New Hispanic Advisory Committee chair looking forward to challenge

Jose Garcia is the Hermiston Hispanic Advisory Committee's new chair.

Fighting addiction in the community is a passion for the Hermiston Hispanic Advisory Committee’s new chair.

Jose Garcia was chosen as the committee chair at the end of November after former chair Eddie de la Cruz moved to Texas. He is also the director of New Horizons, which serves those struggling with problems such as drug and alcohol addictions, gambling, anger management and domestic violence. He hopes to use his professional skills to help the Hispanic Advisory Committee look for ways it can assist in addressing those challenges.

“We do have some issues in the community, and I think we can work on that,” he said.

Garcia said he has enjoyed getting to know city councilor Manuel Gutierrez, who acts as a council liaison to the committee. Gutierrez also works in human services through Domestic Violence Services.

“He’s got a lot of ideas,” Garcia said. “We’ve been having some preliminary talks. With his expertise and my expertise, maybe we can do some classes, educate some people.”

Past board chair Eddie de la Cruz said Garcia is a “great guy” who has been involved in the community for a long time, and people do not need to worry that under Garcia’s watch the Hispanic Advisory Committee’s efforts will flag.

“They’ve still got a lot of good plans. The committee is still going strong,” he said.

Past initiatives have included increasing voter registration and increasing involvement in education, and Garcia said he also wants to keep those things going, including a popular effort to partner with the Hermiston School District to provide Spanish translators for parent teacher conferences.

He said he also wants to help Hispanic children in the community connect to more financial aid resources for pursuing higher education.

Garcia said parents come to him all the time, worried their child might be doing drugs or upset about confirmed drug use. He said when parents get involved in their child’s education, grades go up and attendance improves, which helps children stay away from drugs and gangs and other harmful behaviors.

The problem, he said, is that many Latino parents are working multiple jobs to make ends meet or give their children a less impoverished childhood than they had. They don’t always have the luxury of arranging their work schedule, as Garcia has done while raising his three children, so that they can drop them off and pick them up from school each day.

“A lot of the factories and warehouses around here, they’re not family-oriented,” he said.

Parents feel powerless over that, he said, just like he sometimes feels powerless to help people turn their lives around when it takes four months to get someone into rehab. Garcia said he lost his own brother to addiction a few years ago for that very reason.

That feeling of powerlessness is a reason that Garcia has been drawn to Donald Trump over the last year. While many Latinos have rejected Trump for his rhetoric about building walls and mass round-ups of illegal immigrants, Garcia said he finds hope in Trump’s message about fighting for everyday Americans and helping those in our own backyard.

He said he wants to help calm fears by reminding Hispanic community members that Trump needs Congress to approve many of his proposals and that he ran his candidacy on a pledge to help the working class.

“I want to educate the Latino community to be optimistic and not have so much fear,” he said.

Garcia said he also wants to help the Hispanic Advisory Committee be more connected to the city council, and to make sure the committee is helping support “great” projects like the new, free bus system in town. He said he wanted to keep fostering new leaders in the Hispanic community and encouraging them to be more actively involved.

Garcia moved to Hermiston from Yakima in 1989 and said he really appreciated the growing opportunities he had working as a drug and alcohol addiction counselor for Umatilla County when he first came to town.

“I really thank the county for the product I am today,” he said.

He said people he worked with in that job always told him he needed to learn to say no, because he would say yes no matter what new project or meeting was added to his plate. But he can’t help being a go-getter willing to tackle any problem, he said.

He has been frustrated by the last two Hispanic Advisory Committee meetings being canceled due to weather, but plans to take the same go-getter approach with the committee.

“They say you can be part of the problem or part of the solution,” he said. “Today I can tell you I’m part of the solution.”


Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

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