It was a brisk winter morning on Three Kings Day in South Bethlehem when Olga Negrón went shopping. She was distracted by a boy misbehaving and overheard his mother warn that bad behavior results in no presents from the three kings that night. Negrón sighed — the three kings already came the previous night and left.
In this moment, Negrón realized that she not only had to educate her daughters about Hispanic culture, but also the entire community.
Olga Negrón was elected to the Bethlehem city council in 2016, much due to her strong connections with the Hispanic community on the South Side. She’s the only Latina on the city council representing the majority of Latinos who are voiceless.
“I like to fight for justice and I want to make sure that my people are well-educated about their rights, so they’re not being stepped on,” Negrón said describing her community outreach efforts and legal clinics.
Through her full-time occupation as a community liaison at HGSK Law Firm’s Social Service Department, Negrón either connects locals to resources they may need such as food stamps, food pantries or billing assistance, or acts as an interpreter for personal injury cases for the 85 percent of Latino clientele the firm attracts.
“If the Hispanic community all votes together, they’d be pretty powerful, and I think you’re starting to see that,” said Roger Hudak, Negrón’s longtime neighbor and friend. “(Negrón) has a lot to do with that.”
Being an employee in Allentown, Negrón had to sit in on many city council meetings, which sparked her curiosity about the Bethlehem city council. As her involvement and reputation also grew in the community with assisting in the Puerto Rican Parade and Borinquen Fest, leading to her membership in the Puerto Rican Cultural Coalition and the Puerto Rican Beneficial Society, many locals encouraged Negrón to run.
“She’s very active in the community, and she’s well-liked,” said Nicholas Englesson, a magisterial district judge and Negrón’s significant other.
Even with a lot of support, Negrón was doubtful whether she’d win, but the need for diversity reigned supreme.
“Too often the people from the community spoke against a project, and the council was not listening, they approved one and again projects and activities that the citizens did not want, so that’s when I said we need representation,” Negrón said.
While Negrón advocates for the rights of her community that she’s been a part of for 21 years, she has been the single voice of opposition on the city council. Rather than passing the building of the garage on New Street, the Martin Tower where playgrounds would be demolished or supporting zoning changes, Negrón fights for things such as the pedestrian bridge that community members want.
“Here’s what’s outstanding about (Negrón): she’s not a career politician. She doesn’t answer to the political bosses. She doesn’t answer to the money people. She doesn’t answer to the developers. She really represents regular folks — she sees that the other interests are well enough represented,” Englesson said.
Negrón understands her role of being the check and balance of the government structure and the voice of the community at large.
“I’m not there to have everybody like me, if I was I would’ve sold ice cream instead,” Negrón said, “I don’t make my own selfish decisions.”
Fellow Councilwoman Paige Van Wirt said while the votes before she was elected to office were often 6-1, tipping against Negrón, now she’s not the sole voice of opposition as they usually vote similarly.
“The fact that (Negrón) understands the South Side so much better than I do, I want to learn from her because if Olga has an opinion that’s different from me, there’s something there and I have to listen,” Van Wirt said.
Negrón is not removed from the communal struggle of South Bethlehem residents.
Just short of her 21st birthday, Negrón moved to Tallahassee, Florida, from Puerto Rico with her three-month-old baby and husband, eventually having two more daughters, and later getting divorced due to severe domestic violence. As a single mother, she moved to South Bethlehem where she had family. Here she noticed the need to educate the community about their Puerto Rican culture and where her long road to councilwoman began.
What the Hispanic community has, according to Negrón, is love and support for each other. As time goes on and the Hispanic community grows, representation will change and Latinos will be at the forefront.
“The Hispanic community just needs a little more time. All the leaders of the Hispanic community are women, (Negrón) is the woman,” Hudak said.
Both Hudak and Englesson said Negrón could push for any position in the future, even mayor. With the Hispanic community on her side and her yearning to represent the underrepresented, she’s as Hudak put it, “a dynamo.”