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Mexican state building ties with city

Hidalgo hopes to form cultural and economic bonds with Clearwater and strengthen links with its large Hidalguense community.

By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 17, 2000


CLEARWATER -- Two decades ago, people from the Mexican state of Hidalgo began to travel to Clearwater to work and, sometimes, to settle.

On Friday, a delegation of 11 representatives from the Hidalgo state government followed in their footsteps for the first time. The delegation members wanted to see the city where an estimated 6,000 or more Mexicans from their state have established a tight-knit community.

The Hidalgo government group will spend three days meeting with the local Hidalguense community here as well as making business and government contacts in Clearwater.

The city held a Friday morning ceremony at City Hall to welcome the representatives. The Mexican delegation presented City Commissioner J.B. Johnson with a handmade, wooden domino set, with inlaid diamond designs of shell on the back of the pieces.

"Clearwater is a very important area for us," Horacio Rios, Hidalgo's secretary of economic development, told city officials. "We'd like to expand the bridges between both places and work together to make them better."

In return, Clearwater officials presented the Mexican group with key chains and coasters with the Clearwater city logo. Pinellas County officials gave the delegation lapel pins for Pinellas' new Mexican trade initiative.

The Mexican delegation plans to meet today with groups of former Hidalgo residents who now live in Clearwater and explain a new economic initiative of the Mexican state's government.

The new initiative, which translates into English as the "Program for Small to Medium Investment," will encourage immigrants living here to send money home to Mexico. If the money is spent on small businesses or new homes in Hidalgo, the state government is pledging to match such investments "peso por peso."

Hidalgo officials are starting the program, because they estimate that as many as 50,000 former residents of their state are living in the United States, especially in communities in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Clearwater, said Lolita C. de Parkinson, a representative of the Hidalgo governor's office.

But according to a government survey taken during last Christmas' holy week festivities in Hidalgo, Parkinson said, many of the Hidalguense people in the United States hope to return home someday. The new investment initiative could help them come back.

The other aspect of the delegation's trip is cultural.

Parkinson said the Hidalgo government would like to try to improve how people living here get news from back home. The goal, she said in Spanish, "is to maintain united families between Clearwater and Hidalgo. They don't want to forget their culture."

The director of Hidalgo's state radio and television will stop by a local radio station, 1350-AM Fiesta Mexicana, this afternoon to talk about Hidalgo and the delegation's trip.

On hand to welcome the Mexican delegation Friday were representatives from a recently formed group of former Hidalgo residents living in Clearwater. The group is dubbed the Organizacion Consejo Hidalguense, the organization for the assistance of people from Hidalgo.

The new organization has many objectives, members said, from helping people get access to health care to assisting with translators for people who can't speak English. They have already worked to develop a soccer league with 16 teams, said Leopoldo Tepetate, who is handling the group's media relations.

In September, the new organization is planning to bring a folk dance troupe from Mexico for a performance in Clearwater to celebrate just before Mexican Independence Day, said Adrian Pena, another member of the new Hidalguense organization.

"We're going to look for the needs, and come up with ways to help them," said resident Genaro Baltazar, who is also involved with the new local organization. "We're growing and working to integrate ourselves."

For the Hidalgo state officials, the trip to Clearwater is short but busy. The delegation met with the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce for lunch Friday. Then the group went to talk with city police administrators about programs that assist the local Mexican community. Delegation members also were to attend a baseball game at Tropicana Field this weekend, before leaving Sunday.

"If another government can work to help people here, I think it will be a very good thing," said Robin Gomez, a Clearwater city auditor who acted as the delegation's translator during the trip here.

Gomez, by coincidence, is originally from the city of Pachuca in Hidalgo.

"I can go to stores here, or go to the soccer field, and it's like I'm in Hidalgo," Gomez said. "We're in another country, but this city is more and more diverse now."

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