Minerva Perez has been named to the NBC News Top 20 national list of influential Latino leaders.
The executive director of the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island is among the list of celebrities, CEOs, scientists, young activists, and scholars who according to NBC on why they were chosen “are using their voice, talent, and passion to empower our communities and show that America’s strength lies in our diversity,” according to a press release.
“I’m very pleased and totally surprised. It’s not like I applied,” Perez said, adding how important the recognition is to her. “I asked how they got my name.”
When Perez saw the growth of Latino families on Long Island, the community advocate created a network of services, from transportation to bilingual hotlines. They “have helped lift and empower her neighbors,” NBC noted in her award announcement.
The OLA executive director thinks the community has been generally supportive, but said there’s still work to be done, and her organization has taken on a more active role than just advocacy as a result. Critical issues include wage theft, the extremely high rent being charged for sometimes no more than a shared one, and absence of public transportation at night. But thanks to the purchase of a minibus and volunteers, people that need rides, be it to the doctor or home from a late-night job, have someone to turn to.
Some Latino parents have trouble integrating into the school system for a variety of reasons, including their language barrier and lack of property documentation, Perez said. “OLA is a vehicle to connect parents to the framework of schools,” she said.
Perez generally praises local police departments and municipal governments for their support. “I’m not saying they have to bend over backwards. Great people live out here. Law enforcement can be awesome. It’s a great community,” she said. “But some people are still attacked verbally. One group of people is being continually exploited.”
As for the NBC designation, a producer told her the folks in charge of choosing the winners, “have been reading about me and what we are doing.”
“Messaging got us in and messaging can get us out. It’s been destructive but it can also be constructive,” Perez said. “I’m in it for the long haul.”