Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Unrest in Ecuador hits close to home for Peekskill’s Ecuadorian population

Unrest+in+Ecuador+hits+close+to+home+for+Peekskills+Ecuadorian+population

Ecuador may be nearly 3,000 miles from Peekskill, but the country and its people are very close to the heart of the large Ecuadorian population in Peekskill. Because of the political crisis in the South American country, there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty regarding what is happening there and what could be the impact for Ecuadorians here.   

In response to the recent political upheaval in Ecuador, local organizations Comunidades Unidas and Comité Civico Ecuatoriano de Westchester worked with Peekskill Councilman Ramon Fernandez and District 1 Legislator Colin Smith’s office to host “Somos Ecuador” (We are Ecuador) on February 3 at the Peekskill City School District’s Administration building. The purpose of the event was to allow the public to learn more about the situation in Ecuador and the relevant U.S. immigration laws.

Last month, Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa issued a 60-day nationwide state of emergency, following the prison escape of José Adolfo Macías Villamar or Fito, leader of the infamous Los Choneros drug cartel. 

In response to the escape and subsequent state of emergency, violence rose across Ecuador, with publicized attacks occurring in prisons, universities, markets, and public spaces. 

Ecuador might seek Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for the Ecuadorian population in the United States, but nothing has been confirmed. TPS is a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program that allows foreign nationals from designated countries to reside legally in the United States for a period of up to 18 months. DHS may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in some cases, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals. (Ongoing armed conflict, is grounds for TPS designation, as listed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa has gone on record labeling the current crisis in Ecuador, an “internal armed conflict.”)

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people to profit off others’ uncertainty. In her remarks to the nearly 40 attendees, Peekskill City Court Judge Lissette Fernandez emphasized this: “I beg the community to get the word out that it [TPS] hasn’t happened yet. Do not allow people to be defrauded by unscrupulous lawyers or notarios [notary public].”

Peekskill City Court Judge Lissette Fernandez. (Screen grab from PCSD video)

She suggested the Ecuadorian community seek out information and educate themselves when they see something that may not be true. This advice may seem trivial, but a language barrier combined with little to no knowledge of local resources is all a lawyer needs to make money off of a desperate person. 

One of the many guests who spoke was Dr. David Mauricio, Superintendent of Peekskill Schools. During his remarks, Mauricio spoke of programs and resources available in the city’s schools. “In our district we have many resources for our families, in English and Spanish. We have a family resource center dedicated to our families. We have a bilingual program that begins in Pre-K at age 4”. He added that 74 percent of Peekskill students are of Latino descent, with the majority being from Ecuador and Guatemala. “We welcome them – they are part of our culture,” said Maurico.

When Councilman Ramon Fernandez took the podium, he spoke of the pride he felt that many of the people in attendance also united years prior to advocate for the passage of the Green Light Bill. That law, which passed in 2019, allows all New Yorkers the opportunity to earn a driver’s license regardless of immigration status. He noted that just like back then a lot of work needs to be done and it is vital for the community to remain united and strong during these troubling times. “Just like the title of today’s event says ‘Somos Ecuador’, today we are all Ecuador,” said Fernandez.

State Assemblywoman Dana Levenberg also spoke at the event, expressing solidarity with the Ecuadorian population. “In New York, we welcome our population from all over the world, especially our Latino population. You make up the fabric of our communities. You give us strength, you give us hope, and we’re going to continue to stand with you when your friends, your relatives are being hurt and taken advantage of, and the terrible things that are going on in your home country. I just want to let you know that we are here for you.”

Following guest speeches, the audience was guided into a moment of silence and prayer, in English and Spanish. Robert Lindenberg, Senior Pastor of The Peak Community Church, led the English prayer and Luis Coronel led the audience in Spanish.

After this, the mood was lifted when audience members got to enjoy traditional Ecuadorian music and dance. The Ecuadorian spirit was alive and could be felt in the auditorium, with clapping and people getting up to dance.

Members of the audience dancing. (Photo by Jeff Merchan)

When the dance came to an end, various guests received Ecuadorian gifts from event organizers. District 1 Legislator Colin Smith received a poncho; Ossining Mayor Rika Levin, Dr. David Mauricio, and Assemblywoman Dana Levenberg all received Panama hats.

School Superintendent Mauricio with his Panama hat. (Photo by Jeff Merchan)

The event ended with open discussion and speeches from the panelists and audience members. The Honorable Lissette Fernandez kicked off the discussion. She started by expressing her love for Ecuador and the United States, specifically Peekskill, which took her and her family in with open arms when she immigrated here at age 7. 

Fernandez shared more advice for the community: “Everyday when I sit in court and I see a lot of Latinos appear before me, I realize that a lot of them do not have a lot of information. And so I beg them and I beg you here today, become a member of your society, go to the council meetings, go to city hall, find out what the rules and regulations are, don’t stay quiet.” 

She also suggested that all Ecuadorian residents who are eligible to vote, register, so the Ecuadorian community in Peekskill can have a “voice” and proper representation.

Dinora Pacheco, President of Peekskill Hispanic Community Corp., picked up where Fernandez left off.  “We are here to be their [Latino immigrants] voice because they do not have a voice. They arrive only with what they are told over there or with the fear of not going back,” added Pacheco.

Traditional dancers and music was part of the program. (Photo by Jeff Merchan)

Pacheco went on to list and inform the audience about the services her organization offers to help the community. They include: weekly English classes, food distribution two times a month with Feed Westchester at 701 Washington Street, a Santa gift program for children, programs for pregnant women and single mothers, a coat drive, and occasional community clean ups. The office of Peekskill Hispanic Community Corp. is located at 1005 Park Street and if you wish to meet with Pacheco, you can do so by scheduling an appointment.

For information about the current state of immigration laws, panelists encourage the public to reach out to them.

  • Law Office of Lissette G. Fernandez, Esq., 50 Hudson Ave, Peekskill, NY 10566, (914) 257-7763
  • Law Office of Karine P. Patiño, Esq., 84 Smith Ave, Mount Kisco, NY, (914) 770-7714
  • Soto Law PLLC, Andrea Soto, Esq. 75 South Broadway Suite 4961, White Plains, NY 10601, 1 (800) 494-8031
  • Law Office of Colin D. Smith, Esq., 1132 Main St Suite 1, Peekskill, NY 10566, (914) 874-5004

In addition to Judge Fernandez, panelists for the event included Claudio Lopez, President of Asociación Ecuatorianos de Spring Valley; Ana Guzman, President of Ossining Padres Hispanos; Attorney Andrea Soto, Soto Law PLLC; Simon Guaman, President of Comunidades Unidades; Dinora Pacheco, President of Peekskill Hispanic Community Corp.; Attorney Karine P. Patiño, Karine Patiño Law; Luis Coronel, President of Peekskill & Cuenca Sister Cities Corp.; Jose Sandoval, Ambassador, Consul General of Ecuador in New York. 

Other attendees included Ossining Trustee Manuel Quezada, Doralba Lassalle (President of the Hudson Valley Hispanic Bar Association), Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins, and Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education, Eudes Budhai.

About the Contributor
Peekskill native Jeffrey Merchan is a 2022 graduate of Peekskill High School. He is the Collegiate Journalist at Peekskill Herald, funded by a grant from the DJ McManus Foundation. He is currently enrolled at Westchester Community College where he is studying journalism. As the inaugural recipient of the McManus grant, he will be covering city government, schools and feature stories with a focus on Peekskill’s growing Hispanic community.