May 29, 2009 Walt Shepperd Uncategorized
Fanny Villerreal gives up her job just to run
Fanny Villerreal brought a political consciousness with her from her native Peru to her adopted home in the Syracuse community. “In Lima, Peru we learned all about politics in high school,” she recalls. “In my country you must vote.” Reflecting that failure to vote there results in fines and limits on education and travel opportunities, she has compiled a significant behind the scenes political resume in her new country, especially working on issues impacting the Hispanic community. Outspoken and not afraid to engage in controversy, she had a rocky tenure as Executive Director of la Liga (the Spanish Action League).
While she spoke often of aspiring to public office, her work in social service agencies, supported by public funds, ran against legislated prohibitions on running for office. When the opportunity for a Republican Party designation for an at-Large seat on the Common Council got real, she was faced with a daunting decision. To get on the ballot she would have to quit her job at PEACE, Inc.
She approached her family for help in making the decision. They told her to do what would make her happy. Confident of that degree of family support, there was only one real choice for her.
Is there an allegiance toward the Republicans or the Democrats in the Hispanic community?
I can tell you from my own perspective why I’m a Republican. I’m Republican because when I make a phone call, they return my phone call. When I ask for help, they come out and help me. They don’t take me for granted. They work along with me. They are very open to learn about why we do certain things in a different way.
What are some of the differences?
For example, most of the people from South America, when they talk to you, they talk to you straight to your eyes as a respect.
Now, if you go to the Caribbean, they don’t look at your eyes. Not because they’re lying, but that’s the way that they respect. People in America, if you are telling people what you’re planning to do, but you’re looking to the street, how can they tell if you’re telling the truth. I think your eyes are the window of your soul.
Back in the mid-Eighties, there was a silent agreement politically, that the 4th District Common Council seat would go to an African-American. Should there also be a designated Council seat for the Hispanic community?
I think that the person who represents, whether Hispanic, African-American or anybody, has to be a person who is qualified for the job. I don’t see myself as running for the Hispanic community. I’m running for everybody, because I believe that senior citizens, the Irish community, the Italian community, the Hispanic community and everybody else has to choose a person that will do the right job for them. If I get elected I have to listen to everybody, not just the Hispanic community. I know that my community is going to be proud once I get elected. But that doesn’t mean I will just be for the Hispanic community.
What are the major issues that you want to work on?
One of the issues I would love to work on is education. This is my passion. When you are educated, you have the key to success, and you will be able to open different doors. I know that minorities in the Syracuse school district are dropping out, a lot, left and right. I would like to see that changed. Another thing is the crisis we’re going through with the money. I think I’m a very quick learner, so I will learn how to figure out ways to do better with that.
I’m running because I think the community of Syracuse has opened their arms to me. I’m very grateful for that. I have a lot of opportunities here. When I chose to come to Syracuse and call it my home, it was because I saw all these different opportunities that I could take advantage. I never came here to realize any kind of public services because I did not qualify since I was Peruvian. So as soon as I got here I started working in Nojaim’s super market, as a cashier, not knowing English. Then I remember going to Fowler High School at night to learn English.
If I can make it, anybody else can make it.
There seems to be some conflict in the Hispanic community about English as a Second Language, or bilingual education. Some say they want English as the first language for their children so that they will be competitive and able to achieve.
Well, both my children are bilingual. I think they should be bilingual because they should be proud of who they are, and also learn for assimilating where they are living. My first language is Spanish. I learned English because I want to grow and take advantage of opportunities and do better for my family. I bring my sons to Peru every other year so they can see their relatives. When you don’t know where you come from, and you lose your heritage, then who are you?
The Say Yes Program is being heralded as a savior for the school district. Is that a realistic expectation?
Yes. Not right now, but in the future. When I opened the scholarship for the Latino-American Festival, people thought I was crazy. A scholarship? Who’s going to take advantage of that? Today, a third generation of Latinos are applying and getting a scholarship to go to school. It didn’t happen over night. It took years to educate my own community that that was important. It’s the same thing I see with Say Yes. It’s going to take some time, but I see it as a great way to educate our youngsters.
Job creation seems as crucial an issue as education. Will Destiny play a major role here?
I believe so. I see more opportunity for people to get into sales and customer service.
What will it take to win your citywide race?
Being truthful to yourself. Not telling people what they want to hear. It’s very important to keep your values. Be open. I tell people I have a beautiful accent, and I tend to speak fast sometimes when I get excited. If I do that, tell me, so I can slow down. The only thing I can promise is that I will learn to do my best in the job.