By: Jason Esteves
“Thank you so much. Buenos dias! It is once again an honor to be here speaking this morning, this time as proud state senator for senate district 6!
I’ve spoken to my GALEO family several times over the years, but this year is special. Not just because of my legislative position, but because of GALEO’s position. Roughly twenty years ago, Jerry, Sam and Pedro started this organization as a catalyst for greater engagement of the Latino community. With one staff member, the important work of GALEO started. When I became involved with the organization in 2013, GALEO had two employees. Today, GALEO has 18 employees with expanded programs and even bigger, more significant impact on our community.
That’s credit to everyone who has worked for GALEO, volunteered, participated in programming, partnered with us, and most importantly donated money to the organization. Because of YOU, this organization is engaging and empowering Latinos across the state to build a better Georgia for all of us.
GALEO’s monumental growth is happening at the perfect time. The Latino community in state is growing—we are the second fastest growing demographic in the state. Our community is very young, with a median age around 27-28 years old, and our footprint is reaching every corner of this state.
When my family moved to Georgia in 1985, Latinos made up very little of the population whereas today, Latinos are nearly 11% of the population. But with the growth in our community comes significant challenges. Almost half of Latinos in Georgia live in poverty or low-income conditions, the highest among all race and ethnicity groups. Georgia Latinos have lower education levels than other Georgians and Latinos nationally. And nearly a 1/3 of Latinos are uninsured—higher than other Georgians and Latinos nationally.
I don’t say this to bring down the mood. I highlight this to clearly layout the opportunities all of us have to improve our community. Listen, I often get asked what Latinos care about the most. And I know we are not a monolith and that we are as diverse as a community as the United States is itself, but generally, my answer is the same—Latinos care about what everyone else cares about—education, healthcare, housing, and the jobs. It’s what every Georgian wants—to raise their families in a place that is safe and where their children have the opportunity to live better lives than they did.
But Latinos bring a different perspective to these issues because of our lived experiences that we’ve had because of how we came to this country and our native language. This is a perspective that the majority in this state wouldn’t be able to bring because, as Bad Bunny would say, porque no tienen sazon. No tienen sazon (Bad Bunny is a philosopher, apparently). As a community, we raise issues related to language access, immigration status, and targeted information sharing that add color to what we face in education, healthcare, housing, and the economy.
Latinos are able to explain how language could impact our ability to help our children receive a quality education. We can explain how immigration status can impact whether you get access to certain colleges or even healthcare. We can talk about how small businesses and entrepreneurs in our community are being shut out of economic opportunity by the lack of information. I could go on and on.
In fact, the irony is not lost on me that 20 years ago, it was the fact that legislation failed, after significant lobbying, to provide for driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status that help spur the founding of GALEO. That legislation failing is the reason Jerry, Pedro, and Sam determined that an organization like GALEO was necessary.
Now, on its face, it may seem that the legislation was only relevant to Latinos and other immigrants who couldn’t legally drive, which impacts your ability to get around, dictates where you are able to live and what kind of jobs you can have. But it is also an issue that impacts all of us regardless of status. For example, who here pays car insurance? Who pays for uninsured motorist insurance? Georgia has one of the highest uninsured motorist insurance rates in the country. Many of those are people who can’t legally drive or get insurance. In states that allow individuals to get driver’s licenses regardless of status, their insurance rates, particularly their uninsured motorist insurance rate, has gone down. Furthering my point that Latino issues are Georgia’s issues.
By the way, I plan on introducing legislation to address this issue next session. It’s way past time. In fact, we are bearing the brunt of the inaction from 20 years ago.
That is why it is so pivotal that we not only elect Latino elected officials at every level of government, but that we also empower our community to demand more from our elected officials and our government.
That, my friends, is why GALEO is so important. This organization is at the forefront of the work to ensure that Latinos at that the table and not on the menu. They are working to build our power, build our poder, so that our perspectives are considered as we tackle issues that matter to all Georgians.
But they cannot do this work without you. Stick with us. Stay engaged with us. Because the work now is more critical than ever before.
As I close, I again want to thank you for your continued support of this organization. I want to share my love for every person that contributed, time, money, blood, sweat and tears. I want to especially thank the staff and their fearless leader, Jerry. I want to call Jerry up here for a second.
You know, one of the last things I did this session was to have my colleagues in the state senate help me in recognizing GALEO for 20 years of work. It was a little nerve-wracking because of the perception that the organization has in some circles. But guess what, it passed! And it passed unanimously—meaning Republicans and Democrats came together to acknowledge the work of this organization and its impact on the Latino community and the state as a whole. So I’d like to take a moment to present Jerry and his team with this resolution.
On behalf of my colleagues in the State Senate, congratulations to GALEO and thank you for your work in Georgia.”