Yesterday I had lunch with Austin American-Stateman reporter Juan Castillo. We were catching up, eating some good tacos and discussing the newly released poverty rates/data for Austin and his story that ran earlier this week.
There are some alarming numbers and this is Austin – one of the best places to live in America. Here’s the data that got my attention…
“Nearly 1 out of every 5 Austinites lived in poverty in 2009”
“27 percent of related children under 18 and 31.5 percent of related children under 5 lived in poverty in 2009”
“Hispanics, the city’s largest and fastest-growing minority, were more likely than African Americans, Asians and non-Hispanic whites to be in poverty in 2009. An estimated 29.5 percent of Hispanics were below the poverty level, compared with 22.3 percent of African Americans, 8.6 percent of Asians and 11.4 percent of non-Hispanic whites.”
These numbers are alarming and it’s good for us to have these numbers; to track our progress, understand issues that need to be addressed and how we’re going to improve our community. And even more disturbing is how these numbers impact Latinos in Austin. We’re the fastest growing population and according to the data, poverty affects our population the most, especially with Latino children. While these numbers are very real, they DO NOT define Latinos or anyone living in poverty. Behind the numbers are real people with desires, needs and wants; they want to improve their lives and they care about their families, schools and neighborhoods, just like everybody else. One of the most common myths is that people living in poverty do not have the time or resources to give back to their community and because of this myth, organizations prescribe solutions instead of engaging them as contributors. We have to step back and ask what people care about; what their hopes and aspirations are for their families and their lives. When we do this, we open doors for them, to help out, become advocates, to be part of the solution and at the same time, we improve their lives and ours.
While this issue affects our community the most, not all Latinos live in poverty and even the ones living with this issue have the capability of giving back. Latinos are as diverse as the American melting pot. Latinos are U.S. born Americanos, Tejanos, immigrants, entreprenuers, professionals, middle-class, affluent, multicultural, young and old. And Latinos are contributors; they’re doing their part through formal and informal networks as volunteers, civic, business and community leaders. Latinos have a role to play in addressing this issue and organizations working in this area need to connect and engage with Latinos, in real ways. There are a wealth of opportunities but it’s going to take stepping outside of our bubbles (that goes for Latinos and the mainstream community), create understanding of the Latino experience and find opportunities to connect. We all care about the same things; let’s make the connections and get to work!
P.S. Need help with Latino Engagement? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get started.
*Photo: Clockwise L2R: John-Michael & Priscilla Cortez, Raul Alvarez, Frank Garza, Theresa Alvarez, Maria Adame, Monica Peraza & Elias Hermida