A South Gate businessman is spearheading a drive to provide help for an estimated 5,000 residents from Mexico’s state of Jalisco, many of them poor and uneducated, who have immigrated to this city in recent years.
Ruben Arenas founded the Federacion de Clubes Jaliscienses to seek out adult education programs and business loans for Jalisco natives and other Latinos. At least 30% of the 4.5-million Mexican immigrants who live in Los Angeles County come from Jalisco, according to estimates by officials at the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles.
Arenas, a Jalisco native, said he formed the club to provide opportunities for those who left the state. He also wants to change the image of Latinos as uneducated and not united.
For Latinos to advance, they must first have an education, Arenas said. Some of the club’s 200 members quit school after the third grade in Mexico and work on assembly lines and in service industries here. Only a few are small-business people, he said.
The majority came here poor and uneducated, Arenas said. In contrast, Arenas arrived with a college degree in architecture and the benefits of a middle-class background. Today he owns several businesses in the Southeast area, including a real estate company, a travel agency and an import-export business.
Arenas said the organization he founded is a place for South Gate Latinos to congregate and learn about the services available to them. The city cannot meet all the needs of the sizable Latino community, which accounts for more than 73% of its population of 82,000. “It is another way to help the city and our people from Mexico,” Arenas said.
Juan Jose Gutierrez, the club’s education director, agreed. “The idea is that clubs by region should have more of a civic-oriented purpose that goes beyond the organizing of social parties and the crowning of regional queens. There are more essential needs, (such as) education,” he said.
Club officials direct members to state and federally funded adult education programs, which are usually offered through public schools, community organizations and community colleges. The long-term goal is for members to become literate in their native language as well as in English, and involved with vocational training, Gutierrez said.
Much like other regional clubs, the organization also tries to maintain contact with the people of Jalisco. Recently some members drove a trailer of X-ray machines and beds to Jalisco and donated the equipment to a hospital there.
State education officials confirm that Mexican immigrants in the last 20 years have tended to be from rural areas and have minimal education. Latinos, however, do not fare worse than other immigrant groups in educational level, said David Dolson, assistant manager of the bilingual office of the state Department of Education, adding that many immigrant groups come with little schooling.
But club officials take little comfort in that knowledge. “Without education, Latinos are always going to be janitors and dishwashers, jobs where they don’t need to speak the language,” Gutierrez said.
The club also works with other Latino organizations such as the Mexican Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, which specializes in helping small-business enterprises, and the Willie C. Velasquez Center, which provides amnesty classes and education for immigrants.