Election 2020: A historic moment for the Latina vote

Oct 30, 2020

There is little question that Hispanic voters will be key to winning elections this year, especially in New York. For the first time in history, Hispanic voters are the second-largest demographic group in the United States and New York ranks #4 in the nation with 2 million. In fact, females may be even more critical, as they traditionally vote at a higher rate than males. So WBFO reached out to several local Latinas to ask what issues are most important right now. (Interviews were conducted in early October.)

Natalia Land:
Associate Director, Client Service Department, Liazon/Willis Towers Watson
President, Hispanic Women's League

Natalia Land
Credit Natalia Land

I was born in Managua, Nicaragua, Central America, and I came to the U.S. in 1986. My parents and my siblings, there's four of us. And when we came, it was due to the revolution back in the '80s, trying to get away from the political situation and dangers.

We migrated to San Jose, CA and went to school there, all the way through high school and part of college. My family is still in the Bay Area. We're all very close. I met my husband online at Match.com. He ended up in the Bay Area and that's where we met. I moved to Buffalo, it's going on 14 years. Up until moving to Buffalo, I was never involved with what was going on in our country. I wasn't really that much interested.

Maria Cruz:
Director, Treatment & Prevention Adherence, Evergreen Health
Corresponding Secretary, Hispanic Women's League

Maria Cruz
Credit Maria Cruz

I'm Puerto Rican. I was actually born in Puerto Rico and I came to Buffalo when I was 8 years old. So I've been here since 1991. My parents, neither one knew English. I came with my siblings. Right now in town, I have my sister and my little brother. My older brother's in the military, so he's in New Jersey. My mom lives in Florida and my father lives in Texas, which are important states, and neither one of them are voters. I actually got them registered this year, which is another issue in the Hispanic community. Older parents don't vote because they feel their vote is not important because of language barriers. Most of my other family is still in Puerto Rico.

Talia Rodriguez:
Associate Director, West Side Promise Neighborhood
Say Yes Coordinator, Volunteer Lawyers Project

Talia Rodriquez
Credit Marian Hetherly / WBFO News

I come from a blue-collar family. Usually I identify as Latino, but I am an LGBTQ advocate. I was having a conversation with one of my mentees before I got here and she was saying we need to use Latinax. I am actually a fifth-generation West Sider. I am also Sicilian. My grandmother actually marched with Martin Luther King -- physically marched, physically went to DC, with my father in tow. She had a third-grade education, a domestic violence victim, was living in public housing, absolutely destitute, poor, decided to march with Martin Luther King. And part of her desire to be there and part of her why she aspired to have more dreams was because she was not allowed the opportunity to attend school in Puerto Rico. In fact, it took until almost the late-'70s for us to reach almost 60% enrollment in public education in Puerto Rico. Those who are here in Buffalo now, we are in a generational journey to fully actualize our rights.

Esmeralda Sierra:
President, Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York
2020 SUNY Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence, Buffalo State College

Esmeralda Sierra
Credit Buffalo State College

I am from Puerto Rico. I came here in 2001. I moved here with my parents, my sister and my brothers, but most of my family is back in the islands. In my case, I was looking for better health. I needed a medical treatment that I couldn't get in back in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico I had the opportunity to get my bachelor's degree in Public Communication and now here in Buffalo, just recently I graduated with my master's in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management. We go at least once a year back to Puerto Rico, because I have my family, especially my grandmother. She's in her 90s. We were able to be there in January before the whole pandemic started, but we wanted to go during the summer and that didn't happen. I don't want to risk traveling.

WBFO: So you're living with your parents. You must have some lively conversations around the dinner table.

Esmeralda: I'm pretty sure it's a situation of many people in the community, that you would have a mix of generations in your household. I can say that conversations can get interesting. I don't have the same way of thinking, the experiences, that they have and the ones that I have are completely different. My father, he was a lawyer in Puerto Rico. My mother was a business owner. They were raised in the '50s and '60s, so they are baby boomers. My father is a Vietnam War veteran. He was right there in combat. When I went to college, back in Puerto Rico, that's when the internet was starting to be something popular. So I was highly influenced by that and I watched a lot of MTV.

