Iván Parra

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In Hetali Lodaya's interview with Ivan Parra, Parra discusses his background in community organizing beginning in Colombia, and his subsequent move to the United States. He tells how he applied community organizing techniques learned in Colombia to an AmeriCorps position at El Centro Hispano. They also discuss the value of relational community organizing, in particular the importance of those relationships in the eventual founding of the Latino Community Credit Union. This transitioned into the founding of the North Carolina Latino Coalition, and they again discuss the importance of reaching beyond the Latino community to do advocacy work, especially in the increasingly fraught political and economic climate of the past several years in North Carolina. Parra does not see a generational gap in advocacy work, but thinks that the energy of the youth should be combined with the strategy and experience of those who are older. He feels that an emphasis on voting and on grassroots organizing are both equally important to advocacy work. A focus on electoral concerns and a strengthening of relationships with other allies will both be necessary to the continued success of advocacy work in North Carolina.



Hetali Lodaya: This is Hetali Lodaya. It’s April 21st, 2014. I’m speaking with Ivan Parra the Executive Director of the North Carolina Latino Coalition, and the lead organizer for Durham CAN, Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods, at the Unitarian Universalist church in Durham, North Carolina. So we’ll begin, if you can tell us about how you came to the United States?
Ivan Parra: Yeah, I was born in Colombia, in South America, and once I finished studying to be a family therapist, I went to do my internship in a local project run by the Catholic and Epsicop-Catholic and Episcopalian churches, and happened to meet my wife while I was there. She was volunteering, she was trying to learn Spanish, and we met, and then we decided to come to the United States, because she had a sister at the time living in North Carolina.
HL: Coming to the United States, was there a particular reason that you wanted to come, or that you took that opportunity?
IP: No, it was based on the relationship with my family, trying to come to be in the culture of my wife, and trying to meet the family and just learn about a new country.
HL: Did you ever consider going back to Colombia, or once you came, you knew you were going to stay?
IP: Well, the very beginning stages, I think for every immigrant that comes into the United States, are very hard, so, if you were to ask me that same question the first six months that I was here, I would tell you that definitely, I want to go back. As time passes, it’s been close to twenty years, and so now I consider North Carolina my home. And you know I miss my country, my friends, my family, my food, all that, but this is now where I live, and I don’t consider going back as I did when I came.
HL: Can you give some background on how you first became involved with Latino advocacy and community organizing?
IP: Yes, I was looking for a job and had the good fortune of connecting with a lady at Catholic Charities, her name is Sue Gilbertson. She invited me to apply for an AmeriCorps position with her office, and she was one of the co-founders of El Centro Hispano. And about two weeks after I started working with her office, she invited me to come to a meeting where there was a discussion about the future of El Centro. El Centro had been in operation for about a year and a half to two years, they had a number of activities going on, but they had very little participation from the Latino community, and it was mostly run by local folks from Durham. They wanted more participation from the Latino community, and they were discussing the possibility of closing the organization because of the lack of participation of Latinos. I was sitting there, I didn’t speak very good English, I didn’t understand very much what was going on, and I was volunteered to be the Executive Director, to get the Latino community to come, and that’s why-how I got involved. That’s how I got my-my first job, I became the Executive Director, which was a non-paid position, it was the secretary, the director, the grant writer, the translator, everything. Yeah, that’s how I got connected.
HL: If you could talk a little bit more about when you first realized what-what they were asking you to do, what it meant that you were being made Executive Director. Is there a reason that you said, ok, I guess this is something that-that I can do? Some people would say, you know, no, this is too much-
IP: Yeah.
HL: Why did you decide to do it?
IP: Well, the funny part of the story is that I didn’t understand what they were asking of me. I asked, what did-what did you guys say, because I knew that they were saying something about me, and I was told, I will tell you later. And so after the meeting I learned that I was going to be doing basically what I had been doing, with the-with Catholic charities, but at that office. I later came to realize that where I was volunteering, it was an office that was designed for counseling services, and it was always very well arranged and organized, and I was inviting lots of Latinos to come for English classes on a weekly basis, and I was getting donations to their families and things like that, so I was creating a little bit of confusion and chaos in that counseling office. So it was a convenient move to send me to do that work at the-at the-basically at the basement of that church, where the Centro was located. So I learned about what was asked later on.
