1978 - 1979
lthough Círculo de la Hispanidad began officially operating in 1980, Gil Bernardino, its founder, began the
process to create the organization in 1978.
In late 1976 the city of Long Beach created the Youth Bureau in an effort to coordinate the many youth services
founded by the Nassau County Youth Board. These youth programs operated under the umbrella of the Long Beach
These programs included the Spanish Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Reach, Community School and East and
West Youth Programs. There were different and significant problems in the implementation of these programs.
The relationship amongst them and with the Long Beach Youth Services was sometimes fraught with challenges
Gil, coming from Spain, was very involved in social and political issues in his country. He wanted to be involved
and found a way to do so through the Long Beach Youth Services and in particular through one of its programs,
the Spanish Brotherhood. In this context, Gil Bernardino was invited to be part of the Board of the Spanish
Brotherhood and he became a Chair of the Board late 1977. His involvement there helped him develop relationships
with community leaders. Specifically he became close with Pat McCormack, the Long Beach Youth Services Director,
from whom he learned a lot.
In his position as Chair, Gil Bernardino observed how programs ran and disagreed how they were operated, and he
decided that the best thing to do at that time was to resign from his position.
After his resignation Gil continued to be involved in the community while he was studying his masters. He was
involved with the Long Beach Youth Services and with the Hispanic community at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church.
He realized that adult Hispanics had many needs. He also was very concerned about the Hispanic youth in the
community as dropout rates were very high. He began to form a vision of an organization that would address the
needs of the adult Hispanics and help support them with their multiple needs.
In 1978 he began the process to register Círculo de la Hispanidad as an organization in his house together with
Pat McCormack and his wife, Barbara Dubow Bernardino. The idea began to take small steps. Barbara and
Gil had different meetings at their home with Pat to establish a non-profit organization 501(c) 3 to serve the
needs of the adult Hispanics in Long Beach.
In the late spring of 1979, the Long Beach City Manager, Ed Eaton, following the recommendation of Pat McCormack,
asked Gil to be the Project Director of The Spanish Brotherhood which was still part of the Long Beach Youth Services,
overseen by Pat. The offer was a surprise and Gil had to consider the proposition for some time because he had just
finished his Master’s Degree in Bilingual Education and had recently secured a position teaching in East New York,
Brooklyn. This was a job that he loved, teaching low income children. He had to seriously consider the offer because
it required that he give up his job security and the benefits it provided to him and his family. His new job did not have
these same benefits.
Gil decided to take the position of Project Director and leave teaching. He became a Long Beach City employee, but
not a civil service one because he needed to pass a test which he did after some months. Mr. Bernardino’s appointment
by the Long Beach City Manager was strongly opposed by some Hispanics working in the Spanish Brotherhood as
well as some others. They did not agree with the City Manager’s decision to lay off the project director and hire Gil.
According to the official information the reason of the removal was that he lied on the application of employment,
and also his performance.
As the Project Director of the Spanish Brotherhood, he became involved daily with community needs and at one point
he spoke up at the Long Beach City Council meeting. The following day he was advised by a colleague that as a city
employee “he should not do so”. This situation made him work harder on his dream to start Círculo. Gil did not want
to be silenced when he saw injustice.
The establishment of an independent non-profit organization became very much in the forefront of Mr. Bernardino’s
mind and heart. There were people opposed to this move; some with good intentions (Gil supposes), thinking that he
was not going to survive if he left the security of his job with the City.
One of the most important reasons that motivated Gil to found Círculo was the treatment of Hispanic students in the
Long Beach School District. Gil reflects that, “they were treated as second class students” in many cases. For example,
immigrant Hispanic parents were asked to provide documents to register their children in the school district which
were not required for other ethnic groups, totally illegal.
There were also cases of children that were punished for speaking Spanish during recess or at lunch. This treatment
was part of the Long Island culture at that time and it was not unique to Long Beach. What Mr. Bernardino witnessed
and lived during those years were experiences of rejection of his language and culture by people in positions of power
and influence. He observed that governmental institutions and others just completely ignored the needs of our
Hispanic immigrant children and Hispanics in general. They really did not care. These types of injustices
helped propel Gil to start Círculo.
he process that began in 1978 to create Círculo de la Hispanidad finally reached fruition when the organization
became incorporated in New York State in 1980.