November 26, 2003 - The Capital Times: El Salvador RPCV John Schlueter and wife Romalia give helping hand and hope to Latinos in Wisconsin

Peace Corps Online: Directory: El Salvador: Peace Corps El Salvador : The Peace Corps in El Salvador: November 26, 2003 - The Capital Times: El Salvador RPCV John Schlueter and wife Romalia give helping hand and hope to Latinos in Wisconsin

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El Salvador RPCV John Schlueter and wife Romalia give helping hand and hope to Latinos in Wisconsin

El Salvador RPCV John Schlueter and wife Romalia give helping hand and hope to Latinos in Wisconsin

Latinos get helping hand and hope

By Rob Zaleski
November 26, 2003

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Rob Zaleski is a 32-year veteran of the news business. His columns appear every Monday and Wednesday in the Communities section.

Romilia Schlueter in her office at the Catholic Diocese’s Multicultural Center. (Photo by Henry A. Koshollek)

He was huddled inside the doorway - alone, cold, his clothes damp from the light mist - when Romilia Schlueter arrived for work at 9 a.m. on this overcast Saturday.

And like so many of the Latino immigrants who show up every day at Centro Guadalupe, a Catholic outreach agency on Madison's south side, he was young - "no more than 19 or 20," says Schlueter, the center's executive director.

But this young man was luckier than most, Schlueter says. He has an aunt here. And he merely wanted to use the phone to call his family back in Mexico.

A robust and articulate woman, Schlueter says she welcomed the young man and explained to him that the center - which moved into its handsome new building at 1862 Beld St. just a year ago - has served as a home away from home for thousands of Latinos over the last 26 years.

It has, she pointed out, an employment assistance office and a food pantry that's well stocked throughout the year. (However, the center is badly in need of winter coats, new or used. For more information, call 255-8471.)

It also has dozens of volunteers who serve as legal advisers and tutors and who teach programs in computers, Spanish literacy and English as a second language.

But while the man seemed pleased, her heart went out to him, Schlueter says, because she knows the many obstacles he faces. If his experience is typical, she says, he will find a minimum wage job, work 50 or 60 hours a week and send most of his earnings back to his family - with the slim hope that perhaps one day his parents and/or siblings will be able to join him.

To be sure, not everyone in Madison empathizes with the wave of Latino immigrants who continue to arrive here, Schlueter acknowledges. There were, she notes, two recent letters in the Catholic Herald highly critical of the newcomers. And she occasionally receives calls from "people who are so afraid and say horrible things" about Madison's burgeoning Latino community.

Schlueter says she knows such bigots represent just a tiny percentage of the city's population. But their comments still rankle her, she says, because they obviously have no idea of the risks many Latinos take to get here.

"You don't abandon your home and your family - and risk your life trying to cross the border - unless you are desperate," she says. "I mean, people don't come to Madison because the snow is beautiful."

What the bigots fail to understand, she says, is that the vast majority of Latinos who come here - or any other U.S. city, for that matter - do end up finding jobs, do pay taxes and, in so doing, "contribute heavily to the economy."

What's more, because it is such a young and growing population, she says, the money it pays into Social Security could be a major factor in keeping the program afloat as millions upon millions of baby boomers retire over the next few decades.

Schlueter, it should be noted, knows full well what it's like to flee one's homeland under desperate circumstances. A native of El Salvador, she and her husband John Schlueter - a former Peace Corps volunteer - were married in that country in 1979. But they left abruptly a year later after about 12 members of an agricultural cooperative John helped form were dragged from their homes and murdered - presumably by members of the El Salvador Army - at the height of the country's brutal civil war.

After two unforgettable years on the Caribbean island of Dominica, the Schlueters came to Madison in 1983 when John took a job with the World Council of Credit Unions. (He is now vice president of Med Graph Inc., an Internet medical information firm.)

Romilia, who has an accounting degree from a college in El Salvador, stayed at home for more than a decade to raise their three sons. But she also attended Edgewood College part-time and, shortly after earning a business degree, was hired by Centro Guadalupe in 1997.

It was, she says, a perfect fit "because my role here drags me back to the roots of my culture."

Indeed, if the bigots were to stop and visit the center, she says, perhaps they'd have a greater appreciation of the extraordinary energy and hope that pervades not only Centro Guadalupe, but the Latino community as a whole.

These are not people taking advantage of the system, Schlueter says in a voice laced with emotion.

"These people are working hard and providing fresh ideas ... and making all our lives richer. And Madison's a better place because of them."


Published: 9:32 AM 11/26/03

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Story Source: The Capital Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - El Salvador; Service



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