HL: You said that you trained in family therapy-
IP: Right.
HL: in Colombia, so, did you try to find that kind of work when you came to the US?
IP: No, I was-I went to do my internship on that, on a project working with very poor people in Colombia, and as I was trying to apply what I had learned at school, I realized that none of what I had learned was very useful because of the conditions in which people lived at that time, and that I needed to do something that would be more systemic, and larger in scope. I asked, and I was told that perhaps I would be interested in community organizing, but I really didn’t know a whole lot about it, I just knew it was something you would do to create systemic change, and it was based on relationships, and I spent about a year and a half in Colombia doing lots of relationship meetings, in home, with families that were connected with the project, and helping them, and things like that. But it was only until later on when I was at El Centro Hispano that I realized that there was a direct application between those two things.
HL: So I’ve read some on the website about this idea-this very particular model of relational community organizing, if there’s anything that you want to add to what’s on there about what it is or why it should be used?
IP: Sure.
HL: Feel free.
IP: Sure, so broadly, there’s at least two ways of approaching community organizing. One is about working on issues that are important or critical or they’re-they’re hot, they’re in the paper, a lot of-they’re kind of urgent, and it’s an approach that tends to mobilize people around the urgency of a specific issue. The approach that I use for community organizing is called relational community organizing, which is based on the building of relationships and working around issues that tend to change over time, but expanding the network of people. Because you have a relationship, then you can organize or you can move that community multiple times for multiple interests, rather than just one time for the issue that is important at a given moment. So that’s the kind of organizing that I-that I do.
HL: You said that you saw when you started at El Centro Hispano, connections between the work that you had done in Colombia and the work here. Can you describe that?
IP: Yeah, the Latino community was very small at the time, but first generation immigrants, mostly from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras. And coming here, looking for work, mostly-many of them recruited in their home country to work on agriculture and end up staying here doing jobs in construction and other things. Mostly again, first generation, monolingual in Spanish, very disconnected from resources or information, lacked-great deal of lack of understanding about how the system worked, lots of problems with discrimination and people taking advantage of them. I started my job very similar to what I did in Colombia, which was building relationships with a lot of them. I didn’t have a specific goal, I was trying to figure out what was important to them, and at first I did quite a lot of services related to getting them connections with jobs, or with appointments or with information from attorneys and things like that. It wasn’t until later, about two or three years later, that I started to organize or be-be able to move that community. It happened almost as a coincidence. I was working with other AmeriCorps volunteers that we were able to hire for the organization and there were a number of reports of home invasions, and crimes going on in the community, and we were curious about the situation, and we passed a flyer, we actually made thirty copies and distributed in different places, and asked people to come and share their thoughts about what was going on. Three hundred and fifty people showed up.
HL: Wow.
IP: The-somebody alerted the media, the media called the mayor’s office, the mayor called the police chief. That night we had three hundred and fifty people, we had all the members of city council, we had all the media including radio, newspaper, you name it, we had it.
HL: And this was in what year?
IP: That was ’96 or ‘97. I was in the middle of it, and I was supposed to figure out what to do, and we even got foundations calling us telling us that they were so interested in the kind of work and organizing that we were doing and how effective we were at getting all the stakeholders together. And we just passed a flyer in the community. It became very important for me and for the others that were there to really learn about what we were doing. So as a result of many of those meetings that we had, because we had about four, five of those meetings – we were able to help with the creation of a police substation. That was the origin of the Latino Community Credit Union, that was the beginning of the English as a Second Language registration center that we later opened with the public schools, and a number of negotiations with banks over services for undocumented immigrants in the community. So basically what became-what started as a coincidence, and kind of a very interesting situation where all these-all these people aligned in the same place for different reasons, not organized by us, it became a very important place for us to learn how to replicate that and how to utilize the power-not utilize, but how to how to gain changes as a result of the power of so many people coming together. What at the beginning was not arranged by us became something that-became kind of the job, trying to organize hundreds of people to be able to negotiate something with decision makers. Because we saw the power of doing that.
HL: Looking back on that coincidence, do you have any thoughts about what it is that brought all those people-what you did that worked even if you weren’t expecting it to?