WBFO: You have a big job ahead of you, as the new president of the Hispanic Heritage Council. What's your game plan?

Esmeralda: We do have a lot of work to do. We have wonderful projects. The Hispanic Heritage Cultural Institute is the biggest one. It's a $10 million building. We're right in the middle of our capital campaign to raise the funds needed. We are looking to have a media center, an auditorium, a coffee shop, we're going to have classrooms. We have a recording studio, where you can produce radio, TV, you name it, and it's going to be a state-of-the-art facility. It's going to be right in the center of our community and it's going to be for the community. We want to make it multifaceted, so everybody feels welcomed.

Part is going to be really focused on culture and history. And we're going to have a performance area, a social hall also, where people can have events. I can't wait for us to put that first shovel on the ground so we can see it become a reality. We wanted it to be 2021, but I don't know with the whole COVID situation. We might have to move it a little further.

A rendering of the Hispanic Heritage Cultural Institute, once complete.
Credit Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York

They can also go to our Facebook page and find more information about all the different activities and what's called the History Project, which is an archive of interviews. There are video recordings. There are written interviews. We also have a lot of pictures that we've been able to collect. And then learn more about the history of Hispanics in Western New York. That's a collaboration that we've been working on with the Buffalo and Erie County Library and also with the Buffalo History Museum.

We're also proud to collaborate with the (Hispanic) Veterans Memorial. It's a wonderful work. Veterans, to me, they don't get recognized as much and as often as they should. So I'm happy that we have that monument right there (at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park). We're honoring them every day, because they are wonderful and have done so much for our country.

WBFO: Here in Western New York, do you believe Hispanics are getting as much recognition as they deserve?

Esmeralda: Personally, I don't see it. I think more can be done and that is part of what we are trying to do. Because Hispanics, we are growing, we are becoming a great force, a great workforce. We are contributing, we are helping build this country, we are helping it grow, making it better. Sometimes, Hispanics have been seen as the immigrants that come and want to take. We want to make people aware that whatever reason they come, they come to better, to live a better life. And to receive a better life, you have to work hard. The whole country is a country of immigrants. We're not here to take anything from you. On the contrary, we want to help build.

WBFO: Buffalo has made the lists as one of the most segregated cities in the country. What kind of behavior have you experienced?

I remember going to a laundromat with my daughter, who was maybe 11 months old. And there was two white men there who asked me why I was there. And I said, 'I'm doing my laundry' and they said, 'I'd rather you do it somewhere else.' —Maria Cruz

Maria: Well, for starters, when I first had my daughter, I moved from Buffalo to Cheektowaga and I remember going to a laundromat with my daughter, who was maybe 11 months old. And there was two white men there who asked me why I was there. And I said, 'I'm doing my laundry' and they said, 'I'd rather you do it somewhere else.' And I said, 'Excuse me?' and they said, 'We'd rather you leave.' And I packed my laundry and my daughter, and I left the laundromat. And now I live in Lancaster. I do everything in Buffalo, but I moved to Lancaster for the education. And anywhere that I go in Lancaster, I get the weirdest looks. My kids are very light-skinned complexed and because their dad is a light-skinned Puerto Rican man, I often get looked at as, "Why is she with those kids?' I don't get the same treatment at a store with, 'Hi, how are you?' I don't get told, 'Have a good day.' I don't get told, 'Come again.' It's just very dry.

Natalia: I've been in Buffalo for 14 years and when I first came, I noticed the lack of diversity. I'm married to a Black man and as I said, I'm from Nicaragua. I'm also part Chinese and Spanish, so I'm light-skinned and I look Asian. So when people look at me, they have no idea what what to think. I've had people talking to me in Vietnamese and when they hear me speak Spanish, they're shocked because they don't expect someone that looks like me to speak Spanish. However, in the last 6 years, I've noticed more people from different backgrounds in the city of Buffalo, which is great to see.

