Latinx Heritage Month or, as it is also referred to, Hispanic Heritage Month is customarily a time to honor and celebrate the history, past accomplishments and customs of Latino culture. However, given the unprecedented nature of 2020, we felt it appropriate to take a different approach.
This year, for Latinx Heritage Month, rather than look back – we focus on the present. Although the world is facing unprecedented challenges. There are leaders among us at local and national levels.
Each week during Latinx Heritage month we are highlighting two leaders
that are recognizing and rising to the challenge of bringing about that change.
Wanting to make the world better is a noble cause, making it happen is harder. Manuel Natal Albelo has spent his professional life working towards this goal. After graduating from Cornell, he returned to his native Puerto Rico for law school where he helped lead a student strike at the University of Puerto Rico to stop financial aid cuts for students and athletes. After spending two years seeking justice for labor unions as a lawyer, he took his fight to the political arena that was largely missing young voices. A just 27 years old, he became the youngest person elected to the island’s House of Representatives. Dissatisfied with obvious corruption in his political party, he went independent in 2017 and most recently joined a collective of people looking for new solutions in the Movimiento Victoriosa Ciudadana. Rather than run for another term in the House, Natal has his sights on a bigger though harder opportunity: becoming Mayor of San Juan, the nation’s capital, to improve daily problems like healthcare, education and quality of life. The position is often a stepping stone to the Governor’s mansion, but it’s an aspiration Natal no longer holds. Serving his people, and changing Puerto Rico, is far more important.
“Respect your elders” is a common phrase heard among Latinos. Jose Albino has gone a step further and made it his life’s mission. He has worked in the gerontology field for over 20 years and has led the Griot Circle, the first and only organization that caters to LGBTQ seniors, for the last five. Respecting and advocating for this especially vulnerable group of elders is something he thinks about daily. “They arguably were the creators of the LGBTQ movement back in the 1960s for queer people of color.” He also sits on the board of directors for the Stonewall Community Development Corporation to provide affordable housing for New York LGBTQ elders of color. In this case, the professional is also personal. Albino acknowledges this is a group he will one day belong to. Albino also understands how interconnected we all are and applies it to his work. “There are layers and diversity to who we are in the Latin community. To be individualistic in our approach to who we are will not serve [us holistically.]”