IP: It was that they had a very strong trust and relationships with the center. They really believed that that was a place and those of us that worked there really had their interests-that was the first thing that was important to us. And we had all those relationships that would move to get to that common goal, or that common meeting, and that’s what-that’s what was important. So a learning for people that are doing this kind of work is not so much the great idea that you have, because we didn’t have any idea. We just had a lot of relationships, and that resulted in about three hundred and fifty people coming together. There were a number of very fortunate coincidences. The fact that the media got involved, and the elected officials showed up, and the police really wanted to at all costs-they wanted to make sure that this issue wouldn’t get to the paper and that it would be resolved real quick. So it created a lot of tension, because there was that tension. The paper really continued to cover and cover and we had NPR and the newspapers kind of camping outside our small community center waiting for the next meeting and waiting for the next situation to happen. But it was based on the kind of trust and relationships that we were able to build.
HL: Absolutely. You mentioned one issue that the community raised in particular that then became a program, the founding of the credit union. I’d love if you could expand on that story and just talk about how that came up and what went into making that a reality.
IP: Sure. So we were-were having the first meetings, at that church in east Durham, there were all those folks that I mentioned, and we were trying to brainstorm about ways in which people would stop keeping money under their mattresses or in their pockets when they would get paid, and we came to realize that they didn’t have access to financial institutions. They didn’t have a safe place to put their money. We started trying to figure out what would be the best strategy within those constraints for them to-to manage their money, whether there would be a way for the employer to help them with setting up and account, and somebody suggested-from the public suggested, why don’t we create our own bank? And I remember thinking at that point, I was sitting there, and I was thinking, like, yeah right, it’s so easy, and we went on to the conversation about what would it take to do something like that, and we end up leading the conversation to having lots of meetings with banks, banks that now are fighting for the Latino market and for the market of undocumented folks. But at that time, they were not interested in serving undocumented immigrants, primarily because they didn’t know what-what would that entail, and whether that was legal, and they had a lot of questions, and some of them said to us very honestly, go talk to the Catholic church, we don’t do charity, we’re here to make money. So after having a number of those meetings, and being very frustrated with the slow reaction from the banks, we approached the credit union movement. And we approached the CEO of Self-Help Credit Union, and the CEO of the State Employees’ Credit Union. And we asked them if they would help us provide services through their credit unions for undocumented immigrants in the community, and to our surprise they said yes, but they said that they-part of their principles are related to not doing for other people, but they-they help people do for themselves. So we said what-what the heck is that, and they said, that means that if you want to have a financial institution you have to create it yourself, and we said we don’t have-we don’t know how to do it. They said, we’ll help you do it, but you have to run it. You have to own it. So we set up with this goal of trying to open a credit union, and we needed to get the regulators from the state to approve it, so within about two weeks we needed to get 500 signatures from the community, which we got without any-any problem. We needed also to apply for funding to be able to launch the credit union, to open the first office, and so we went with other friends and co-workers at the time from foundation to foundation, meeting with them and talking about the idea that we had. We were invited to apply, and in a matter of about eight months to a year, we raised about $500,000 to open the credit union. And this was-I mention the amount of money because at that time there was-the budget of El Centro was close to $200,000. And we were very stretched and very-it was very hard to maintain what we had, so for us to go to the board and to funders and to say that now we need $500,000 to create another institution, so many thought that we were-that we were crazy, that we were on drugs.
HL: I was going to ask, did you get a lot of ‘yes’s’ or a lot of ‘no’s’, when you were asking for money?
IP: We got a lot of ‘yes’s’ from foundations, but we had a lot of questions from board members and folks that were involved in the organization. They thought that we were going to sacrifice the center that we had for a dream of creating something that we didn’t know if it was-
HL: So board members of El Centro?
IP: Of El Centro. They were very concerned. Again, because we were trying to almost triple the amount of money that we had, and put it into another organization. So it was not only the amount, but it was also that it was for some-to put it someplace else, so the question was like, what about what we have, and what does this mean, and is it somebody trying to take advantage of us, and what is it that that is going to happen and who’s going to control this and so-it became very clear that this was not about controlling anything or running anything, it was about opening the door for-of financial services for thousands of people that were being victimized. It became a decision of the organization that if in that effort, we would die as an organization, then so be it, that that would be-that would be okay. Fortunately-
HL: And were the board members finally okay with that decision?
