Ecuador native Maritza Guichay moved to East Hampton 17 years ago, but only recently stepped foot inside Town Hall.
“The Latino community, including myself, didn’t feel that Town Hall was a place for us — mostly out of not knowing what we could encounter,” said Guichay, 29. “The language barrier plays a big role. They don’t speak Spanish there.”
Guichay, a comptroller, said she hopes that will all change through the new 10-member Latino Advisory Committee that she will co-chair. The town board approved the group’s formation on Feb. 4. Its goal is to encourage Hispanics who live and work in East Hampton to become more involved in local government and the broader town community.
Angela Quintero, a Colombia native who lives in East Hampton Town and is the other co-chair, noted Latinos comprise more than one-third of the town’s residents and half of its students, yet there are no Hispanic members of the school board. There are also no Latinos on the town board.
“We’re happy about the new committee, and it’s the town supervisor who started it all,” said Guichay, referring to Larry Cantwell. “He approached us and wanted to work with us to integrate us into the community. Basically the town is welcoming us.”
Cantwell will act as the council’s liaison. The committee’s first meeting is March 18 at Town Hall, but the time has not been scheduled. Town officials will discuss East Hampton’s new rental registry law, and the session will be interpreted in Spanish.
Other topics to be addressed by the group in coming months are immigration and the relationship between Latinos and local police.
Guichay said the rental registry law is important to Latinos “because we rent and are homeowners.” She added that better communication between East Hampton’s Latinos and the police is another priority.
“Unfortunately there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what the police can or cannot do, and what I like most is that the chief of police wants to talk with us about that,” Guichay said.
Police Chief Michael D. Sarlo said he wants a more open dialogue with the town’s Latinos and called the creation of the committee “a positive step forward.”
Sarlo said he wants to address topics ranging from the expectations of police at traffic stops and their role in immigration issues to the importance of child safety seats.
“It is clear we must ensure our Latino citizens understand our role is strictly to enforce laws and protect and serve the citizens of our community, regardless of immigration status.”
Sarlo said there’s a need to “bridge the communication gaps and continue to foster trust and understanding.”