Sunday, December 02, 2001

Tips aid Latinos' move

Spanish-speaking residents get advice on easing adjustment

By Denise Smith Amos
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        By night Victor Velez plays conga for the regional group Latin X-Posure. By day, he's beating a different drum.

        He is executive director of Awareness for Latinos Arriving in the States, which is devoted to helping Spanish-speaking immigrants. In Spanish, alas means “wings,” which calls to mind a bird, a symbol of migration, Mr. Velez said.


Complete coverage in our special section.
        ALAS' new office is in Princeton High School, in an area where large numbers of Latin immigrants have settled recently.

        ALAS is a small group of volunteers and board members, including an immigration lawyer, a police officer, employers, a medical doctor, a college representative and a tax expert, he said.

        “One side of the coin for ALAS is to help families adjust to their new environment,” he said.

        “But it also educates institutions and agencies about the history of our culture.”

        Recently, Mr. Velez gave a talk to the Woman's City Club about the history of Latinos in the Americas.

        He picked tidbits his mostly non-Hispanic audience would appreciate.

        He told them Colorado was named after the Spanish word for “red” because of the reddish color of its hills.

        “I had to cram 400 to 500 years into one speech,” he said. “We wanted to show that the increase of Latinos to Cincinnati might be new now, but for our country it has been an influence for more than 400 years.”

        Most of ALAS' mission, though, is helping Spanish-speakers get the lingual and literal lay of the land. Some of the group's programs:

        • Noche de Familia: “Family night” to counteract isolation new immigrants feel. The next one is Dec. 15, at Princeton High, 11080 Chester Road.

        • Adult Development Accompanying Program: a six-week intensive orientation for as many as five families at a time that helps parents think beyond working entry-level jobs.

        • Informate: get-informed workshops on the essentials of American and Tristate life.

        • Youth Education Support program; Latinos Unidos, the first Hispanic club at Princeton High, and mentoring for girls, to counteract higher-than-average dropout rates,

        Mr. Velez, 45, says he was raised for this work. “I grew up in New York City, on the eighth floor of the projects, but I saw the Statue of Liberty from my window. I grew up near Ellis Island,” he said. He has lived in the Tristate since 1994.


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