Real estate mogul Donald Trump recently caused some national controversy when he said that Mexican migrants to the U.S. are criminals and rapists during his presidential announcement. Baltazar De Anda-Santana thinks Trump just is gravely mistaken and just needs to spend a little time at his Latino Academy of Workforce Development.
“I wish that those people who don’t like Latinos and are always talking crap about them could come to any of our classes or go into the kitchens of our restaurants and just see how hard they are working,” says De Anda-Santana who is the program director at the Latino Academy of Workforce Development. “Donald Trump would see that our Latino community works so hard that we don’t have time to be criminals and rapists. There is no time to do that. You’re talking about people with 2-3 jobs, who have to take care of my children and help them with homework. I don’t know who [Trump] is talking about.”
De Anda-Santana heads up the Latino Academy of Workforce Development (LAWD), a culturally competent, bilingual adult education, training and employment program whose primary goal is to create a safe, culturally competent space that empowers Latino adults to succeed and integrate into the economic and educational systems of Dane County.
“I don’t know a Latino who isn’t a hard-working,” De Anda-Santana tells Madison365 in an interview at the LAWD headquarters at Bridge Lake Point Waunona Neighborhood Center in Monona. “Many of our students will come to class in the morning and then go to work in the afternoon and some of them have a job at night, too. The majority of our students have two or three jobs. They are looking for that new full-time job but sometimes that full-time job doesn’t pay and then they have to get more than one. I don’t know how some of these students do it.”
LAWD’s unique ‘education through community’ approach works closely with students, responds to the community’s education and employment needs quickly, and creates pathways to improved education and employment for the Latino community. LAWD started small, original offering language and job skills classes, but has grown to a community of over 800 learners participating in job skills training, GED and pre-GED classes, language courses, computer classes, business and employment development, and more.
“If there is a need out there, we will try our best to get at it. But we can’t do this alone and we don’t just work alone,” says De Anda-Santana, who has been with LAWD for over 7 years starting . “To be clear, it’s not just Latino Academy that’s doing this. We have the partnership with City of Madison, United Way, Centro Hispano, Urban League [of Greater Madison], [Madison] Urban Ministry, the YWCA, Operation Fresh Start, Literacy Network, Madison College, and more.”
Most recently, LAWD partnered with Stevens Construction Corp. to offer a comprehensive construction training program for 11 students who learned valuable workplace skills basic including knowledge in general welding, carpentry, and blueprint reading and certifications including OSHA 10, Fall Protection and Training Certificate, and Tape Measure Certification.
“It was a 3-week course where our students spent one of the weeks with Stevens Construction Corp practicing the skills during on-the-job training,” de Anda-Santana says. “One of the really cool things is that they build a shed from the very start to the end. Stevens Construction has officially offered jobs to 5 of the students.”
“The supervisor of the Stevens Construction said he never met a harder-working group. We’re talking about a white man from Poynette saying that and he was so proud of the hard work of the participants. At the beginning, I think they were just going to hire a couple people. But once the people from Stevens Construction saw how hard we work, they decided to hire more. I was excited. We’re working in a community that responds – they are very responsive.
De Anda-Santana is really excited about the partnership of LAWD and Madison College to provide the Puentes (Bridges) program. “This was a grant through NCLR and the program helps prepare the students move to advance into technical careers in Madison College,” says De Anda-Santana. “We teach math, reading, and writing to these folks so they can go and take the test to get into Madison College. Many times, students come to Latino Academy and stay here but in this case we want them to move on to other places.”
The Latino Academy of Workforce Development has been awarded a grant from the National Council of La Raza to provide ESL classes to 100 new students. LAWD offers Adult Basic Education classes, Pre-GED and GED classes, Computer Classes, ESL for the workplace classes, ServSafe Food Manager Course, OSHA 10-Hours Card, and a forklift licence course among other courses.
“In Madison, there is Omega School, the HEP Program, and the Latino Academy – we are the only ones who provide GED instruction in Spanish,” De Anda-Santana says.
