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Senora Secretaria: Celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month

by Ann Clanton – Contributing Writer, “Speak Up”

The fastest growing group in the United States are Hispanics. They are 18.1 % of the population in the United States and 14% in Rhode Island. National Hispanic Heritage Month honors those whose heritage is rooted in Latin American countries. It is celebrated from September 15th to October 15th in 2020.

In Rhode Island, the influence is evident in the number of Latino/Latina elected officials and those working in government. Perhaps the most influential and recognizable is Rhode Island is the RI Secretary of State, Nellie Gorbea.

Sworn in in January 2015, Gorbea became the first Latina elected to statewide office in New England. Secretary of State Gorbea is known for her policies to increase access to registering to vote and early voting, however, little is known about Secretary Gorbea’s interest outside of the State House.

Last month we caught a glimpse of the Secretary’s personal interests when she tweeted out a photo of herself riding a cherry red motorcycle. During my interview with the Secretary, Gorbea took special note to assure me that she obeys the speed limit and the rules of the road.

Understanding the power of the platform that she has, Secretary Gorbea is mindful of her responsibility to share lessons learned and effective ways to make government work for all the people of Rhode Island. “I feel a need to make sure I’m available to mentor anyone who wants to get into politics, because it helps if you talk to those who have done it.” In Gorbea’s role she focuses not only on voting issues, but also on the importance of everyone – including all minority groups – to complete the U.S. Census.

During her tenure as Secretary of State, voting amongst Gen Xers and Latinx has increased significantly. Kevin Fernandez, a Gen Xer and owner of a pizza franchise in Pawtucket, said, “I feel the need to be more involved in the voting process, especially since I have a business.”

Community activist and one-time candidate for Mayor of Providence, Kobi Dennis, attributes the participation of Latinx voters, many who were first time voters, to the Secretary of State’s activities and her position as a role model.

Due to COVID-19, the usual Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations will not happen this year. However, Gorbea still reflects on the contributions of Latinos, specifically Puerto Ricans to the United States.

“I’m from Puerto Rico and one thing that seems to surprise people a lot is how many Puerto Ricans have served in the United States Armed Forces”. Her grandfather, father, and brother have all served. As a public servant in Rhode Island government, Secretary of State Gorbea continues a tradition of Latinos contributing to the American story.

About National Hispanic Heritage Month

National Hispanic Heritage Month traditionally honors the cultures and contributions of both Hispanic and Latino Americans as we celebrate heritage rooted in all Latin American countries. During this month and throughout the year, we, and our partners, share history, heritage, and accomplishments of Hispanic and Latino Americans of past and present.

They offer guidance on the use of popular terms:

Hispanic refers to a person who is from, or a descendant of someone who is from, a Spanish-speaking country.

Latino/a or Latinx refers to a person who is from, or a descendant of someone who is from, a country in Latin America.

National resources where you can learn more about the month and its history are:

https://www.nps.gov/subjects/npscelebrates/hispanic-heritage-month.htm

https://hispanicheritagemonth.gov/

To learn more about voting, and the role of the RI Secretary of State, go to:

https://www.sos.ri.gov/

Ann-Allison Clanton was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island. As principle of Ann Clanton Communications, Ann has more than two decades of experience as a communications and public affairs consultant. She has written features and profiles articles for the Providence American Newspaper and Ethnic Online Magazine.

Among the notable persons interviewed include former U. S. Ambassador Andrew Young, Dr. Cornell West, former Florida Congressman Allen West (R-FL) and Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus first African American Ringmaster, Johnathan Lee Iverson.

Ann is the founder of the Rhode Island Black Film Festival and a founding member of the Southern New England Association of Black Journalists.