Dozens of community leaders and protesters gathered June 1 outside the Kensington office of Congreso de Latinos Unidos, Inc., to demand the resignation of CEO Carolina Cabrera DiGiorgio and more transparency and communication from one of the largest Lantix-serving nonprofits in Philadelphia.
Since DiGiorgio was photographed smiling and clapping at President Donald Trump's April 29 rally in Harrisburg, at which he renewed his calls for a travel ban and a border wall, Latinx and LGBT activists have called for major policy and personnel changes at Congreso.
The crowd held handmade signs that read "Carolina, which side are you on?" and chanted "Who do you serve? Who do you protect?" in Spanish and English while several people beat hand drums. Erika Almiron, executive director of Juntos, spoke through a bullhorn: "This is beyond politics. This is about hate. They want to divide our community."
DiGiorgio told PGN after the protest that she was aware of the demonstrators’ demands.
“Oh yes, I’m aware,” she said. “There’s not much by response. We respect everyone’s First-Amendment right to speak out. People of every race, religion, ethnicity and sexuality are welcome at Congreso.”
DiGiorgio has previously said she was only at the rally to support her husband, Valentino DiGiorgio, who was recently elected as chair of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania. DiGiorgio told a reporter from City & State PA, "There's nothing that would hold me back from supporting him."
Records show that both are registered Republicans in Chester County and Valentino DiGiorgio has voiced his support for Lou Barletta's Senate campaign. Barletta supports the construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall and the repeal of Obamacare.
Former GALAEI executive director Elicia Gonzales, who previously worked at Congreso, called on the agency’s current employees to stand with the community.
"You have an opportunity to speak out against this travesty, which you know to be unjust,” she said. “You can use your voice to speak out. There is too much at stake for your voice not to be heard."
Protesters voiced concerns and outrage through the bullhorn, including one woman who uses Congreso's services to manage HIV and fears funding to the programs she relies on would be cut under Trump's budget.
DiGiorgio noted that “any budget cut will impact Congreso, as it would any other agency. At Congreso, we are trying to be more innovative and trying to diversify our funding pool to get away from government dependency. I personally don’t think that will happen, but we would have to work quickly to diversify our funding pool.”
The protesters also spoke of the anxiety over deportations since Trump's inauguration. The Metropolitan Policy Program estimates that Philadelphia has one of the fastest-growing immigrant populations in the country, estimated at 500,000. The Pew Center has found that more than 50,000 of those residents are undocumented immigrants.
Protester Valentina Rodriguez added, "[DiGiorgio’s] out supporting Trump, and he doesn't stand for the Latinx LGBT community. If you're in a position as high as hers, you need to speak up for the community. I want someone [as CEO] who has walked these streets, someone who knows us."
"Today is just one of many actions we intend to conduct,” said GALAEI Executive Director Nikki López. Apart from demanding DiGiorgio’s resignation, the organization is calling for changes at the board level. “This is an organization that receives almost 80-percent funding from the city, and as a social-services organization for the Latinx community, we believe the Latinx community needs a seat at the table."
DiGiorgio told PGN that the agency’s board is “an amazing group of diverse people. We have board members from Honduras, Haiti, Guatemala, all around the world. They are certainly a devoted group that volunteer their time to the community.”
The Congreso board of directors, on which DiGiorgio sat for several years, released a statement of support for her leadership in May. Activists at last week’s demonstration said that move suggests Congreso is removed from the community it serves.
Abdul-Aliy Muhammad of the Black & Brown Workers Collective called for more communication with Congreso's leadership, saying, "For trust to be rebuilt, [DiGiorgio] must resign and the board must be more open and transparent. The board of directors does not reflect the community, and that's a problem."
GALAEI volunteer Felipe Vazquez added, "This is kind of a blessing in disguise. You don't know where a person stands until they take action. It's good for the community to look closer at their organizations because we didn't elect them and they're not held accountable by anyone until we step up."
Organizers report that, outside of the press release supporting DiGiorgio, Congreso officials have not responded to their requests for a meeting. When asked by PGN if she would meet with the organizations involved in last week’s protest, DiGiorgio replied, “Sure thing.”