Coming from California, it's more diverse. Where I came from in California, it was Mexican, Chinese, Indians, everything you can think of. It's kind of like Toronto, right? I've been at my company, where I've work for 10+ years. And just to give you an example, I'm the only Hispanic woman in my team, so it is very obvious. My daughter went to a primarily white school and she's had experiences, but she's kind of grown from them and learned how to deal with it. She knows who she is.

Talia: I think that one of the things that's characteristic about the American experience, specifically in Buffalo, specifically on the West Side, is that it's tough to make it and I don't think any Latino will ever shy away from hard work. I think what becomes discouraging sometimes is feeling as if your contribution or your hard work isn't recognized -- and that's not specific to an ethnic group.

The Centro Social Mexicano Mexican Ladies Auxilary in Lackawanna, 1947.
Credit Hispanic Heritage History Project

The women who raised me were hardworking, but they had no formal education. And I saw people judge them for that. And I saw people treat them poorly as a result. So I was motivated to obtain the highest level of education that was available to me, which is a doctorate, right? I have a doctorate, I have a Public Policy degree and I have a Political Science degree. And then because I'm argumentative, my dad sent me to law school. I think people respect my credentials, but because of the way I look and sound, sometimes it's very challenging for people to see me in that light. Throughout the experience of even walking into the classroom, literally people think I'm lost, they think I'm in the wrong space. Because I'm a female. I also look kind of young. That experience definitely was something that I never forgot.

WBFO: I've talked with others who say Buffalo doesn't seem to be able to even have a conversation about these things.

Maria: They don't have the conversation, but they do it physically, like with how we're segregated in the community. The West Side is the Hispanics, the East Side is the Blacks. We make it clear: this is our territory -- like there's that silent feud of what belongs to who, and where you should be and where you shouldn't be. A lot of employers don't want to poke the monster and address real issues that are affecting their environment at work. That also comes from how Buffalo is as a place.

I'm a director here at Evergreen and I'm probably one of the only Hispanic women in the director position. I'm very vocal. I'm very passionate about making a difference. Because I have a daughter who's 16 and I want her to come up and understand that she could achieve anything, regardless of her culture, nationality, gender, whatever. I wish we would talk more about how we're alike than how we're different. We're more alike than different, honestly.

Natalia: I have to agree with that. I think we just don't have the conversations enough. I think we're starting to now, specifically, ever since the (George) Floyd situation. So I'm hopeful that there's going to be some type of progress. I'm part of it. I'm very active in the multicultural committees that are part of my organization. But I think it really is being driven by those brown and Black employees. You just kind of hope that it filters up. I don't think companies can get away with just putting a patch or a bandaid on it.

People don't want to listen. And that's why we sadly had the riots and the protests. They felt, 'We're trying to do this in a passive way, but we're not being heard, so we need to do more.' —Esmeralda Sierra

Esmeralda: That's a problem. People don't want to listen. That's what sparks that need to go beyond (conversation). And that's why we sadly had the riots and the protests. They felt, 'Okay, we're trying to do this silently, we're trying to do this in a passive way, but we're not being heard, so we need to do more.' If you don't listen, they're gonna make you listen. So we all have to be more open -- open our ears, our hearts, our minds and listen and try to comprehend what it's that they're trying to tell you. I think we're getting better, but I also think that there's still a lot of work to do. And until we get to where we need to, we have to continue working on it, we have to be continue being out there, continue making ourselves heard and making sure that no matter how hard I have to work for it, we can have a seat at the table. And if my work doesn't allow me to actually be on that chair, it will help somebody else coming after me to do it.

Talia: That's why civic engagement and good citizenship is so important. My desire to want to be part of the American conversation is value-based and one of those values is very inherently freedom, right? This idea that if you don't want to be someplace, you could leave it, or if you don't want to talk to someone you can walk away from them. I think of all the times where Latinas, their movement, their economic mobility, their social mobility, their education is limited and that freedom is taken away.

