Mayor Joe Hogsett used his 2020 State of the City address to speak about the coronavirus pandemic, criminal justice reform and economic equity.
A group of young Latinos say diversity and leadership initiatives by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration are a form of tokenism and “merely photo opportunities.”
Twelve of 24 participants who recently completed the City of Indianapolis’ Axis leadership program — which aims to prepare young Latino professionals for leadership roles in the community — signed a statement emailed to IndyStar which said they have lost trust in the mayor’s administration.
They are also concerned about whether other future diversity initiatives by his office “will be just for show.”
“Mayor Hogsett, we are not a photo opportunity,” the statement says. “We want an honest shot at succeeding. We want to be taken seriously. We want to be heard. We want our contributions to be valued.”
Clockwise from top left, Lauro Zuniga, Thalia Anguiano, Alondra Jara and Valentina Montes. (Photo: Submitted photos)
This statementcomes a month after Hogsett’s decision to support Jason Larrison, a white man, for the District 12 city-county council seat.
In an email to IndyStar, Hogsett’s deputy chief of staff, Taylor Schaffer said the Mayor’s Office “won’t comment on the Mayor’s personal decision to support the City-County Council candidacy of a former colleague and the opinions of those who preferred another candidate.”
Through Schaffer, Hogsett declined a request for an interview on the criticisms by the group.
During the election, which he won, Larrison was scorned for insensitive old blog posts he wrote that credit a woman’s appearance for workplace favoritism, refer to a “Cuban invasion” and compare “illegal immigrants” to a weed.
Hogsett criticized the comments but defended Larrison.
“It’s clear that some of the comments he made more than a decade ago are unacceptable – but also that Jason has matured and grown as a father, community leader, and advocate for the eastside,” Hogsett told IndyStar in July. “If elected, I believe Jason will act responsibly, thoughtfully, and with great care for all who call Indianapolis home.”
Karla Lopez-Owens, who lost the vote to Larrison by one vote, was the only Latina seeking the spot and would have been the only Latina on the council if chosen. District 12, which encompasses the neighborhoods of Irvington and Twin Aire, has a Hispanic population of 11%, slightly higher than the countywide average of 10%.
The Axis participants statement comes after the group received their certificates of completion from the 8-month leadership program on Aug. 8.
In December, Hogsett addressed the program’s 2020 cohort and told them he hoped to see a Latino or Latina mayor of Indianapolis in the future, Lauro Zuñiga, an Axis program participant told IndyStar.
At a press conference outside the Livery restaurant in Downtown Indianapolis, July 1, 2020, Mayor Joe Hogsett announced a “You’ve Earned It” advertising campaign initiative to help the Indianapolis tourism industry. The initiative, which begins July 6 and runs through Sept. 7, features 50% off hotels for Indy residents and is timed to reopening, the Indianapolis 500 and the Labor Day holiday. (Photo: Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar)
“We don’t want the mayor’s actions to diminish what Axis has done for us and other Latinos in our community,” Zuñiga said. “But we want to know why did he come and tell us that ‘one of us one day could be on that seat’ and then he is the exact same barrier that we have to cross in order to get to that point.”
Zuñiga, 28, who has been involved with the Indiana Young Democrats and other leadership coalitions, said Hogsett’s support for Larrison was a heartbreaking moment for many in the Latino community.
“It was a huge spit in the face,” he said. “How else do you describe an action from someone who supported a person who has said racist comments about Latinos?”
‘He broke our trust’
Axis was launched in 2018 by the City of Indianapolis in partnership with the Indiana Latino Expo. The program is one of three under the city’s Office of International and Latino Affairs.
According to the Indiana Latino Expo’s website, the program was created after Hogsett’s Latino Advisory Council saw “a significant lack of Latino leadership within the Indianapolis community.”
Alondra Jara, 24, who also completed the leadership program, works as a paralegal in Indianapolis. She plans to apply to law school and become an attorney.
Jara said the program empowered her to speak up and allowed her to get to know more Latinos in her community, in a time where many find themselves being the sole Latinas or Latinos at their jobs.
“But we need to continue to be supported,” Jara said, “even after leaving the program.”
Jara said Hogsett’s actions were hurtful.
“This makes me more apprehensive of any future diversity initiatives and makes me concerned about whether this is going to be all talk and no action,” Jara said. “(Hogsett) broke our trust when he said he supports these programs and initiatives, yet his actions speak otherwise.”
In the statement, the group said they want to be taken seriously by Hogsett’s office.
