INDEPENDENCE — When Kevin Salvador Alejandrez took the reins of Independence’s Latino outreach program on Sept. 2, he wasn’t quite sure where he would take the program.
“It’s still kind of iffy I think,” he said. “I think right now what I’m planning on is taking what Elizabeth Calixtro (his predecessor) has left behind and make sure that keeps going.”
His first priority is making sure projects that got started under Calixtro don’t fade away.
“After I get a little more organized and more situated with what I’m doing with past projects, then I can start implementing new ideas and new projects to better incorporate the Latino community,” said Alejandrez, 20.
Latinos represent the largest ethnic minority in Independence, comprising 35.5 percent of the population, according to the city’s website. Of that, 93 percent are of Mexican descent who have lived in the area for various generations. A little more than 30 percent of students in Central School District speak Spanish as their first language.
It was these numbers that first spurred the city to start a Latino outreach program earlier this year.
Calixtro, who left the position as the city’s Latino outreach intern in August, started monthly round-table discussions and an annual Festival Informativo to get started connecting the Latino community with local resources available to them.
Alejandrez said he was impressed with the first Festival Informativo held May 4 and looks forward to continuing that event.
The round-table discussions also are useful, he said.
“I really like the idea behind the round-table discussions, having people come in and talk and build a community, at the same time, networking and collaborating with different organizations,” Alejandrez said.
A long-time resident of Independence, Alejandrez said he also is looking forward to meeting more people in his hometown.
“It’s exciting to formally interview them and see what it is they want or feel like the community needs here,” he said.
Alejandrez and his family moved to Independence when he was 10 and starting sixth grade. He graduated from Central High School in 2012 and attends Western Oregon University.
Now in his junior year at WOU, it was at the college that he began his community involvement.
“I decided I wanted to do some community organizing, and when I saw this internship I decided to go for it,” Alejandrez said.
He said there is work to be done to reach out to the Latino community in Independence.
“The city does a great job with its community in general,” Alejandrez said. “Anywhere you go in any city or town, there’s always something that can be improved. Growing up in Independence, even though the relationship is not strained, it can definitely be improved.”
So far, the work that has been done is just starting to make a difference, but will take time, he added.
“It’s been less than a year,” Alejandrez noted. “I think it takes longer than just a few months to start really seeing change. … But I think you can definitely start seeing glimpses of it.”
Polk County Itemizer-Observer
by Emily Mentzer