I think that we have done tremendous work. I think what we need to do a better job at is telling our stories. We have amazing people in the community doing amazing things, but they're not always lifted up as high as they should be. When people of color usually address an audience and they're talking about observances or the state of their communities, I find that they're always kind of trying to substantiate our contribution. Do you understand what I'm saying? Like, we're always trying to tell this story of we helped build America. We are America. We love America.

WBFO: Buffalo's West Side is in transition. It used to be a lot of Italians, then Hispanics and now it's becoming more international. And there's growing contention, like around the statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Park. How would you like different cultures to behave when they bump heads?

Esmeralda: I respect everybody's opinion. That's the first thing I want to say. I always want to see where they coming from. Everybody has a right to express their opinion. It's just a matter of how you do it. Sometimes people act aggressively because maybe that's the only way that they can get the attention. Personally, I believe that passive protest or passive ways of demonstrating what you believe in are better and I completely support them.

Talia: I'm really proud the Hispanic Heritage Corridor is the place where our story is told. So seeing the flags, seeing the timeline, seeing the public art and really having that feeling of home. I find that other communities are respectful of the Latino voice. The West Side, we deal with our refugee neighbors and our new American neighbors. That diversity is becoming richer.

I talk a lot about sitting on the porch on the West Side, because that was as far as I could go, right? That was where my world ended, at the end of that porch. I never saw a woman who was Latina who had a job, there was no one who had a job on my block. They were lucky enough if they were watching us and they were cooking and married. It wasn't as if there was a uniformed police officer that I could look to, or there was someone to visually see that I could model myself after. I've shared that experience, specifically sitting of the porch. And so many Burmese girls have raised their hand and say, 'Me too. I totally understand what you mean.' My relationship and my love for my Burmese neighbors, for my refugee neighbors is that I see you're sitting on the porch and you're a dreamer, you're the same girl that I was. I think there's an understanding.

Credit Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York

WBFO: What terminology do you use? Do you use "Hispanic," as the government does, or the newer term "Latinx"?

Esmeralda: To me, personally, they do have differences. For example, Hispanics are the people, like myself, that we speak Spanish. Hispanics are the people from Latin America and even Spain. Whenever you find someone that speaks Spanish, that's a Hispanic. Latinx is a new term, but it isn't a term that applies to everyone. The "X" is not because it's a newer generation. It's more of a gender. In Spanish, you can be a Latina or you can be a Latino. In English, you are Latin. So now we just say Latinx to be inclusive. So Latinas could be a female and female transgender. Latinx is about people that speak Spanish, but also other languages that come from Latin. For example, you have people from Brazil. They are part of Latin Americans, Latin America, so they're Latin, but they actually speak Portuguese. And you can see the same thing with Haiti. People from Haiti, they are Hispanics. They are from Latin America, but they don't speak Spanish. To me, that's the big difference.

Talia: I think that we should really let folks guide the conversation. One of the terms I know I don't want to use is "Hispanic." One of the things that happens in America -- and this isn't specific to our group -- is that different demographics, different people, who have different experiences, we come together in the United States to form one culture, right? So there are many people who think that "Hispanic" is a term of colonization, because it talks about our relationship with Spain. There's some real trauma about what that experience was like, so folks don't want to use that word. And then there are other folks who feel comfortable with it. People are going to define their American experience differently. What their values are is really what's most important.

WBFO: What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?

Natalia: What Hispanic Heritage Month means to me is showing others how proud I am of where I come from. I came from a third-world country, right? To a new country. But I consider myself an American. I went through the process and became a resident and a citizen eventually. I'm also proud of the challenges that brought us to this country. It was an amazing transition for us, but I also like to share my experience with others -- my food, our dancing, all those values that we bring with us, the things that my parents had to do to get us to where we are today -- because I think that is also part of our culture: all the sacrifices that we have to go through to be able to get to where we are today.

