Computers Go Latin In Queens

By Adam Pincus
Queens Ledger
October 14, 2005

Laid off in September from his factory job as a fabric cutter, Mario Galarza, 54, struck upon an idea for a new career. The simple problem remained, however, that he could not operate a computer.

Through an unemployment retraining grant, the Ecuadorian native was able to attend a young Spanish-language technology academy in Jackson Heights called Latin Technologies Inc. to learn the fundamentals of computing.

"Next year," he said during a break in a class last week, "I am going to prepare taxes."
It was a native of Colombia, Rodolfo Herrera, 31, who came to this country six years ago and quickly saw the need in the Latino community for computer skills. In 2002, he founded Latin Technologies Inc. as an organization to increase the computer literacy of Latinos and prepare them to compete against what he described as better trained American and foreign workers.

"In the past we were thinking to work in a factory, but we see the jobs are leaving," he said during an interview last week. Latino workers need to be retrained "so that we can be productive in the 21st century."
The non-profit, located at 79-02 Roosevelt Ave., offers computer classes conducted in Spanish in areas such as computer literacy, computer networking and advanced programming classes. The nine employees of the organization teach Windows XP, Internet Explorer, Office 2003, Photoshop and computer network program N+, among other offerings, to about 125 currently enrolled students. In 2004, they taught over 700 students, he said.

Herrera said there are two aspects of the Jackson Heights academy that are unique. It is the first and only Latino Microsoft Academy in the country, he said, and through a relationship with the New York-based Consortium for Workers Education, a worker training organization, the academy offers classes to students without legal residency documents. He said many government-funded programs require papers that some residents in the neighborhood, who are here illegally, do not have.

The company is located on the border between Community Boards 3 and 4, where more than 50 percent of the population in the districts are foreign-born and most speak Spanish.

Herrera said during the first several years of the company, he found it difficult to raise money through grants, especially, he noted, from politicians, who he said had trouble imagining Latinos and technology together. But he said that has changed following the company's investments of more than $250,000 in computers and training equipment.

"Now with the technical infrastructure we can ask the politicians for money. Right now it is a different story. Now this is an academy," he said.

The city, through City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona), awarded Latin Technologies $35,000 last year, though Herrera said he has yet to see the money.

And U.S. Rep Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) is hoping to assist them with federal dollars.

"As we look to the future, I plan on working hard to secure federal funding for Latin Technologies as I continue to highlight the importance of access to technology training," he said.

Reach reporter Adam Pincus by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.