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November 30, 2020
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Latino Alliance promotes first festival

  • Founders of the Latino Alliance in Rohnert Park Shelly Gomez, Frankie Lemus, Maria and Darlene Sandoval. Photo by Robert Grant

By: Lanny Lowery
September 6, 2019

The recently formed Latino Alliance is moving quickly to make its presence known in the Rohnert Park/Cotati community.  It took a giant step by adopting Alicia Park.  And it will celebrate its culture and its people with Rohnert Park’s 1st Annual Latino Festival on Sept. 28.

The Latino Festival will bring community members together representing many different cultures.  This free event will offer live music and entertainment including a Cuban group, Latino fusion and Mexican music.  There will be a car show of approximately 20 to 30 low riders.  There will be food, beer, wine, other drinks and merchandise available for purchase.  The festival will be held at the Rohnert Park City Center, 500 City Center Drive from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sat., Sep. 28.

The celebration will help to give recognition to the growing population of Latinos and to acknowledge the hard work that they have given as business and community members.  The Latino Alliance has a mission and has goals that will help to improve the community.  

The mission statement speaks for itself:  “Our mission is to empower the Latino business owners and community members to use our voices to enact positive change in our growing community.”  Two things are clear:  many Latinos own businesses in the Rohnert Park/Cotati community and the Latino population is growing.  

Last year the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District reported significant Latino populations in each of its schools.  The breakdown from its Student Accountability Report Card shows Latino majorities in three schools:  John Reed, 79.5 percent; Thomas Page Academy, 64.2 percent; and Technology Middle School, 56.1 percent.  Rancho Cotate High School reached nearly half Latino reporting 46.6 percent.  Latinos comprise notable parts of the population at the other schools:  Evergreen, 29.6 percent; Lawrence Jones Middle School, 33.4 percent; Hahn, 24.9 percent; Monte Vista, 37.4 percent; Richard Crane, 39 percent; and La Fiesta, 38.1 percent.  Technology High School, which draws many students from outside the community, shows 17.5 percent.

Clearly, Latinos comprise a huge segment of the Cotati-Rohnert Park population.  And the trend is moving upward.  The Alliance seeks to promote not only its culture but also positive social change.  The mission statement develops this idea:  “We are a strong, non-profit organization grounded in our Latino culture and committed to social change through community outreach and civic engagement.”

The Latin Alliance has clearly stated goals as it intends to:  “Engage our community to keep people inspired and active in our mission.”  And with so many children attending local schools, to support them in many ways:  “Strengthen our youth engagement through volunteering and partnership with community events.”  And this will “meaningfully inspire diversity with inclusivity through community events and collaboration with other organizations and partnerships with Sonoma County.”

This alliance is home grown.  Co-founders Frankie Lemus and Shelly Gomez, Rancho Cotate graduates who attended schools here beginning in elementary, work with co-founders Darlene Sandoval and Maria Sandoval to help make Latino Alliance have a positive impact on the community, and they want to honor all of the people who are a part of the community.

Frankie Lemus owns and operates Sol Azteca, the oldest Mexican restaurant in Rohnert Park.  His parents began the business 28 years ago.  Shelly Gomez, who works in the Culture Center at Sonoma State University, is the daughter of the owner of Rohnert Park Transmissions, a business that has operated in Rohnert Park for a quarter of a century.  Darlene Sandoval handles legal issues and serves as bookkeeper.  Maria Sandoval has spent many years as a local insurance agent.

Frankie Lemus has some personal goals based on his experience and life in this community.  “We have put in the years; for us to be leaders says a lot, we’ve been here.  We want to create a community that is really equitable.  Now is the time to empower our members.  We want to be involved in the downtown development.  We want to be role models for our children, and we want to honor the hard work of our parents.”

Adopting Alicia Park set a precedent and created a focus for the Latino Alliance.  Working with the city parks manager, the Latino Alliance will paint and landscape the area.  It will help maintain and beautify the park.  This will be an opportunity for members of the alliance to work together and to be a presence in the park, contributing to its safety and its beauty.

The Latino Alliance co-founders started their organization by meeting with friends and other Latino business owners.  Rohnert Park Mayor Gina Belforte, when approached, suggested that Latino business owners get together and discuss how they can be better involved in the community.  

Mayor Belforte praised the work of the co-founders:  “I am so proud of what Frankie and Shelly are accomplishing in building deeper, diverse and inclusive sense of community in Rohnert Park with the creation of the Latino Alliance.  The Latino Festival is an additional way to bring the whole community together to celebrate the many cultures of Rohnert Park.”

At the first meeting only seven out of a potential 20 people appeared.  This number grew meeting after meeting.  

Some of the ideas discussed:  become a nonprofit to benefit the culture, develop a culture center, and have a suburban renewal or revamp in the oldest parts of the city, specifically A and B sections.

So, come celebrate the Latino Alliance and the Latino culture by attending the 1st Annual Latino Festival on Sept. 28 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Rohnert Park City Center.  Enjoy music by Sang Matiz, Afro-Latin Funk Band, Carlitos Medrano, Sabor De Mi Cuba and others.  Among the interesting sponsors are Congressman Mike Thompson, Councilwoman Esther Lemus, the Tribal Counsel of Graton Casino, Riviera Common Grounds, the Exchange Bank, Buchanan Foods, Valley West Insurance, Foodjets, Summit Bank and Rohnert Park Transmission.  For more information, contact latino.allianceofrpc@gmail.com.