IP: Finally, yeah. Finally they agreed but it was-it was a hard process at the beginning. It was hard to convince them.
HL: Uh huh.
IP: Yeah. And I-I had, you know, a few questions myself, but I knew that the chance that we had in front of us was so important. I didn’t know at that time that all these banks would be fighting today for the same market and they would be opening their doors. But at that time we were convinced that we needed to make that happen and that’s what we did. So we got the approval from the state regulators, we got the money, we got the signatures, and we were able to launch the credit union in Durham. I don’t remember the exact year of all that, but I think it’s-
HL: I looked it up and I-
IP: 2000… 2000, I think. And the year 2000 was the inauguration I think. So took us quite a lot of time to get there.
HL: And what-what was it that convinced you and some of the others staff that this was worth fighting for, that this was worth pushing against some of the question that you had, to make it happen?
IP: The-there were two things. The number of people that were being killed for having five dollars in their pocket. That was-that really seemed to me [pause] crazy proposition for the United States in this time and day. The other one was the potential for the vast amount of change that that could create if we were to be successful. It was hard-it was going to require a lot of work, but there was the promise if we were successful, we were really going to change history in North Carolina, and I think in a way that-that happened as a result of that effort. And so we took the risk and we did. Yeah.
HL: Sure. Moving forward a little bit, can you speak to the founding of the North Carolina Latino Coalition, why-
IP: Sure.
HL: there was a need for that organization?
IP: So the Latino Community Credit Union had started to grow very fast in Durham, started to grow at about 400 people every month, and it became I think the fastest growing credit union in the United States, and other communities outside of Durham started calling us and saying that they really wanted to have a credit union, like the one we had in Durham. But the field of membership for the credit union was El Centro, so it was-the local organization was the field of membership. Because at first we imagined a credit union just for Durham. We were not thinking that it would be a credit union for the state. That created the need for expanding the field of membership. So it was either creating-going out and building all these Centros in other places, or creating an organization that would serve as the state wide-a state wide organization that would serve as the field of membership for the credit union. So we decided to launch the North Carolina Latino Coalition as a way of creating that network. And I already had a passion for community organizing, so my only request was that I would apply for that job, and if I would get it, I would build a network of Latino organizations, which would serve the interests of the Latino credit union, but I-if I would be able to do community organizing. With them. That was my only interest, because I was not interested in being a credit union manager or financial person, that’s not my skill or what I love doing. And so I applied for the job, they interviewed me, I had the relationships and the skills at the time that they considered that they-like I could do the job. And I became the first director of the North Carolina Latino Coalition. And the concept was very simple, was to create a network of organizations in which we would provide technical assistance and support to organizations in exchange for the relationship and their participation in creating something larger that we could use to push for change at the state wide level. And so if I am an executive director of a local organization or the priest of a church someplace in North Carolina, I would receive technical assistance and support, but in exchange I would participate in the statewide meetings with others that had the same interests, to discuss about-to discuss things that were impacting the Latino community statewide, to figure out what kind of things we could do together that we couldn’t do alone.
HL: So you said that when the union was-when the credit union was founded a big issue was just this fact that there was no institution for people to go to, and that lack in a financial sense was affecting a lot of the other things. Over the years, have the issues or the focus areas in your mind that are most pressing changed that advocates across the state need to be focusing on?
IP: Yes, so there’s now, as a result of that work and so many other changes, people have access to most financial services. There’s a number of things that still they don’t have, and related to other public policy issues, so we make the distinction between immigration reform and policies that impact immigrant families. So immigration reform is-it’s comprehensive, it takes place at the national level and that’s very important to immigrant families, but even if we were to achieve immigration reform right now, and those eleven to fourteen million people that are undocumented in the United States were able to get their documents, there still would be-they would still face barriers and challenges as it relates to accomplishing this same level of services or access to opportunities that other people have in the united states. So there’s a lot of policies at the local, regional, state and federal level that really impact the quality of life of families, and so access to healthcare, good education, good opportunities for employment, opportunities for better relationships with law enforcement agents, you know, you name it, things that are related to access to decent housing where a landlord doesn’t take advantage of you because you don’t understand your rights or speak the language, all those things are really necessary for the community to-to thrive and to have good opportunities. And so we pay attention, in the North Carolina Latino Coalition, we pay attention to those two levels. In the past we have worked to try to convince our elected officials, Republican and Democrat, to support comprehensive immigration reform, because we think it’s important for this country for many reasons, but we also have worked at the local level to try to change local policies. In some-with some degree of success, and that has happened because, again, the opportunity of people coming together, sharing their ideas, creating a plan, and going and trying to do something together that they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.
