From mid-September to mid-October, we celebrate the diverse cultures, foods, and contributions of Latinos, Latinas, and Latinx around the United States. However, this can also be a time to explore policies that build connections with the Latino community and seek to improve outcomes for Latino residents.
Conversaciones con la Ciudad in Boulder, CO
The City of Boulder, Colorado, started the Conversaciones con la Ciudad (Spanish for “conversations with the city”) initiative in 2018 to not only expand language access but also reflect on areas for the City to improve. City officials worked with trusted voices in the community like the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church to create listening sessions on topics that needed to be addressed. Based on that feedback, the City organized capacity-building workshops for residents and put together resource sessions on topics like a new law that protects residents of manufactured homes or issues surrounding teen vaping.
By creating a people-focused partnership that works to engage community members with language access and cultural competency in mind, the City of Boulder was better equipped to tackle public messaging during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Having held previous Conversaciones con la Ciudad sessions helped to build trust between the Latino community and city government, supported outreach to Latino communities during the pandemic, and better-positioned staff to coordinate Spanish-first and bilingual sessions with city staff and council members,” writes Ryan Hanschen, an Engagement Specialist with the City of Boulder.
As previous Conversaciones were centered around in-person meetings, the City chose to take some aspects of the initiative and adapt some of the Chats with Council virtual Q&A to be bilingual. This allowed many members of the community to ask questions during a difficult time in the language they were most comfortable with. The City also worked with a variety of local organizations to host one of its Chats with Council about mental health to youth and how local teens could be there for their families during hard times.
Building Community in Auburn WA
Wanting to improve the local state of public health, the City of Auburn, Washington, created a study on how to improve health outcomes. In order to equitably address concerns, officials invited parents of students from a diverse elementary school in Auburn to form outreach groups. These groups provided feedback that led to policies like a tobacco-free parks ordinance in addition to the parents receiving free classes on topics such as CPR and first aid, improving health education among the families as one teacher put it “stronger parents, stronger kids.” The program has not only led to increased health skills among families but one participant said that “This is the first time in my 15 years in Auburn that I really feel a part of this community;” a sentiment shared by many others in the group.
Creating the outreach group for the Latino community, not only helped the City address concerns in the population for the study but also built trust and means of communication that helped prepare the City to address the COVID-19 pandemic this year. The group was vital in making sure that local, state, and federal updates reached Latino residents. They also helped curb the spread of the coronavirus by distributing facemasks and promoting their use while also connecting families to food and medical assistance. Not only was the group instrumental in the City’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also assisted in delivering free filter fans to households in response to smoky air conditions from wildfires in the area.
Having strong communication with residents during a time of crisis is essential for any municipality. Creating modes of communication with Latino residents can ensure public health guidance is effectively getting to a community that has been disproportionately affected by pre-existing health concerns and can also be left behind due to language barriers.
NLC analysis, based on CDC data, found that Latinx residents made up 31% of COVID-19 cases despite making up 19% of the national population. Additionally, in 21 states, the rate of COVID-positive Latinx residents is two times what should be expected based on the proportion of the state’s population. By connecting with communities of residents, cities can limit these disproportionate outcomes.
It is important to ensure cities are working on building more equitable communities.
NLC Race, Equity, and Leadership program and other equity-informed programming from across NLC departments seek to break down systemic racism in communities from the remnant effects of redlining to health disparities.
For Latino Heritage Month, we celebrate together and commit ourselves to better the outcomes for the community, BIPOC individuals, and all residents to build more inclusionary cities, towns, and villages.
Eli Craviero Frankel is a program specialist with NLC’s Center for Member and Partner Engagement. He works with Constituency Groups and serves as a liaison to the University Community Council.