de espíritu libre, y la realidad de su relación torbellino con un ex oficial de la Marina quien conoce a cabo en los clubes. 

Esta película retrata la vida cotidiana de Gloria, un chileno promedio se divorció 50-algo mujer. La trama, como tal, no puede parecer emocionante o innovadores al principio, pero el personaje de Gloria lo compensa todo. Se nos invita a compartir la forma en que Gloria se enfrenta a diferentes situaciones de su vida, y estamos impresionados por su pasión, sentido del humor y la independencia. Se puede estar diciendo que incluso varios días después de ver la película me encuentro pensando en Gloria y sonriente. Un retrato honesto que funciona sin problemas gracias al excelente actuación del personaje principal y la combinación adecuada de los paisajes y la banda sonora. Muy recomendable.

Director: Sebastián Lelio

Writers: Sebastián Lelio (screenplay) and Gonzalo Maza (screenplay)

Starring Paulina García, Sergio Hernández, Diego Fontecilla | See full cast and crew 

R, 1hr. 10 min.

Featured Films

Friday, September 12, Pescador; Dir. Sebastian Cordero (Ecuador, 2012) 96 min

Saturday, September 13, 7 Cajas, Dir. Juan Carlos Maneglia, Tana Schembori (USA, 2014) 100 min

Sunday, September 14, Gloria, Dir. Sebastián Lelio (Chile) 70 min

The Museum's programs are made possible, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the property taxpayers from the Southampton School District and the Tuckahoe Common School District. 

Friday Nights are made possible, in part, by the generous support of The Corcoran Group. Public Funding provided by Suffolk County.