HL: Sure. We’ve seen a lot of change in North Carolina in the past couple years, at the state legislature level, ripple effects of national policies and programs and things like that have been passed. Has that at all changed the way that you all do advocacy work? Talking about the strategy of relational community organizing, has it changed the way that you do that?
IP: Not so much that, but it has complicated or made things a little more complex as the community grows, and as we have more and different interests. We-it’s not only about organizing Latinos and connecting thousands of Latinos to participate on something. We have worked on get out the vote, or meetings with members of Congress or with the secretary of health where we have had thousands of people who participate, but it’s about how we build alliances with other folks from other systems, representing other sectors. So we have been more strategic about building relationships with bishops, and religious executives from different denominations, with businesses, that sometimes are not that open about their support for immigrants and immigration reform, although they would tell you in private that they would want it, and they need it, but they sometimes are not in this state as public as we would like. So building those relationships, also with labor unions, with any other group that supports the interests of our community, is not just about building of power and relationships among Latinos, because that’s not enough. That’s not-that provides us some leverage and some possibility of change, but for the kind of things that we need we really need a larger punch, we need relationships with other sectors-so that has changed. It used to be that we were just concentrating on organizing our own community. Now we’re being more and more strategic in getting those relationships from outside.
HL: And is there ever pushback about that, are there people that think that Latino organizers should just be sticking to working in the Latino community?
IP: Some, some because [pause] there’s sometimes the thought that that’s what you should do and how you should do it. Luckily the model of organizing that we use calls for building of power through connections with all kinds of groups. So within our own network we don’t have that push, but I have heard from the outside that-things like, you’re corrupting the work, or you know, contaminating or something like that, but it’s not that often that we hear that.
HL: And I know that you’ve mentioned multiple times working with the religious community in particular, and the work that you do locally with Durham CAN also has a focus on the religious community. Is there a reason that you think those relationships are so important or prominent in the work?
IP: Yeah, it’s about values. The values of those institutions are related to supporting the stranger or helping the poor and they’re also institutions that already have pockets of people that we can organize and that we have-we could have connections with. So it’s not like going out and trying to find 500 individuals. If we go to a church and we start working with a church we could find those 500 individuals coming to the same place and identifying themselves under the same values or the same umbrella. So instead of going one by one, it’s useful to connect with the congregations because they have values and they have pockets of people that are what we’re looking for.
HL: Sure, and touching a little bit more on the local work that you do with Durham CAN, can you contrast what it’s like to do advocacy at the local level versus at the state level through the North Carolina Latino Coalition?
IP: The principles are-the application of the principles of community organizing, it’s very similar, it’s-what’s different is that the organization is not only Latino. So the interest of the organization is-part of the interest of the organization is Latino, but in that sense we have to show as Latinos to the other groups that we support what’s important to them so they support us. So a big part of my job is not only working to train people to develop leaders to negotiate things with decision makers, but also to help educate the Latino community about issues that are perhaps not as high on their list but are important to other constituencies. And when they know that Latinos support them, they’re much more willing to support us. So it’s kind of building for the long term, and it has paid off in many occasions where there’s been situations where we have gone for trying to get funding for-that is compromised for local Latino organizations, and the larger community has come to support that-through the networks and the connections that we have-work that we have done to ensure that Latino undocumented parents can get their name to the birth certificate of their children, to make sure that there’s interpreters in the school, that they can volunteer even if they’re undocumented, to make sure that landlords don’t take advantage of-so all that sometimes requires the presence and the participation of other groups, and when what we call in organizing the targets see hundreds of Anglos and African Americans supporting something that is like, that is supposed to be only Latino, then they have-we have a greater chance of getting change faster.
