Executive Director of the Ohio Latino Affairs Commission Lilleana Cavanaugh encouraged students to question the narrative of the Ohio Hispanic community that is presented by the media and public opinion.
During the fourth event of the 90 Minutes Series, Cavanaugh explained her role and why the Hispanic community will become increasingly important in the state. She said that since the amount of eligible Hispanic voters this year in the next election — expected to be about 27.3 million — is so high, civic education for “new Americans” is an important part of her job.
“Part of the work that we’re doing in our commission is to educate the Hispanic community to help them understand that their vote matters, that civic engagement is a very crucial part of being a good American,” Cavanaugh said.
She also stressed the importance of cultural competency and representation for not only Hispanics, but other ethnic groups. Ohio has large Asian and Pacific Islander, African immigrant and refugee communities that are an important part of the state’s diversity. However, she noted that while refugees face unique problems when entering America, they have access to federal programs to support their entry that other immigrants do not.
“As we are growing as new American communities, we are becoming the new fabric of the state,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s very important that people in policy and government understand that we matter as well, because the majority are here not as transient people, but are here to stay.”
Cavanaugh said that while she did not originally plan to have a role in the government, she saw public service as the only way to create real change.
“Unless you involve yourself on a policy level, change will not be constant,” she said. “My job is an opportunity to create bridges of understanding.”
According to Cavanaugh, some of the main issues facing the Hispanic community today are skewed perceptions from the public, access to health care, education and work opportunities, as well as adjusting to a new community. She described the situation some immigrants face as “third-world country needs…in a first-world environment.”
In response to controversial statements about Latinos and immigration made by Donald Trump on the campaign trail this election cycle, Cavanaugh said she sees the remarks as an opportunity to present a different frame of reference.
“It is true that a lot of the narrative out there is not fair, yet it touches very important nerves on insecurity of our nation,” Cavanaugh said. “It is setting up a beautiful stage for us to discuss and present other points of view from those trying to tear us apart.”
Cavanaugh said there are strong arguments as to why people feel certain ways about minority communities, and she respects their opinions. The important part, she said, is that there is open dialogue between groups.
“The important thing is that everyone does their homework and makes the best decision they can make,” Cavanaugh said.
Junior Cristina Sicard, who is studying journalism and has a minor in Spanish, moderated the discussion. She said she was excited to speak with Cavanaugh because the issues she addressed were relevant to the current political climate.
“With the election coming up and because I have a Spanish background, I thought it would be an awesome conversation to have,” Sicard said. “I felt empowered to share it with everyone.”