Maria Eugenia Rave of Bangor should be on familiar ground when she heads to Washington, D.C., today as a Maine representative to the Senate Hispanic Leadership Summit.
The summit, led by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, is an opportunity for nearly 400 Hispanic leaders from cities and towns around the country to share ideas and concerns with government officials and legislators about the issues that most affect the fastest-growing segment of the population.
During this week’s two-day summit, participants will discuss job creation and financial security among America’s Hispanics, how to strengthen educational opportunities, promote Spanish culture, improve immigration policy and ensure better health care for working families.
In Rave’s own small way here in Maine, where she settled with her family in 1985 after a brief vacation here with a relative, the native of Colombia has had experience with nearly all of those issues as they relate to the state’s small but expanding Hispanic community, which now represents nearly 1 percent of the population.
There’s Rave (RAH-vay) the successful local businesswoman who, with her Argentinian chef husband, Alejandro, owns Thistle’s restaurant in Bangor, which is managed by her son Santiago. There’s Rave the artist, writer and music lover, whose restaurant becomes a tango dance hall every other Tuesday night and is the site of a vibrant annual New Year’s Eve party for the Bangor area’s Hispanic residents, who now number well over 1,000.
There’s Rave the educator, who has taught her native language for years in several Maine schools and is now a Spanish instructor at the University of Maine and Husson College.
And then there’s Rave the migrant farm worker advocate. She spent nearly a decade among the Spanish-speaking harvesters who work the blueberry fields Down East, teaching English to their children, educating the adults about HIV-AIDS as a Red Cross outreach worker, and serving as an interpreter for those who needed help navigating the often-perplexing medical, court and immigration systems.
“I have always enjoyed working with people, and the migrant workers in Maine have been an important part of my life,” said Rave, who was nominated to participate in the summit by Sen. Olympia Snowe. “When we lived in Ellsworth, Spanish-speaking people, newcomers to the area, were always being sent to my house. Now, they come to me through my restaurant or through the university.”
In the brief presentation that Rave has prepared for the summit, she will cite the need for an increase in English as a Second Language classes for Hispanic children in the public school system and the improvement of the working and living conditions for migrant workers both in Maine and the rest of the nation. She also will call for a greater number of Spanish-language interpreters in hospitals and the courts and for more funds to help Hispanics get the higher education and work training they’ll need to succeed in their new country.
“On a personal level,” she said, “I think of my nomination as an honor for what I’ve been able to do as a businesswoman and an educator, for starting from scratch in this country and working my way up. But mostly I see this as an opportunity to see what I can do to help the Hispanic community in this state, not just the migrants but others who live and work here. I want their voice to be heard from Maine.”