I’ve always held hope for Madison even as I’ve learned so much more about the realities for communities of color, and how the future of our communities is more often than not defined by those in power for, rather than by, our neighborhoods and our families. We have much to learn…. if we are ever to close the gaps in disparities now and into our future.

I am reminded today that in the road towards greater equity there will be plenty of room for disappointments.

We recently had an absolutely beautiful remodel of our agency from a nation-wide movement, Floor360, and 36 designers that chose to work with Centro so that our organization could receive their biggest national redesign to date. This represents a true investment in the value of our services – in the value of our families, in the value of our programs, and in our communities’ hopes and dreams for their future.

While our staff and our community has celebrated, we were pulled back by some who think they know the true definition of what we should be as an organization, what should be included in our building, when and how, what a Latino represents, and comments about how we as a Latino-led organization were not respecting those in power, those who think they have a greater voice than that of our families. Let me be clear, the loudest voices do not always represent our community.

I must tell you that many in Madison have a lot to learn.

They have a lot to learn about cultural appropriation.
They have a lot to learn about immigration.
They have a lot to learn about what a Latino is…and is not.
They have a lot to learn about community building.
They have a lot to learn about Centro.
And they have a lot to learn about what it means to allow communities of color to lead the way.

What prompted me to write this is when I saw my staff affected by comments in social media. Please do not abuse an organization that works tirelessly, humbly and respectfully alongside our families. And please do not abuse those professionals who we willingly worked with to redesign our space. I can take it, personally, but when misinformed comments affect my staff, the families we serve and our true supporters who are always there for us at our most critical times, I cannot. You think you may understand Latinos in Wisconsin but the first step in getting to know us is, simply, understanding that you may just have a lot to learn.

Do not ever let the powers that be define your thinking about what a Latino-serving organization should look like, how it should communicate, or how it should do things. Instead, choose to engage and learn on your own about our independent voice and about our independent organization. If we are ever going to close the gaps in disparities for the betterment of our city, we have a lot to learn about our complex and vibrant Latino community.

Written by Karen Menendez Coller

Karen Menendez Coller

Karen Menendez Coller is executive director of Centro Hispano of Dane County.