Fighting For Hispanic Immigrants
Centro Hispano “Cuzcatlan”
By Jeff Feinman
Centro Hispano “Cuzcatlán” has been aiding Hispanic immigrants in a variety of ways since 1998. The small office on Hillside Avenue in Jamaica has warmly embraced thousands of newcomers to America, helping them smooth out the difficulties that they may encounter during their transition into a new country. The organization provides information on obtaining resident status and United States citizenship and encourages those who are citizens to register to vote.
“Our main purpose is improving the quality of life within the Hispanic community,” said Centro Hispano Treasurer and Co-Founder Eduardo Barahona. “We work on immigration cases and defend immigrant rights.”
In 2004, Centro Hispano was recognized for their dedication to the immigrant community when they received a Union Square Award, which is given once a year to individuals and organizations that are committed to protecting social justice and human rights.
One of the main areas where Centro Hispano helps to defend immigrants is housing issues. Barahona said that he and volunteers from the organization have formed a campaign that works on making affordable housing available to low income Hispanic workers and their families.
One of the larger successes that Centro Hispano has had since its inception was a housing campaign set up to counter a landlord from Zara Realty, who had been cited in a number of harassment complaints by tenants. When the organization got involved, complaints lessened by nearly 70 percent, Barahona said.
The workplace is another frequent ground where the organization aids Hispanic immigrants, defending them in cases of labor abuse. Centro Hispano frequently works with the Department of Labor, and has been victorious on many occasions in obtaining proper amends for mistreated workers.
UNITED AND STRONG
Not only does the organization help immigrants acquire resident status and citizenship, but volunteers also focus on strengthening community ties. There is a youth program that teaches children about the functions of the organization and trains them on computers. Centro Hispano has also done a fair amount with nearby Rufus King Park on 150th Street and 89th Avenue, including cleanup and beautification efforts. The park is a central location of sorts for Centro Hispano to help draw in people from the Jamaica area.
“The purpose of these events is to organize the community,” Barahona said. “We want these community events to involve the people that live in the buildings around the park, and that includes new and old residents, and the black and Pakistani communities.”
In December, volunteers and community members gathered in Rufus King Park for their second annual Christmas tree lighting. Councilman James Gennarro (D-Flushing) and other local officials attended the tree lighting, which was followed by a reception in Mary Immaculate Hospital. Centro Hispano members also gave out toys to young patients in the hospital.
Centro Hispano is currently in the midst of many different campaigns to defend immigrant rights. According to Barahona, the government believes that there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. There have been many efforts by different branches of government, he said, to counter undocumented immigrants, with proposals ranging from criminal charges to taking away citizenship rights of babies born to immigrant parents on American soil.
Among other political actions, Cuzcatlán is lobbying to ensure that babies born in this country, no matter the status of the parent’s documentation, remain American citizens.