HL: Sure. Are there-I just lost the question that I was going to ask in my brain. [pause] I’ve heard from more than one person that I’ve interviewed a sense of this sort of generational gap in advocacy work sometimes, that the older generation, maybe folks that first came here, a lot of them might still be undocumented, it’s harder to get them to participate in advocacy work, and there’s the up and coming younger generation of people that were born here, and undocumented youth and DREAMers and that generation, that are really vocal. Do you see that? Do you find that it’s hard to motivate parts of the community sometimes to be involved?
IP: No. But I see that the younger generation is fired up and that’s a good thing. I think what’s different is the approach that is taken. There’s a huge sense of urgency in the younger population, and if that’s connected with good strategy and good actions, then it will produce quite a lot of change, but if there’s a lot of urgency that’s connected with venting and being mad at the world, then it will likely stay like that because it doesn’t have a lot of strategy. I think a lot of adults are interested in participating. It’s just hard to find the-the right strategy sometimes when there are so many competing interests. And so you have a generation that is more cautious, more interested in-like they have done, have been there. They have tried a lot of energy out, and they have tried the same thing with the strategy, and sometimes they wait for the moment where strategy and energy are in the same-moving in the same direction, but I applaud the efforts of the DREAMers and the youngsters that are trying to do things. It would be good to connect those two, because again, when you have all that energy, and you have a lot of-when it’s based on strategy, and a good analysis of possibilities, then you have a better chance of winning. I think when I approach for organizing an adult or a youngster, I think the possibility of working with them is very similar.
HL: I would love to expand on something you said about needing strategy because there are competing interests. Can you explain a little bit more what you feel like those competing interest are, and how you figure out what the appropriate strategy is?
IP: Right, it’s like-to me, I’m a big believer that protest has a way-has a place in producing change but if that is the only strategy that is used, then it loses-it loses power and it’s quickly defeated. Most people feel good standing in the street protesting for these unfair immigration policies that exist. And people pass in their cars and they don’t even know what’s going on, and there’s a feeling that we’re trying to change the world, when in fact that’s not-that’s really-the only change that is happening is how you’re feeling in that particular moment. Nobody’s really impacted by it. Sometimes that’s connected with efforts to get the media to report on something. But if the right message doesn’t get there, then what’ll come is, five people were on the corner of so-and-so, and they were holding signs, and here we have this executive or this very powerful person that, “psshhh”, destroys everything that they’re saying. So what I’m saying is that has a place and it’s important, but it needs to be much more strategic, it needs to be much more trying to get at the table of negotiations, much more trying to propose something, much more trying to use the leverage that we have through other relationships to move public policy. Because venting our frustration is good but it needs to be-it needs to be channeled, it needs to be organized. And that’s why the younger and the older generation could learn from each other, I think. Not-again, not that I criticize their energy and their enthusiasm, but I also know that it doesn’t produce the kind of results that they want, and so people get just desperate and just give up. They just decide not to participate anymore because, you know, we’ve been in two corner protests and you see nobody pays attention to us, so therefore I’d better go do something else. And so trying to match those interests is what’s important.
HL: Sure. Talking about a specific piece of strategy, can you comment on the relationship between community organizing and working very much at a grassroots level and looking at the policy and the politics side of some of these issues? Focusing on votes, focusing on elected officials-what’s the-what do you feel like, organizing in North Carolina, what’s the balance between those two things?
IP: Those are two sides of the-of the same coin. So again, building relationships and developing leaders and connecting people and developing a plan in that community, it only gives you half of what you need if you don’t understand the context in which you’re doing the work. Who is with you, who is against you, what has been tried before, what does the media report, what’s possible, what is not possible at a given moment, what are the politics of a situation, how many votes do we need to make something happen, who’s got the power and the ability to give us what we want versus who are they going to send us? Like, when I started organizing, there were-we spent, I told you about the successful organizing, but we spent quite a number of months meeting with groups that we were sent to by politicians to talk to because they would hear our needs, and we spent hours and hours and hours talking to folks that had no ability or decision making authority over the issue that we needed. So if we only work on developing leaders and developing relationships and developing campaigns, but if we don’t understand the context in which we’re operating, we’re-we’re blind. And if we only stare at the context and just look at what’s happening but don’t talk to the people and do something then things will be exactly-so it’s right, it’s part of the same thing.
