Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Latinos' anti-DWI efforts a tough sell

Franco Ordoñez:

Osiris Collazos squeezed into a booth inside a smoky east Charlotte nightclub so drinkers there, mostly Latino men, could hear her over the popping beats of Spanish rap music.

"Which one of you is driving home?" she asked bluntly.

Ignoring their blank stares, she prodded on. Someone at the table should remain sober to drive, she said in Spanish. Some chuckled.

Realizing that Collazos was serious, they finally pointed to a friend. "He's driving," said one.

A warm smile crossed Collazos' face as she grabbed the friend's beer and fastened a red band around his wrist, a signal to the bartender that his drinking was through. She gave each man at the booth an anti-drunken-driving T-shirt, then moved to the next table.

As Charlotte's Latino community struggles with the backlash of two recent DWI deaths involving Hispanic immigrants, Collazos, a 38-year-old Colombian-born radio host, is on the front line of a battle to stop Latino immigrants from drinking and driving.

She began visiting Charlotte-area bars and restaurants favored by Hispanic immigrants last month to promote her campaign. She also pushes the effort on her morning radio show, "Amanecer en America" or "Wake Up in America," on WBZK-AM (980).

While most patrons she approached at the east Charlotte club put down their beers in exchange for T-shirts, not everyone embraced the idea.

"I can only push so much," she said after being turned away from one table. "I can't force them."

If Collazos is to succeed, she must convince people like Berly Hernandez, a 31-year-old immigrant from Chiapas, Mexico, who said he regularly drinks a dozen beers a night and doesn't think twice about driving afterward -- despite already having one DWI arrest."If I'm alone, I'll drive," he said, sipping a Modelo beer at another east Charlotte bar the following night. "The laws don't matter. I got nothing to lose."

Drinking, for Hernandez, is a daily ritual. It's a way, some immigrants say, to pass the time and escape the loneliness and stress of living in an unfamiliar place with little family -- often illegally.

Immigrants who drink excessively are a small fraction of the community, Collazos and other Latino leaders say. But they worry how the group is reshaping the perception of thousands of peaceful and law-abiding immigrants.

Charlotte's Latino community has been on the defensive since the deaths last year of a Mount Holly teacher and a UNC Charlotte freshman. Illegal immigrants are charged with driving drunk in both cases. The crashes triggered a rash of harassing phone calls, e-mails and letters to Latino advocacy and religious groups.

U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, a Charlotte Republican, cited the deaths in her push for tougher immigration laws. And three Mecklenburg commissioners moved to deny county services to illegal immigrants. Latino leaders say blaming Hispanics won't solve what they consider a societal problem. They note several other drunken-driving deaths recently in Charlotte that weren't caused by immigrant drivers. But they acknowledge that drinking and driving among Latino immigrant men is not uncommon.

"We all know that the problem exists," said Ricardo Mata, a Venezuelan-born spokesman for the Latino Center for the Development of Leadership and Family, a local faith-based advocacy group. "Some just want to deny it. It's part of the machismo culture."

Of the roughly 1,800 Hispanic men arrested last year, more than half were for charges of driving while impaired, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, which this month began an effort to educate Latinos on the dangers of drunken driving. The average blood-alcohol level among those men was 0.16 percent, twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent, police say.

Interviews with experts and dozens of Charlotte-area immigrants suggest no easy solution to a social problem with cultural roots.

Many immigrants are coming to America from countries where drunken driving is tolerated more, says Angeles Ortega-Moore, executive director of the Latin American Coalition, who condemns drunken driving. In some Latino cultures, she said, offenders are let go after bribing police.

A troubling trend: Hispanics and DWI

DWI arrest rate worries Hispanic leaders in N.C.

Diversity Is Strength! It’s Also…Drunk Driving


At 11:16 AM, Anonymous Tom Wilson said...

I developed a Spanish language online version of a DUI risk reduction class two years ago, but have had little interest in it from clients or agencies. It still needs work, but i welcome any users who want to try it out-feedback welcome. Here's the link in case http://twcc.thinkingdistance.org/moodle
log in as a "guest."
Tom Wilson, MA, LCPC
Program Administrator

At 4:42 AM, Blogger lauran said...

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