City hosts state Latino convention
The deep religious underpinnings of Latino culture came to the forefront in the opening ceremony of the second annual Pennsylvania Latino Convention held at Bethlehem city hall Oct. 29.
Prayer, music and dancing were foremost on the evening’s agenda, as speakers welcomed delegates, and invocations and calls for unity were voiced by local religious leaders heading into the three-day event.
The Rev. Dr. Gregory J. Edwards underscored the need for unity as he called upon Divine guidance to help the delegates to the convention do their work in a “nation yet to be united because of this deep divide.
“Those founding documents and the statements therein, we have yet to actually substantiate: one nation under god, liberty and truth, and justice for all,” proclaimed Edwards in tones reminiscent of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s oratory.
He prayed that national leaders have a “spirit of humility and excellence” and to fight “injustice in all of its many forms.
“Give us legislators who do justice, love mercy and want to do right by all the people. “We pray for those who are suffering at the border because of unjust legislation. You are not a God that builds walls, but you are a God that builds bridges,” said Rev. Edwards.
Norman Bristol Colón, founder and chairman of the Pennsylvania Latino Convention, echoed the theme set by the pastors.
“Our basic roots – our spirit, is our conviction that through our Lord is the only way things happen,” said Colón. “Every time a Latino is suffering, he goes down on his knees and prays.
“We have many broken Latino communities across this state and across this nation. When you are part of something bigger than yourself, bigger than your struggles and sacrifices you know – you know the best days are always ahead.”
Colón took a more humorous tack with his audience when he reminded them that, “Spanish is the language of God,” apparently a reference to the Pope being Latino.
Then he turned to history. “Spanish was the first language spoken in what is now the United States.” (St. Augustine in Florida was established as a Spanish fort in 1565, the first permanent settlement in what would become the United States. That was 42 years before the English founded Jamestown in Virginia.)
He turned to demographics as he predicted that in 100 years, “Spanish will be the number-one language spoken in the United States.”
City of Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez said, “Latinos represent 30 percent of our population.” He said their importance to the community “cannot be over- emphasized” and praised their “dedication to faith, family and community.”
Donchez urged the Latino community to participate in the 2020 census because, “We felt Bethlehem was undercounted by 10,000 people” in the last census.
Easton City Mayor Sal Panto welcomed the delegates, saying, “We grow out of diversity.”
Panto also urged Latinos to apply for work with the City of Easton; “We are recruiting Latinos for our workforce.”
Music was provided by the group, Herencia Jibara, and, for a few minutes, dancers swirled around the wood-paneled and carpeted city hall meeting room.
On the following day began the planned three-day convention held in the Hotel Bethlehem, featuring prominent speakers who addressed “cornerstone issues” of PA’s Latino community: Census 2020, education, economic development, leadership development, health, civic engagement, diversity and inclusion, criminal justice reform, mental health, faith-based leadership development, housing trauma care, and immigration.
“Give us legislators who do justice, love mercy and want to do right by all the people,” said Rev. Edwards.