Maria: Listening to you (Natalia) makes me so emotional. I think Hispanic Heritage Month, for me, is educating and bringing awareness that we are here, we're a strong population, we are educated and our parents struggled for this new generation, to be where we are right now. I feel like Hispanic Heritage Month not only showcases our struggles, but it showcases how proud we are as a community and how much we have to offer. I'm Puerto Rican, so I'm a naturally born American, even though Americans don't see it that way. So it is very prideful to at least have a month where we can share so much of who we are and just to see so many of us gathered together in this little town Buffalo.

During World War II, women occupied the jobs at Bethlehem Steel that men who were fighting in the war once took.
Credit Mercedes “Bessie” Mendez / Hispanic Heritage History Project

Talia: For me, Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to pause. My hope is that my neighbors and allies will take a little bit of the time I know they do not have to learn about Latinos, both from a contemporary perspective and from a historical perspective. My hope is that folks will spend a little extra time learning how to become an ally and understanding that becoming an ally is absolutely a powerful thing that they can do. I just want just a little bit more of their time to learn a little bit about Latinos, to learn a little bit about their neighbors, or even to just recognize those Hispanic people or Latino people, Chicano people and so on, people they have in their universe and just say, 'Hey, I understand that this is a special time for you. Is there anything you want to share with me?' I think that feeling of acknowledgment is what all people are really looking for. At a community level, it's our time to celebrate and share those aspirations we have. So whether it's supporting great groups, like the Belle Center or the Hispanic Heritage Museum, just invest in us. Have conversations, join our conversation, volunteer, eat our food and I think we will all be richer because of it.

WBFO: So we talked about identity. Let's talk about issues. What are you focused on this election?

Maria: I've only been voting since I was 30, which is sad to say. I'm 37 this year, so I've only voted seven years. This election is so much more important. I'm out here getting anybody registered to vote, like my parents, my siblings, pushing, pushing friends, getting them through the process. Pushing my organization to set up tables, to get the people who come into the building to get treated for medical services to register to vote, to teach them where to find their location to vote, to let them know that language is not a barrier, that there's going to be resources for them. Because it's going to affect us, a lot of Hispanics, Latinos, Latinx, however they want to express themselves. They don't realize how much how much power we have. We're divided amongst ourselves, the Cubans and Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. We're going to be a driving force.

Natalia:  You asked when you contacted us, what the media may be missing when it comes to this election. I just noticed today, we've got a voter information toolkit that was sent over from the Office of New York State Attorney General Letitia James in 5-7 different languages. I guess my my only thought is, it's great that we have this now to pass around the community, but why didn't we have these sooner? You can probably add that poll workers are being trained in Spanish, to be able to walk through non-English-speaking voters. Robo calls are important. We get those all in English. I know especially for people like my parents, they're going to hang up right away.

Esmeralda: There's a lot of issues going on. Because of the language barrier, previously we didn't have as much the opportunity to express ourselves. So now they are being able to get up and speak, get out the message that we are here, we are doing great things. We want to make sure Hispanics are part of the conversation. Part of the idea behind the Hispanic Heritage Council is to celebrate Hispanic heritage, but also to highlight the contributions and the great works that Hispanics do specifically for us in Western New York. But if you look at it, it's all over the country, the great accomplishments, the great efforts that are being done out there to better the community and the country as a whole.

It is my responsibility as a female to make sure that those vulnerable voices of females are lifted up in the Latino conversation, whether they be homeless, human trafficked, sexually abused, in detention centers, in solitary confinement, in foster care and all those places where the Latino voices have been absent systematically. —Talia Rodriquez

Talia: Because it's an election year, many of our fellow Americans are receiving messages about civic engagement and why is it important to vote, and why is it important to hold office, and why is it important to be part of the conversation. Latino households are a lot less likely to receive political mail than other households. As Americans, I think understanding how we define our collective voice is really important, to look around and to make sure that representation is part of the values. So I will generally say that our nation needs to talk about bringing those voices forward, who have been for so long excluded. How do you register to vote when you're a homeless person? Is that something people even think about? How do you register to vote when you live at a place that's overcrowded, that you're not legally allowed to live in? There are a lot of inherent privileges that come with the way that we present messaging in the United States that really exclude the experiences of those who are the working poor.

