Last week, Southwark Council officially recognized the community as an ethnic minority living in the area. This event amounts to the first step for them to resolve theirs problems and for their contribution to British society to be valued. We examine the significance of this success with two of the leaders of LARC (Latin American Recognition Campaign).
In spite of the fact that there has been a Latin-Amercian community living, working and contributing their taxes in the UK for over 40 years, their needs have been invisible until now.
From this month that has changed. The community which spent 2 years fighting for recognition as an ethnic minority has won their first battle.
Southwark Council, which manages one of the areas where the largest number of Latin Americans live, Elephant and Castle – has recognized them as an ethnic minority group living in their community, which menas that from now on they will have to be included in studies of the needs of the population. And it will be the first step towards making their problems visible and resolving them.
This recognition will help to achieve the integration of the community, and will be able to ensure things as important as good education for Latino children, the safety of women who have been abused, or that community members obtain decent housing.
The Prisma spoke to the present coordinator of LARC, Lucila Granada and her predecessor in charge, Gladys Medina, about why this recognition as Latin-Americans is a success for the community. The two of them, and others, have led the campaign for this recognition together with the whole community.
What has Southwark Council done by taking this step?
Gladys Medina: The Council has recognized our community as an ethnic minority and has decided that from now on, it will be included on all the forms used in research and monitoring. This means that the Council will instruct their departments to include the category ‘Latin-American’ officially. And from now on, we as members of that community can register a complaint if we are not included.
How will local residents benefit?
GM: They will benefit in terms of the resources that will be allocated to them. For example if the Council has to budget for a health project, they will have to take into account the number of Latin-Americans that need the service.
Lucila Granada: From the statistics that they will obtain in studies of Latin-Americans, they will be able to identify the problems of the community, and hence find out which services Latin-Americans do not have access to.
In addition, from now on whatever actions are required will be treated as official problems. That will also be a great help to community organizations working in the area, who will be able to use these official figures to justify the work they are doing.
And it will also have a big impact on the visibility and integration of the community. For example, a simple situation such as a parent taking their child to school, and now being able to say that they are Latin-American, will help the integration process. People are going to identify themselves as Latin-American on application forms, and so they will qualify for certain rights.
Which problems that Latin-Americans have can begin to be put right?
GM: A lot. For example, there is a lack of English classes, because when people arrive without knowing the language, this kind of assistance is fundamental. After the recognition, the number of Latin-American people in need of this service will be known, and the benefit will be that the Council will be obliged to do something to provide it.
LG: Another of their needs is that there are many Latin-American children without places in schools. People arriving do not understand the system, and find themselves facing the difficult situation that there are no places, and that they have to wait for months.
Another problem is that of immigrants going to Employment Centres and coming back without anything. There is a lack of awareness about what is happening. Is it a question of discrimination? Is it because they don’t understand the system? Is it a lack of information in Spanish?
GM: Or housing problems. Most people who have arrived in recent years live in overcrowded conditions. From now on, for example, the Council will have to carry out more regular inspections where they live, to check whether landlords are fulfilling their obligations to keep their accommodation in a good state of repair.
A lot of Latin-Americans do not have the documents to permit them to live here legally. Will this step help them too?
LG: Recognition as an ethnic minority will bring more openness and more information.
Until now undocumented Latin-Americans have been living in situations of social isolation and lack of information. There are many services and rights available, but they don’t apply for them out of fear, or because they don’t know about them. The education of their children for example. This is a right for everyone, and it includes all children, whether their parents have legal status here or not.
GM: The category is important, because it defines us also as people with a similar culture and history. Besides that, we have concluded that this category was the most appropriate, taking into account the current situation in this country.
Do Latin-Americans feel that they belong to this category over and above their nationalities?
GM: For some members of the community it is difficult to understand why it is important for them to be classified in this way. I think that this comes about because these classifications don’t exist in our countries. I come from Bolivia and we are not classified officially by origin or ethnicity.
When someone explains why it is important, people begin to accept it and recognize it as a bigger category. And they see it is important that there should be a common category for everybody. In my case for example, I would like to call myself by my Quechua or Aymara origins. But what significance does that have in England? None . ‘Latin-American’ was the most suitable choice at the present time.
GM: This achievement is only the beginning. From now on social services will function better. The campaign is going to continue its work because recognition is more than just a category on an official form. And at the same time we are going to other local councils, like Lambeth and Islington, where there are many Latin-Americans, and we will ask for the same thing there. Later we will do it at the national level.
Another task for the medium term is to work on the Census, and to contact the National Statistical Office, so that we can be included in the next count.
GM: It has been years of solitary effort by people like us who have worked with the community, which has made us realize the effects of not belonging to an official category. Also the campaign by LARC and other organizations who have called for recognition and supported the campaign. It is an achievement for the whole community.
LG: The biggest Latin-American carnival in Europe takes place in Southwark, and there is the shopping centre at the Elephant and Castle. I think that these initiatives have made the participation of the community more visible. All of them, and those who have worked hard and paid their taxes and developed infrastructures in the community. They have all contributed and created such a high profile that the Council has recognized it.
LG: We hope that other councils will listen to our request, and that this decision will not just be implemented quickly, but that it will also become a motive for other councils to do the same. It is a commitment that they have made, and this gives us hope. That means that many other councils may adopt a similar policy.
GM: And that is a big step and an important achievement for the whole community.
(Translated by Graham Douglas – Email: email@example.com)