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Hispanic Unity hosts hopeful immigrants with job fair

Hispanic Unity hosts hopeful immigrants with job fair

By Gregory Lewis
Staff Writer

October 31, 2001

Victor Rodriguez, one would think, would be an ideal job candidate.

The 34-year-old former advertising executive speaks Spanish, Portuguese and English, and has a degree in marketing.

But Rodriguez, who arrived in Broward County two years ago from his native Venezuela, has been searching for a job in the hospitality industry for two months.

The best offer he's had has been a hotel night shift bellman job, which he turned down.

"I know I am starting over, but I am qualified to work in hospitality for a hotel chain or in marketing for a cruise line, marketing for Latin America."

With rent day fast approaching, Rodriquez and about 100 mostly Spanish speakers came to a small, but cozy, job fair Tuesday at the Masonic Lodge in Hollywood to talk to employers about much needed work.

"It's hard to get employers in who may have one or two opportunities," said Nilsa Artau, one of five employment development specialists at Hispanic Unity, which sponsored the job fair.

However, a real sticking point for many of the applicants is that some of them like Rodriguez are overqualified for the work available.

"Many of the people here are highly educated people coming from Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. It's very hard for them. They are running away from the government [in their native lands] so it's hard to mop floors but they are doing it. Their self-esteem suffers a lot," said Artau.

In the past 50 days, orientation classes that once held 20 people have grown to 80 Latinos seeking the services of Hispanic Unity, Artau said.

"We have to pump up their self-esteem," she said, "and teach them the difference in the American way of working. We teach them interview skills, to look the person in the eye, something they are not used to doing."

Lizabeth Ocasio, 26, came to the United States in May from Puerto Rico. She reads and writes English but speaks limited English. She's taking night classes in Cooper City, where she lives with an aunt and uncle, to improve her chances of getting a job in customer service, as a secretary or in sales.

She has a degree in business administration.

"In my case," she said. "It's not easy because I can't speak English fluent. I don't speak it well."

But with the unemployment rate soaring to 16 percent in Puerto Rico, the market for good jobs is extremely competitive and the experienced and highly educated rule.

Juan Cesar Asca was a hotel maintenance worker.

But the 72-year-old native of Peru was laid off his job as a custodian at the Oakland Park Inn after the vacancy rate dwindled severely after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

He's been looking for work for more than a month now, he said in Spanish.

"It's hard to place old people," Artau said. "We give them orientation help, the tools to look for a job, one stop centers and Web sites, how to go to the library. So they can do it on their own."

Language skills, the lack of fluency in English, is a serious obstacle for many of the job seekers at the job fair.

Artau said among those looking Tuesday was a nurse from Puerto Rico and a medical doctor from Colombia.

They, as well as others, were talking to employers and filing out applications to work as bus drivers for the Broward County schools, sell Mary Kay products or to join the Hollywood police.

Rodriguez said he is considering getting a bachelor's degree in the United States but wants to see how many credits will transfer from his college in Venezuela.

Frustrated, but not giving up hope of a job, Rodriguez tugged on his tie and said, "in two years, I will have a major degree and, then, probably they will take me seriously."

Gregory Lewis can be reached at glewis@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4203.

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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