Hearts and Mayans

Jack Leonard has opened his South Dade home to Guatemalan migrants. What more can he do?

After the hurricane, Diego worked as a volunteer for FEMA. He says Leonard rebuked that agency's efforts to assist the Mayans. "When we tried to help through FEMA, Jack didn't recognize some of our needs. He felt like we were trying to take away his authority by helping. We're not trying to take away from what he's done, just add to it," Diego says.

Dr. Danny Moran, a physician at the University of Miami Medical School, met Leonard in the first days after Hurricane Andrew, when the medical school sent mobile health vans into West Homestead, the largely migrant area where Leonard lives. They used Leonard's house as their base of operations. "There were clients everywhere," Moran says. "There were a lot of problems -- the language, the understaffing -- and Jack thought he should do it all himself. That's kinda his style. Jack talks a lot and comes at you with all his barrels loaded. He's very emotional about what happens with the Guatemalans."

Dr. Walt Lambert was part of the same UM medical team. Like anybody who knows the problems migrant workers face in Homestead, Lambert hesitates to question anyone who appears to be helping. "Without Jack, a lot of people wouldn't have gotten help," he offers. "But there was something wrong. And there were lots of problems: Jack wanted to be the boss. It became an issue if he was interested in what was best for the Central Americans or not. I felt uncomfortable with the situation there."

A frustrated Lambert finally insisted that the UM health vans be moved to another area.

Arturo Lopez is the executive director of the Coalition of Florida Farmworkers Organization (COFFO), a state-funded group that advocates migrant worker rights across the state. Lopez has worked with and for farmworkers since 1967, and he directed an association in Illinois before moving to Homestead. "Jack stops by once in a while," Lopez says. "I see him at meetings and extend our services to him. I always make sure he knows we have emergency-care programs available for the Guatemalans. But Jack keeps pretty much to himself."

Next door to COFFO, Lisa Levine directs the South Dade Immigration Agency, a federally funded liaison that provides explanations of immigration procedures and rights to the undocumented workers in Homestead. For the past five years she has headed the center, whose staffers meet with 60 or 70 Central Americans every day, helping them negotiate the morass of immigration law. Levine says she attempted to counsel Leonard about how to help the Guatemalans file claims. "Jack didn't want to be bothered with the facts," she remembers. "He has done a lot of good things, especially after the storm. But I just hope he hasn't set himself up as the Great White Hope."

For five years, Jonathan Fried has served as director of American Friends Service Committee of Undocumented Workers, a Miami-based advocacy group. "It's an objective fact: the Guatemalans in Homestead have no voice," says Fried. "Leaders should be developed from each community as the project evolves. There's a natural evolution. Jack appointed himself head of the Guatemalan community. He's the leader, because that's what he set himself up to be."

"Nobody ever told me I was head of the whole thing. But from day one after the hurricane, all the volunteers, the agencies, everybody just gravitated to me. It's not that I went out looking to be head honcho, I don't need titles. I'm a very strong person if I don't think something is right, and I can take flak, because I can give it," Leonard responds.

Before Andrew struck, he asserts, his hope had been to open a cultural center for the Mayans. To that end, with the help of Rep. John Cosgrove, he set up the nonprofit corporation Tenango, through which he planned to help the Guatemalans make and sell wares. But in the aftermath of the storm, housing, medical care, food, and trauma and immigration counseling became the paramount needs.

Leonard admits he knows little about negotiating the bureaucratic logistics associated with such issues. That task he would prefer to leave for others. In fact, while millions of state and federal dollars were made available for hurricane relief, Leonard asserts A proudly A that he wanted nothing to do with the monies. He considers the government bureaucracy too meddlesome. "How could I access federal funds? Am I going to sit down and access those funds? No. That's the federal government's job: to make those funds available. Why should I have to go out and fight for federal funds?"

No paperwork exists for Leonard's Central American Mayan Council. No 990-PF forms, which the Internal Revenue Service requires every nonprofit entity to file in order to document assets, liabilities, and administration. Nor has Leonard officially registered it as a nonprofit corporation with the Florida Secretary of State. That process is under way, he says, but he has no idea about its status.

Besides, Leonard adds, the Mayan Council has no cash flow. "Sure, there's been donations in the form of supplies, computer, TV, and other things," he says, but all money is channeled through Catholic Community Services at Sacred Heart Church. He won't provide any financial figures.

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