National Hispanic Heritage Month, a time when the country pays tribute to the generations of Hispanic-Americans who have influenced our society, ended on Oct. 15. But that doesn’t mean Long Island’s North Shore should stop thinking about this growing demographic.
There’s more we can do as a region to better accommodate and embrace Hispanic-Americans who help diversify our neighborhoods and are a huge economic driver on the Island. According to a 2007 research report, prepared for the Long Island social activism nonprofit, Hagedorn Foundation, Hispanic residents add nearly $5.7 billion to total Long Island output as a result of their consumer spending, and Hispanic employment continues to grow rapidly. Those numbers can only have grown in the last several years since the report was published — and community tensions have grown along with them.
Tensions between Hispanic residents and police officers have been well documented.
Earlier this year, a class action lawsuit by a group of Latinos alleged the Suffolk County Police Department targeted them. The group claimed several officers robbed them or issued them traffic citations in unfounded, race-based stops. There has also been an outcry from Huntington Station residents, many of them Hispanic, who say they don’t feel safe in their own neighborhoods or protected by police.
And there have been instances of Hispanic people being made to feel marginalized by their own neighbors.
Police should continue to cultivate a stronger relationship with the Island’s Hispanic communities by involving youth and hosting local programs, like forums, where residents can discuss local issues or share concerns. Non-Hispanic residents should also do their part to call out prejudice when they see it, and encourage more Hispanic neighbors to join their various community groups.
We should strive to include Hispanics as we steer Long Island toward its future, and we should do it because it’s necessary, not just because of some national holiday prompt.