“We don’t want to hear ‘that’s just how it works.’ We don’t want to hear ‘just wait your turn.’ We don’t want to hear ‘don’t speak up,'” the statement says. “We don’t want to hear ‘it won’t happen again.’ Our feelings are valid and we are not going to tolerate any more psychological warfare on an already oppressed group.”
Alongside Zuñiga and Jara, other participants of the leadership program who signed the statement include: Daniela Alvarez, Thalia Anguiano, Maria Chavez, Jorge Dorantes, Iliana Enriquez, Berenice López Valentín, Mari Luna, Erick Garnica, Mitzi Mendez and Valentina Montes.
(If on mobile, click here to see the full statement.)
IndyStar’s attempts to reach other program participants Wednesday for comment who declined to sign the statement who disagreed with the statement were unsuccessful.
The group who spoke with IndyStar said they were disappointed that Hogsett met with them only once throughout their time in the leadership program.
Schaffer said Hogsett has participated in Axis class days as his schedule allows since the program’s inception.
She also highlighted the work by the Axis leadership program and the work of the Latino Advisory Council to provide recommendations and suggestions to the mayor regarding the needs and issues facing the Hispanic and Latino community.
“…From elevating the Latino Affairs role to a cabinet-level position to the creation of the Mayor’s Latino Advisory Council to his ongoing support for community-driven initiatives such as the creation of the Axis Leadership Program,” she wrote, “Mayor Hogsett has demonstrated a consistent commitment to diversity and inclusion over the last four years.”
Schaffer also said Hogsett “will continue to maintain an open dialogue with the community in their work to achieve shared goals: increased economic opportunities, a narrowing of the post-secondary achievement gap, greater accessibility for community programs, and better health outcomes for Latinx individuals who are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.”
The mayor’s racial equity programs
Frustration among some Latinos has built up even as the city has embarked on various racial equity initiatives.
Earlier this year, Hogsett also championed a $380,000 study on Indianapolis’ contracting process, which showed disparities in bids awarded businesses owned by minorities, veterans, people with disabilities and women.
The study, which was released in January, was part of Hogsett’s administration push for workforce diversity with its “Inclusive Incentives” program. The program aims to increase promising jobs for the city’s lower-and middle-income residents and address racial disparities in job opportunities.
In recent months, Indianapolis’ City Council declared racism a public health crisis and later established a commission to study the socio-economic conditions and widespread disparities that affect Black men. The council also committed to addressing racial inequality in city-county government and by requiring each city department to submit equity information in their annual budget presentations.
Anguiano, 25 and an Axis graduate, worked in the division of multicultural programs and services at Butler University before recently moving to Chicago.
Anguiano said representation matters to the community. She said committees and advisory councils are like “only putting a Band-Aid on the bigger issue.”
“Has the mayor sat down with people and asked them if they actually feel supported by him?” Anguiano said. “He’s championing all of these things but does he know if people actually feel supported by him?
“If there’s not support from your leader then it’s almost like he’s checking off a box,” she said. “And we are not a box you can just check off.”
Montes, 22, works at a domestic advocacy group in Indianapolis. She said the statement was an effort to continue to hold Hogsett accountable for his words and actions, even a month after the District 12 race.
“The Latino community in Indianapolis is big. So why does this keep happening? Why are we still being ignored?” Montes told IndyStar. “It is time they listen to our voices. That’s why we’re not staying silent. We’re telling you that we remember.”
Currently, few Latinos in Indianapolis hold elected seats.
District 17 councilor and Indianapolis City-County Council Vice President Zach Adamson, Marion County Superior Court Judge Jose Salinas, and Marion County Treasurer Claudia Fuentes are the only Latinos in elected city-county seats.
In an emailed statement to IndyStar, Elise Shrock, president of the Indiana Latino Democratic Caucus said though the Democratic party accepts Latinos and Hogsett’s administration employs Latinos, that isn’t enough.
“Representation should extend past the ceiling of subordinate positions and into elected representation,” she said in the statement. “Our issues are no different than those of other Hoosiers, but the community lacks equitable access to resources.
“Latinx leaders are ready to lead and respond to the community now, and not just when other leaders decide it is our turn,” Shrock said.
Adamson said he understands the group’s frustrations and said there’s work to be done to help more Latinos become involved in the political process.
“If the community can come up with some ideas they think the mayor can do to either atone for that,” Adamson said, “or make it up in another way to find places in leadership within the city where we can promote Latinos so they get the traction they need to one day hold elected office.”
IndyStar reporter Amelia Pak-Harvey contributed to this story.
IndyStar reporter Natalia Contreras can be reached at 317-444-6187 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter, @NataliaECG.
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