Las Voces del Lowcountry

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Lydia Cotton discusses how her advocacy role has evolved over time. 

Selection from interview with Lydia Cotton by Marina López, 31 May 2013, courtesy of The Citadel Oral History ProgramLowcountry Digital Library. Clip from original interview minutes 23:55-30:52. To access the full oral history and transcript, click here.

Marina López: How has your role in the community evolved? Because you started with Miriam and with Rhonda. How did your role evolve?

Lydia Cotton: Well, right now I am the Vice President of the Citizen Advisory Council, which is a group of all of the neighborhood association presidents in North Charleston and all of those presidents meet to talk about all of the communities. I meet with the Mayor [Keith Summey], and I have a very personal relationship with him, once a month, and it has risen beyond belief. I’ve gotten access to everything in terms of government that I need, in terms of organizations, companies, etc. so whatever department I wish to have access to, thank God, I can, solely by the character that the people have seen and the role I have played with the City and they back me up. I have a very good relationship with the Chief of Police [Eddie Driggers] who just started, but my history, the job I have done, that has helped me to have credibility.

ML: And tell me a little bit more from the beginning when you started with Miriam and Rhonda until now. What are some of the other things you have been doing step by step to gain the status that you enjoy? 

LC: It is not only with the police, but also with the Charleston schools, trying to understand why parents are not taking advantage of the services that are available. Also organizations like Appleseed [Legal Justice Center], helping them communicate better when they have community meetings to understand immigration. The legislators too. There are many others, but honestly, due to my brain surgery, my memory is short. This is one of the problems that affects me presently. I can talk to you about something that happened perhaps a week ago, but aside from the things I’ve taken notes of, many things that happened a year ago I don’t remember.

Another thing that affects me a lot and for which they give me a lot of grace, is that when I meet a person the year before – perhaps even this year, I don’t remember their face. So the person may be talking to me, but I don’t know with whom it is I am speaking. So I can’t tell you a lot of what I have done without my books in front of me. But I can tell you that my credibility is very strong. It’s very positive, and all for the community, I mean, I cannot tell you that it has won nothing for the community, always having the people present that is the only thing that is in my mind, that is the only thing I do not forget and the people are why I am doing what I do. I do not take any position in the government. It is why I don’t take any of the positions I have been offered in the private sector, why I don’t take any type of offers that they have put on the table. For the people, I cannot do it.

ML: When I heard your name for the first time it was because the people told me, “I go to Mrs. Lydia’s meetings.” What were those meetings? What was it that generated those meetings?

LC: The meetings they came to were when we were with the police, Miriam, Rhonda and me decided to start meetings with the Hispanics, to help the community understand for example, how to cross a street, you know, little simple things. We started with this little things, how to go to the department of victims and how to file an official complaint and specifically how to do daily things.

We were doing monthly meetings for some four years and we were very successful. They included food because as you know, we Hispanics love food, so if you look on the right hand side, there you will see me in a photo with the Mayor dressed as sweet Lily with some of the women from Stall Road. Those women used to be prostitutes, but they changed their lives and now help with the community. We were very successful. The community greatly accepted us; we quit doing the meetings because my vision was to reach the wider community. So we began the radio program.

ML: Can you explain to me your vision? What do you mean by that?

LC: The vision is that many of these persons who people look at, they put them aside because perhaps they say they are not educated. No, these people are gold. They have much to give. They have much to offer. They have so much to teach and educate, because they are very educated people. So that is my vision, to bring out this gold, to bring out these people for others to meet and to know them. To make sure that the American public sees how decent these people are. That is my vision, that all of these families can shine.

ML: And how are you doing this now? In what ways?

LC: The best manner in which I can think of is to start making them into leaders. My dream is to have a leader on every street. That leader can help other leaders and bring them to the light, to show them the Chief of Police, to show them the Mayor, to show them the representatives. That they get involved with the recreation department, with the school department, with the fire department, etc.

We are already doing this and we are achieving. For that reason we are now in a very important moment. The City of North Charleston truly is validating these people like it should, knowing that the values of the Hispanic community are values that many should follow and most importantly, that the crime that is happening in this city, does not come from the Hispanic community. Their crime is only one percent. So that is very important for the government. They want to know about that, they are learning from us.