It’s safe to say the Hispanic population employed at Thoroughbred tracks and farms across North America serves as the backbone of the sport, with the minority group often holding the majority of those vital, behind-the-scenes jobs.
With that in mind, it seemed fitting that in mid-July, Rubén Beltrán, Consul General of Mexico, paid a visit to Anna House, a childcare center located on the backstretch of Belmont Park for the working families at the New York racetrack.
Many of the Anna House families hail from Mexico. Beltrán wanted to see for himself the services of the Belmont Child Care Association and to talk to backstretch families about how the New York-based consulate could be of service.
Donna Chenkin, executive director of the Belmont Childcare Association, explained how she got the idea for the visit after reading an editorial written by Washington, D.C.-based Mexican ambassador Arturo Sarukhan, who expressed the need for more support of the Mexican community in the United States.
“I responded to his letter saying that I felt Anna House was trying to meet some of the needs of his community through early childhood education,” Chenkin said. The childcare center is named for the daughter of Thoroughbred owners Laura and Eugene Melnyk, who helped launch Anna House in 2001 with a $1-million gift.
“We’ve had a really good relationship (in the past) with the Mexican ambassador’s office; they have helped us raise money by having a cocktail party at the Consulate General of Mexico in New York four years ago for all our donors,” said Chenkin. “They’ve been good supporters of us all along.”
Beltrán’s visit began with a tour of Anna House, with stops in several of the classrooms. The pre-school students (ages 4–6) sang to Beltrán in Spanish, and were reluctant to let him leave as they regaled him with stories and peppered him with questions, slipping naturally between Spanish and English.
After getting a thorough taste of life at Anna House, Beltrán was given a backstretch tour of Belmont, where he spoke with various workers about life on the racetrack. Beltrán then conducted a meeting for the backstretch community at Anna House, during which they discussed such topics as working conditions, health care, and immigration document renewal.
“(The meeting) drew a large crowd and an array of questions, most of them legal questions,” said Chenkin, who noted that around 75% of the Belmont backstretch population is of Mexican descent. “(Beltrán) was extremely helpful to them and very supportive.”
In addition to pledging his support where possible, Beltrán announced he would donate several collections of books on geography, history, science, and math, along with teachers’ supplementary materials that could be used in the classrooms and library at Anna House.
While at Belmont, Beltrán also attended the races and bet on jockeys and trainers that hailed from Mexico, winning the first three bets he placed.
“We had to hold him back he was so excited; he couldn’t contain himself,” said Chenkin, who added that Beltrán had never before been to a racetrack. “I think he’s become a racing fan since.”
Beltrán returned to the racetrack during Saratoga’s summer meet and attended the annual Belmont Child Care Association charity dinner and auction Aug. 26. Chenkin said the Consul General of Mexico in New York will again aid Anna House this fall by setting up a building with computers and bringing a team to help backstretch workers with legal issues and tax documents.
“It’s going to be happening in mid-October on a dark day so we can get everybody involved,” she said.
Beltrán’s plans for extending ongoing support to Anna House include offering a unique auction item at the organization’s 2010 charity dinner. The highest bidder will enjoy a dinner served by Beltrán and cooked by his wife at the Mexican ambassador’s residence in New York City.