Jim Fitzgerald, AP, August 11, 2008
Police Commissioner David Chong has made a new addition to the department’s wish-list: a Portuguese-speaking officer.
It’s just one sign of the changing demographics of this old suburb just north of New York City. Brazilians might constitute as much as 10 percent of Mount Vernon’s 72,000 residents.
“We really want to have someone here who can speak that language, who can really relate to that community,” the commissioner said. “I would like a handful, but one would be a great start.”
Most of the customers at Onda’s Brazil, a hair salon, are Brazilian, but proprietor Marisela Concepcion is Puerto Rican and Dominican.
She feels Brazilian immigrants have improved the city, “with the shops and the restaurants, it gives a little bounce.”
In a spare office at the Brazilian Civic Center, executive director Ricardo Braxtor teaches English and encourages the local Brazilian community to join blood drives, school groups and soccer leagues.
“We want to participate and give something before we ask for anything,” said the 46-year-old Sao Paulo native. “We want to change people’s ideas of what immigrants are like.”
Braxtor praises the Police Department but says many Brazilians in Mount Vernon are in the country illegally and fear that an encounter with an officer could lead to deportation.
“If you’re a victim of a crime, your immigration status is not going to come into play,” the commissioner said. “We are trying to overcome this lack of trust because it hurts the people.