2022 in Review. ¡Felicidades y Próspero Año Nuevo! Happy Holidays!
In 2022, Maryland Latinos Unidos (MLU) turned two – a milestone in and of itself. Over the past two years, we grew from just one person with a long-distance assistant, to a nine-member organization consisting of part-time, full-time, and dedicated consultants/ contractors to design our programs in support of our rapidly growing Latine community in Maryland. During this time, we were blessed to be able to raise almost $1.3 million to launch our work – which for us represents a sweet victory as a brand-new organization.
Because of our contributors’ generosity, we have been empowered to create two strong programs.
First and foremost, a health equity program that emerged out of the crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic is led by our Senior Program Manager for Health Equity, Walter Saba. Through this program, we are raising awareness, bringing information, and supporting agencies and other nonprofits’ efforts helping them connect the dots and leverage what they do to provide services to the Latine community that they serve. At the same time, we are ensuring that community members receive information through our bilingual, bicultural materials and expert bilingual, multicultural staff, and Steering Committee members.
I want to highlight our staff and members to demonstrate how many countries are represented in the work that we do. Our staff, Steering Committee, and consultants originate from all over Latin America: Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, The Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Argentina to name a few. I am originally from Mexico and grew up in Puerto Rico – but I also lived in Chile and worked throughout Latin America.
We all bring our cultural knowledge to bear as we try to ensure that Latinas/os are all understood and represented in our efforts to make a place for our rapidly growing community across the state. MLU’s health equity programs are not meant to provide direct services so much as to connect the dots in areas like HIV and raising awareness about self-testing, mental health and stigma, health literacy, and of course we continue our work on Covid19 to debunk myths and learn more to improve health literacy within the community.
With this cultural knowledge, we have also created a new bilingual, multicultural program for Leadership, Strategy, and Innovation led by Dr. Almarie Donaldson, a recognized international expert in organizational development.
This is a program which we will strive turn into an Institute over time so that the Latine community can help itself utilizing the tools that we can provide. Our goal is to ensure that Maryland’s Latine nonprofit organizations are among the top-performing nonprofits across the state and could potentially serve as strategic models for the nation.
2022 was also one of steep learning curves, increased outreach, and strategic communications. We look forward to doing more of this important work in 2023 to ensure that Latines in Maryland have a seat at the table, access to the services that they need, and the removal of barriers to that access – barriers like language and cultural relevance or competency as it is more commonly referred to.
MLU learned some important lessons as a nonprofit organization serving Maryland’s Latine community.
1. Convene. Converse. Cultivate. Collaborate. This became our mantra in 2022 and will carry us into the future. In mid-2021, we launched a coalition of organizations focused on supporting Latinx vaccination across the state. We called it MALVEC – which stands for the Mid-Atlantic Latinx Vaccine Equity Coalition. Our partners include two of the largest universities serving the state – Johns Hopkins University and the George Washington University – Milken Institute for Public Health. The idea to do this came from a young Latina leader in Annapolis – Laura Gutierrez who convened us all together in this gargantuan effort. The seeds that were cultivated allowed MLU to be part of something rather incredible. Together with our core partners – CASA, Center of Help, and CHEER – we came together, leveraged knowledge and resources, and partnered with the Maryland Department of Health and the CDC Foundation (both of which provided critical funding) to ensure access to vaccines for the community. Much continues to come out of this program…in the latter part of 2022, we have been engaged in getting the pulse of Latinas/os through community surveys to understand at a granular level how healthcare impacts Maryland’s Latine community, what they understand about health and healthcare, what they need, and what they want.
2. Bilingual and multicultural services make a difference. Another lesson we learned is that part of the reason there are gaps in services is a lack of bilingual and multicultural capacity-building information. Also, we came to understand that there has been little effort made to ensure that as organizations grow out of need, that they have bilingual access to important tools for advancing themselves and the communities they serve. MLU is not here to tell people what to do, we are here to ensure that there is information about the rules of the road for nonprofits to be successful – which is the bread and butter of MD Nonprofits and why we are housed within this association. To that effect, we have hosted roundtables and engaged in one-on-one peer assessments to better understand where the community is at, what they need, and how to best serve them so that they can progress on their own terms. This isn’t about us – it’s about our community members and their leaders.
3. Representation Matters. MLU also learned some lessons in the power of representation and allyship. What that means in terms of impact to the community is that when there are Latinas/Latinos in leadership, the likelihood of having a better experience and addressing the needs of the community grows exponentially. Until this last election, there were only four Latinos in the state house. Beginning in 2023, there will be six. In 2022, as MLU developed its civic engagement work to educate the community about the electoral process, we discovered that some 20+ Latinos ran for office across the state. The point is that community leadership is growing, albeit very slowly. There are now two Latina mayors – Mayor Monica Casañas of Colman Manor was featured on MLU’s People’s Policy Series in November. She ran on a platform allowing non-US citizens who are residents of her municipality to be able to vote. The point of this latter statement is that by having Latines and allies at the table, the possibilities for strategic innovation and improvements for the community increase as well.
So as 2022 wraps up and we await 2023’s arrival, we hope that you will continue to join with us as members and allies of the community. Maryland Latinos Unidos (MLU) is both humbled and grateful for all that you bring to the table. We are excited about our work moving forward and know that with your continued engagement and support, the future can only be brighter. Thank you for all you do. ¡Juntos Podemos más! Together we can do more. Together we are stronger.