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Forum Designed To Inform Latinos
St. Frances of Rome Father Misael Avila, at the podium, was one of the organizers of the Congressional Candidates Forum for District 10 in Spanish for Spanish speaking voters in Stanislaus County on Tuesday, May 1. Photo Contributed

St. Frances of Rome Church in Riverbank had several guests arriving on a recent Tuesday evening; however, it was not for a church service but for a Congressional Candidates Forum for District 10 held in Spanish. This forum was organized by the Social Justice ministry at St. Frances Catholic Church including Father Misael Avila and Faith in the Valley-Stanislaus which is a multi-faith coalition of congregations that work together for social, racial and environmental justice in Stanislaus County.

Guests that did not speak Spanish had the option to listen to the translation with headphones. There were approximately 150 people in attendance last week to discuss immigration reform, healthcare, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and any other concerns from Latino voters and others.

“Thank God we had a great turnout,” said Avila. “If Latinos are educated about the importance of participating in our political process, they will certainly get engaged. A few days ago we did a voter registration drive in my Parish and 23 people registered to vote. They are very excited about the midterm elections.”

Candidates that attended the forum were Josh Harder, Virginia Madueño, Michael Eggman, Michael Barkley, and Sue Zwahlen. Other candidates are Ted Howze and incumbent Jeff Denham.

“All of the declared candidates were invited to attend and participate,” stated Andy Levine, Interim County Director for Faith in the Valley-Stanislaus. “We believe this was an important recognition of the inclusivity and significance of Latino and Spanish-primary voters in Stanislaus County. As such, the forum’s questions and focus also reflected many of the priorities of our communities, including immigration and deportation fears, health care vulnerability, poverty and food insecurity.”

The majority of attendees were Latino voters from Riverbank and the surrounding area, according to Levine. After spending several weeks listening to neighbors and residents the parishioners with both St. Frances of Rome and Faith in the Valley-Stanislaus realized the importance of holding a forum in Spanish to discuss topics that they are concerned about.

In a press release prior to the forum it stated that there are over 32,000 undocumented immigrants in Stanislaus County alone, who are living in heightened fear of deportation and family separation due to recent ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) activity and the Trump Administration’s suspension of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Additionally, over 300,000 people in this Congressional District (CA-10) rely on Medi-Cal coverage for life-saving health care. With threats to Medi-Cal at the federal level, organizers of the forum said many are also living in heightened fear and insecurity.

“We are actually a non-partisan coalition of congregations, representing various faith traditions across five Central Valley counties, working together to address issues including inequality, poverty and vulnerable communities,” said Levine.