Voice for Latinos in Long Island Reaches Across Cultural Divide
Updated: May 1, 2022
By EMILY J. WEITZ
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.”