The Latino Academy provides training through its new program called Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) which works to improve the quality of the workforce, reduce welfare dependency, increase economic self-sufficiency, meet skills requirements of employers, and enhance the productivity and competitiveness of the Nation. “We have our own employment specialist here who is hired by the workforce development board of South Central Wisconsin who is part of our Latino Academy team,” De Anda-Santana says.
“We’re still invisible. That’s why the Latino Academy is launching a better marketing strategy. We want people to know that we exist but also that there is a Centro Hispano, there is a Latino Chamber of Commerce, there is a UNIDOS against Violence, a Latino Professionals Association. We want people to know that there are a lot of organizations here that work with the Latino community although they may not get the publicity. I’ve been inviting people to come to our graduation with little success. I’ve always said, ‘Do you need one of our students to get stabbed in order for you to cover this?’ It just looks and seems like that too often.”
People come from over town to use the services offered by the Latino Academy. “The north side, the south side, the west side … we have students that come from DeForest and Baraboo,” De Anda-Santana says. “The majority of our students come from outside the neighborhood.
The majority of students — De Anda-Santana says about 85 percent — are being trained for blue collar work.
“I challenge the Latino Academy and other organizations to look into resources so that we can balance that percentage better. I tell people to go to Madison College but if you can …. Go to UW [-Madison]. It’s harder for Latinos who don’t have higher education in their family to break that cycle but that’s what we want to do.
“Many of our parents come to us and say, ‘I don’t know how to tell my kids to go and finish high school when I never finished high school myself,’ de Anda continues. “But sometimes that’s exactly what pushes kids to finish high school and go on to higher learning. They want to do better than their parents.”
De Anda-Santana joined the center as a computer instructor in 2009 — the same year the Vera Court and the Bridge Lake Point Waunona neighborhood centers merged to create the Latino Family Resource Center which would soon become the Latino Academy of Workforce Development (LAWD)
“I’ve always liked working with the community. I feel very blessed for being in this position and for being given the opportunity to be creative and trying new things,” De Anda-Santana says. “The success stories are inspirational to me. Every time a student finishes something or gets a certificate, I get excited. I always tell my staff that seeing that …. That’s our check for us.
“Although it is nice to get a real check once in a while, too,” De Anda-Santana laughs. “But we feel like if they can do it; we can do it. If they can sacrifice their jobs and their families to come here, we cannot say that we can’t do it for them. We can’t turn anybody down.”
The Latino Academy currently has 4.5 full-time people working. They were recently able to send those members to attend the annual NCLR conference in Kansas City, Missouri. These staff members had the opportunity to attend workshops related to their roles with the Latino Academy and learn how to operate programs in order to best serve students. Staff members also had the opportunity to hear from many key leaders of the Latino Community.
De Anda-Santana wants his staff to be at least as hard-working as his students
“I want people to challenge us if they don’t think we’re doing a good enough job. We have more staff here now than we did two years ago,” he says. “So, we should not have issues. I always tell my staff that we don’t have any excuses. Now, we have to do a good job.”
De Anda-Santana know that despite all of the incredible work they’ve done at LAWD over the years that his agency – much like the Latino population in Madison, in general — is not really well-known. That will change, he says.
“We’re still invisible. That’s why the Latino Academy is launching a better marketing strategy,” De Anda-Santana says. “We want people to know that we exist but also that there is a Centro Hispano, there is a Latino Chamber of Commerce, there is a UNIDOS against Violence, a Latino Professionals Association. We want people to know that there are a lot of organizations here that work with the Latino community although they may not get the publicity.
“I’ve been inviting people to come to our graduation with little success,” De Anda-Santana adds. “I’ve always said, ‘Do you need one of our students to get stabbed in order for you to cover this?’ It just looks and seems like that too often.”
In the meantime, the Latino Academy of Workforce Development will keep doing what it does best: empowering Madison-area Latinos to succeed in the workplace.
“The day when all of the Latinos in Madison are trained and everybody has a good job,” De Anda-Santana says, “that’s when we will feel like we have done it.
“It’s not just about the graduation; it’s about the jobs,” he adds. “And it’s about getting good jobs.”
For more information about the Latino Academy of Workforce Development, please visit www.latinoacademywi.org