Potomac News Online | Woodbridge woman has vision of Latino future in county

“La union hace la fuerza.” The union has the force.

Indira “Indy” Moran believes a united community has the power to better itself.

Especially in Prince William County, where the Hispanic population has almost doubled since 1990, Moran said success can’t afford a fragmented effort.

“We have to come to realize that by working together we can get a lot done,” she said. “We cannot afford to be divisive.”

Last week, Moran was sworn into Gov. Mark R. Warner’s Latino Advisory Commission, which is charged with providing him with key information to understand the challenges Latino people face.

She was nominated anonymously and she suspects that her work with the Hispanic Outreach for Local Action and other community groups prompted her nomination.

The Latino Advisory Commission’s focus is to gather research, surveys, and regulatory information that affects Latinos in their economic, professional, cultural, educational and governmental dealings.

She sees her one-year appointment to the commission as a large task — one that she can’t tackle on her own. The commission is made up of 20 members, all collecting information from different parts of the state.

“I could not do this by myself,” Moran said. “I will be contacting delegates, businesses and schools that may be dealing with issues that I haven’t even thought of.”

The issues are many and Moran said she needs the entire Prince William County community to help her understand them so she can report to the governor.

One of those issues is communication, an obvious barrier for some who can’t speak English at all, the Lake Ridge woman said.

If an agency worker cannot communicate with a Spanish-speaking client, the challenge of providing the needed services increases tenfold.

Many of Moran’s suggestions to combat gaps in education, transportation and health services revolve around exposing the Hispanic community to available services.

“Our hope is that this information, these issues will be catching the attention of lawmakers, our legislators and eventually make an impact,” Moran said. “I really feel that I’m a part of history.”

She’s a self-proclaimed activist, advocate and “altruist forever.”

She currently works at the Northern Virginia Family Service as a medication access coordinator, helping people find necessary drugs when they cannot afford them.

Her extensive experiences with Latinos in her community were reasons the governor’s office chose her.

Ellen Qualls, spokeswoman for the governor’s office, cited Moran’s extensive background in early childhood education and her years as a healthy families and community involvement specialist with Northern Virginia Family Service.

Moran also ran English as a second language classes and parenting classes for Spanish speakers.

In Santiago, Chile, her home country, she taught children how to read and made sure hungry ones had food so they could learn in school.

In 1980, at age 21, she moved to the U.S. and didn’t know a word of English, she said.

She learned the language over two years and later volunteered to help other immigrants learn English.

Moran’s own life experiences make it easy for her to empathize with other Latinos and Latinas who are new to the United States and trying to learn the culture here.

Obstacles span attempts to get appropriate health care and education and affect everyone from children to the elderly.

Spanish-speaking children are sometimes classified as learning disabled when they have trouble learning English right away, she said.

At the same time, parents want to help their children with homework sometimes can’t because they are working more than one job, said Moran.

This creates a worry that kids might never catch up because they have trouble crossing that language barrier.

“I refuse to believe that,” said Moran, a mother of two daughters, ages 15 and 10.

Head Start and Even Start are some programs suggested by the 2002 Latino Forum to help students catch up to their English-speaking peers by the time elementary school begins.

“The communities are growing. We are a majority of minorities,” Moran said. “We’re here. We’re here to stay and we are going to be a part of this society. People can’t really make decisions without involving us in the process.”

Her goal as a member of the governor’s commission is to make sure lawmakers don’t base their decisions on fear or a lack of understanding of Latino issues.

She’s planning on calling delegates and officials throughout the Prince William area to find out what issues they realize that affect Latinos.

“I would like to know how many kids encounter these problems,” Moran said. She also wants to know about every other problems that Latinos face in the community.

Health is an important issue that needs to be addressed, she said.

Some Hispanics who are new arrivals to the country may be working two or three jobs with no health insurance or sick leave, she said.

When they miss a day, they lose pay, she added.

She said they may not be asserting themselves because they don’t know their rights, said Moran, who supports bilingual employee rights signs.

Equal Opportunity Employment handouts, minimum wage laws and other mandatory workplace postings should be written in both languages, she said.

“They have been doing better there,” she said of businesses. “There is still a lot more to be done.”

Also, employees who can speak both languages can get overworked if they are the only one who can speak Spanish — they have to translate Spanish for many people, which sometimes prevents them from doing their job, she said.

The bilingual skill is valuable and employees who can speak more than one language should be paid more for their skill, she added.

Staff writer Lillian Kafka can be reached at (703) 878-8091.

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