HL: And do you see the role of the North Carolina Latino Coalition in particular to do more of the grassroots and maybe someone else to do more of the working with leadership policy side of things, or is it-
IP: Both.
HL: Ok.
IP: We need to do both. We need to do both because if we don’t do that what ends up happening is that then the larger grassroots get disconnected from the tables where decisions are made. And so you have-what happens is that you develop experts and people that know-doesn’t meant that you can’t work with experts, but if they work with the community-what tends to happen is that those experts, they just go out and represent the community, and sometimes they’re in a position of cutting deals on behalf of all this group that’s in here waiting, and then that’s not-that’s not productive. What we attempt to do is try to connect both, and try to help people understand as much as possible, what’s the context, to help them do their own research, to help them figure things out before-before we work on something. Right now we’re going to be working on trying to get people to vote, so trying to-we have work on registering Latinos across the state, and we did research about how many possible Latinos are out there that could be registered, and where do they live, and we help people with the expertise about how they would do that through their organizations, and since the last election about 25,000 Latino immigrants have registered to vote that we didn’t have before. So now we’re going to try to work the same way to get them out in the next election, we’re trying to figure out that there is-we’re trying to figure out where we have leverage. So there’s going to be a very important race for the US Senate that will define a lot of the question about immigration. Republican Tom Tillis and Kay Hagan. And it’s going to be a very tight election. So yeah, we don’t have a lot of registered Latinos, but if we leverage correctly our folks, we could-we could be a decisive player in those elections. So what we’re doing is we’re trying to say to the campaign manager of Kay Hagan and Tom Tillis, hey, you have-we are a group that it’s important for you to be in negotiations with, we’d like to sit down with you and understand what you’re willing to do for our community, and to relay that to the rest of the folks so we-we have to be careful to do it in a non-partisan way, but for these folks for the first time, it’s beginning to be appealing to sit down with eight, ninety Latinos from across the state to discuss the way they’re going to support us or not. Because they think that we have a piece of the passel that’s important to them. That would not happen without a proper analysis of the context in which we operate. It wouldn’t matter how many people we had, if we don’t know exactly where to aim them, then we’re blind, so it’s both. Yeah. To make the story short.
HL: Yeah. And we’ve touched on this a little, but my last question, with your experience, what you’ve seen, the work you’ve done, this-this idea of getting a seat at the table and doing-doing work in a way that really brings results, what do you see as the future of advocacy in North Carolina? What do you think will be important, what strategies will be important, what advice would you give about how the most impact can be made?
IP: So we need to definitely show our electoral power in this state. That’s going to be critical. There’s now the realization that there’s more-that we’re a part of this community, and that there’s more and more folks that are going to be able to participate in elections. The questions that people are still asking are, are these folks really going to put me out of office or in office? And that sometimes really defines whether people are willing to do something for your community or not. So getting people to register-be registered to vote, to go out and participate in elections is going to be critical. Also, the kind of relationships and recognitions we build with allies, in the business sector and in the religious sector, will position us-it’s different when we go and meet with one of these very important targets and we go with three bishops and collectively they represent two million North Carolinians and they’re on our side. And they say, I’m the bishop of the Catholic church, and I represent these many people, and I’m the bishop of the Episcopalian church, and I represent these many people, and I’m here to make sure that justice is done with these folks. That’s-that really gives us a lot of leverage and power at tables that we wouldn’t even dream to get-to get to, if we didn’t have those relationships. So we have to cultivate and maintain and develop those relationships. We have to strengthen the organizations at the local level, because a lot of our infrastructure at the local level has been damaged by changes in the economy. Many are nonprofit or small organizations, and there’s been quite a lot of changes and financial difficulties by those groups, and that makes it harder to really organize, because we have to-it’s kind of a moving target, but if we had that part to be strong, then we would be in a better position.
HL: Sure. Do you have anything else that we didn’t talk about that you think is important?
IP: No, that’s-I think we covered a lot.
HL: Great, well thank you.
IP: Thank you.