WBFO: What other issues besides the election are most important to you right now?

Esmeralda: First, make sure you're counted on the census. If you want to be heard, you need to be counted. And the other way you can be counted is by voting. It's so important to make sure you go out and vote. If you want to see change, you have to make change. And by making change, you have to vote, if you're happy or not. Other than that, I can tell you that big issue for us is our health. Not everybody has access to health providers, and we need to make sure that they don't just get to the provider, but when they get there, that they get what they need. What I mean by this is, we need more cultural awareness from the providers. Not everyone is used to just going to the doctor, get a prescription and feel better. Sometimes we need more being heard and being explained what's going on. Don't tell me what I have to do, but tell me why do I have to do it, so I can understand it, and maybe I will comply. Another one is access to education, you know, bilingual education or various languages. It's not just about Spanish, but so many other languages that now we speak in Buffalo. And it's really important to also let the kids know it is important.

Natalia: For for me right now, things like health care, gentrification, housing. You know, rent is rising and communities that were primarily Hispanic, they're having to move. I have tons of issues that I could address or would like to get addressed. But I guess on top, I'll put health care and housing.

Maria: Yeah, I would have to agree -- health care, this disparity and making sure there's enough access to those that don't have it. In the Hispanic community, access to screenings for like cancer, diabetes. In the Buffalo area, the Latin organizations are very active to put information out there in Spanish and English about COVID-19 and giving people access to getting tested. I've seen people come together help each other, why can't we do the same kind of thing for those healthcare disparities that are happening today and giving people access and the knowledge and tools?

WBFO: We've been reporting about how people of color are disproportionately getting COVID-19. What do you think is going on there?

Maria: So I work in the healthcare industry and I can tell you just like any other disease, like HIV, a lot of it has to do with misinformation, the lack of access to services. I live in Lancaster. I know that testing sites were set up right away. It took maybe four months before an original testing site for the Hispanic community. It's just a lot of delay, lack of access, lack of information, education.

We have to be realistic about our community. Their health care might not be the same as a white person. Someone living with diabetes, they go to see a provider, they don't speak English, the provider overlooks them, they don't give them the proper treatment. —Natalia Land

Natalia: I agree with you, but also we have to be realistic about our community. Their health care might not be the same as a white person. Someone with preconditions will probably be more likely to get COVID-19 if they're not taking the right precautions. There's a lot of homeless amongst our population. If you're homeless, you don't have access to clean water. You don't have access to a clean environment where you're avoiding exposure. And also language barriers. Someone living with diabetes, they go to see a provider, they don't speak English, the provider overlooks them, they don't give them the proper treatment, they don't go above and beyond, they don't call the language line, they don't get a translator. It's just a lot of those things happening. I don't understand you, you don't understand me, then give me your medication. You're not getting proper education on medication, so they're not taking it properly. Hispanics also don't know their rights. When you look to a medical provider, they are mandated to be able to provide you services in your language, someway, somehow. Not knowing your rights, not knowing what your benefits are, it's also a huge contributor to why the Hispanic and the community of color is struggling to get the services they need.

Maria: Can I just give you a really short story about educating those in the health industry. I had a co-worker of mine share that, she's from Argentina, she looked white, so people assume that she's white. But when she started speaking, because her accent is really big, it hurt her experience. She was talking for her daughter for a high temperature. The way she was treated over the phone because of her accent, she was told the first response was the nurse and you're going to have to wait so many days to see her. And then as soon as she says she was a doctor, the whole conversation changed. They offered to bring her in right away. It was a very crazy story because it wasn't even in person, it was over the phone. So someone judged you because of your accent. And as soon as they heard your status, that you're a doctor, then you've totally changed.

WBFO: Another big issue, I would think, is the transformation of LaSalle Park to Ralph Wilson Park. It's not just a landscaping change, but a cultural change for the waterfront.

