May 27, 2008
By ANTHONY MARTINEZ BEVEN
As a Latino living in Oakland County, what would Pontiac's Latin roots mean to you?
Waterford resident Marty Padilla, 77, wants to help local Latinos figure that out.
Padilla is spearheading an excavation effort to gather as much historical information as possible about the Pontiac Latino community.
She has a formed a committee, the Pontiac Hispanic History Preservation Project, with the help of former Pontiac mayoral candidate Willie Martinez to locate and compile information detailing early Latino settlements in the city, local Latino community leaders, social circles and more.
Padilla said current records show the first Puerto Ricans came to Pontiac in the 1940s, and records can trace Mexicans to the 1920s.
"That's as far as we can go," she said. "If anyone can help us go back further, please do."
Combined, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans comprise the majority of the Pontiac Latino community, which makes up about 13 percent of the city's 67,000-person population.
So far the committee has gathered newspaper clippings, pictures, documents from the now-closed Pontiac Latin Affairs office, as well as audio tapes and video tapes with the help of residents and community organizations such as the Azteca Boxing Center, which will lend its own archives to the preservation project.
"All this information will be lost. We need to try to compile and have it somewhere where people in the future can look at it," explained Martinez, co-chairman of the committee.
"There is a lot of history, a lot of ground-breaking that took place in the Pontiac area. The more we get into this, the bigger it's getting. It's just snowballing."
Padilla said she was prompted to start the preservation project after thumbing through old records of her deceased husband, Tom Padilla.
"I had been putting off going through my husband's papers. I finally did, and they included Hispanic history. I realized especially the city stuff and the Hispanic stuff was really history and needed to be put somewhere," she said.
Tom Padilla, a Puerto Rican native, was an early leader in the Pontiac Hispanic community, serving as the first Latino city commissioner for Pontiac and a legislative lobbyist for migrant worker conditions in Michigan. He also had a hand in forming the first Hispanic Congressional Caucus, one of today's largest Washington, D.C., lobbying groups.
While Marty Padilla is proud of her husband's accomplishments, she said there are others that deserve recognition, such as Rudy Martinez, the first Mexican-American Pontiac police officer. The first Latino teacher in the Pontiac school system also needs to be identified and distinguished, as well as early Latino military veterans.
"If there are any veterans out there we would like them to get in touch with us. They need to be recognized," Padilla said, adding younger Latinos need these types of strong role models.
Once enough information is gathered, it will be compiled and properly archived with the help of Oakland University officials.
"If we don't grab this information now, a lot of this information will be lost because the first generation is getting older and passing on," Martinez said.
Martinez said he hopes the committee will have enough information archived by Hispanic Heritage Month in September to put it on display somewhere.
But Padilla said this effort shouldn't stop there. She wants local Latinos, particularly the younger generation, to continue to build the collection.
"It can be used for research, education and added to," she said.
Source: The Oakland Press