Esmeralda: We need to recognize that, yes, it will be wonderful improvements to the area, it will bring jobs, it will bring betterment, it's going to be really nice, it's going to be beautiful. But also we need to consider the community. How would it affect the community? A big issue here in Buffalo we've been hearing about is gentrification. The West Side and around the LaSalle area have been minority communities. It's been an area of immigrants. And by building these new developments, sometimes people feel that they've been pushed away. So it's important to make sure that doesn't happen. And also for the builders or the developers to make sure and recognize how important it is to make it welcoming for them and to work with the community, so these projects can be successful.

I definitely agree the park has been a great venue for many cultural groups to celebrate their heritage. I can tell you the Hispanic Day Parade, every year they have the parade down Niagara Street and then they have the festival celebrated right there at the park. I know there's the refugee events, the World Refugee Day, they have their soccer tournament right there at the park. And I know many other ethnic groups do celebrate there. So it will be really sad to see something like that go away with the improvements to the park. So that's why I'm saying that the developers need to make sure that this stays in the future. I'm pretty sure they can find a way to still recognize the old history, the heritage and the rich culture that is celebrated there. I think they owe it to the community.

Talia: We need to make sure that our voices are being heard, and that it's half our responsibility, then half the responsibility of those who are calling for those voices. Visually, it's going to change our neighborhood and employ people and create free spaces where people can meet and gather. So many of my neighbors and my West Side friends, they love soccer. And I'm a baseball girl. So many of our children can be on that space. And you see so many different cultures, so many kids coming from different countries, but soccer is that one shared language. When we are developing, making sure that there's green space and there's trees is really important. I think that the neighborhood is going to be healthier. I think it's also a reminder to them that people care about them. When you see people taking really good care of the spaces that are around you, like the amazing work that Buffalo Olmsted does, you feel a sense of pride because you know that you're someone that someone's thought about. So I'm really excited for the upgrades and for what that investment is gonna bring to the legacy of that park.

A rendering of what the new lagoon at Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park might look like in autumn.
Credit Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

WBFO: What's your message to Hispanic women of Western New York?

Talia: I think one of the things that I try to do, in order to be an advocate for my community, is hold my own community accountable. We have very vulnerable women, specifically as a part of the Latino community. It is my responsibility as a female to make sure that those vulnerable voices of females are lifted up in the Latino conversation. Sometimes I'm fighting as hard inside my own community as I am outside of my community. I draw from that legacy of my grandmother -- really being that catalyst for creating change, right? Have someone who had one dress for years, one pair of shoes, and wasn't even ashamed to wear that one dress on a bus to try to give the people that came after her a better chance, saying, 'I'm here and I'm worthy of an opportunity and so are the people that come after me.' That was an amazing thing for her to do. So I try in her spirit, to try to lift up those women who are often forgotten -- whether they be homeless, or whether they be human trafficked, sexually abused, in detention centers, in solitary confinement, whether they were in foster care and all those places where the Latino voices have been absent systematically. I feel like it's part of my responsibility, but it's something that isn't always welcomed.

Natalia: We empower, advocate, mentor and support the Latina woman and all women in our community. So having support from our community, from the media, to help us support those women in our community, to rise above and do them opportunities, is something that we look forward to.

Maria: And just to piggyback on what Natalia just said, when we educate the Latina woman and when we give her access and we allow her to rise up, she will carry her whole generation, she will carry her children, her spouse, all of them. Education is crucial. And I just want Buffalo to know that we're here to contribute to the wealth of our city and we're here to grow together. And if we have access to the same resources and benefits, we would be a thriving city. Don't take the Latina vote for granted. We're here. We're strong. Give us a seat at the table...with our accents. We're educated, we're professionals, we're doctors, we're lawyers.

WBFO: We'd like to evolve beyond the stereotype, yes?

Maria: Yes. Break the stigma, please!

NOTE: It is interesting to mention that Thursday was "Latina Equal Pay Day," the day Latina pay catches up to that of white, non-Hispanic men. More than 50 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Latinas typically earn only $0.55 for every $1 earned by white men -- the largest wage gap for any ethnic or racial group.