Survey shows barriers Hispanics face in Lake City
With Lake City's Hispanic population growing, the city asked residents of the group what problems they've encountered as they've look to integrate into American society.
LAKE CITY — With a growing Hispanic population, the Lake City Economic Development Authority asked Hispanic families how the community has welcomed them.
From May 27 to June 17, Katie Yoder, an AmeriCorps Vista worker working for the EDA, and Denilzo Baltazar, a Winona State University student, conducted interviews with 25 Hispanic families representing 112 Lake City residents to provide the EDA with information on the demographics and needs of the Hispanic community in Lake City.
"The EDA’s rationale is that in Wabasha and Goodhue counties, Hispanics often fall below the poverty line," Yoder said. "That’s what I’ve been focusing on, economic and social resources for Hispanic residents."
That's what Dalila Loyo hears from her students.
A paraprofessional in the English as a second language program at Lake City's Lincoln High School, Loyo helped facilitate interviews for the survey, and has a unique perspective as both a Hispanic immigrant herself and a professional who works with the Hispanic community.
Barriers of language and more
"The first problem is the language," Loyo said.
She notes that many of her students are from Guatemala, where only elementary education is free. After that, families have to pay for middle school and high school.
"They have classes in Spanish because they don’t know big words even in their own language," Loyo said.
Of the 112 individuals interviewed for the survey, 38 are from Guatemala, 32 from the United States, 29 from Mexico, and 13 gave no response.
For those acclimating to life in Lake City, part of the problem is the language barrier, and part of that is cultural, Yoder said.
For example, while owning a home is one of the major goals within the community, homeownership has several barriers. In addition to needing information about the process of buying a house, the survey notes that Hispanic community members also need education on simpler financial processes such as filing their taxes, opening a bank account or using insurance.
While language — understanding financial dealings taking place in English — is part of the problem, unfamiliarity with those processes even in their own language or with an interpreter doesn't always make those things easier, Yoder said.
Having been born in California but raised in Mexico, Loyo moved to Janesville, Wis., when she was 17 and faced many of the same problems the families and students she deals with face.
For a better future
Of the 15 or so students she deals with, half dream about going to college, Loyo said. Others find school frustrating and might be near the age for graduation but, because they've been playing catch-up academically, have only half the credits they need.
The former group includes sisters Nayeli and Sheli Ramirez, ages 17 and 15, and Noemi Lopez, age 15, who talk about becoming a psychologist, a doctor and a lawyer, respectively.
The three have varying degrees of English proficiency, and, because they are part of the ESL program, find it difficult to make friends outside that group. However, the hope of more and better educational opportunities brought them to the United States, where they all have some family.
The Ramirez girls live with an older brother, but Nayeli said the hard part is being away from her mother and father, who remain in Guatemala. Still, she said the risk was worth it, though she finds her new country confusing in many ways.
The girls all said they don't understand how politics and the government work in the United States. And Loyo said she is often asked to help them understand things that are outside their class subjects, such as letters they receive from the government or how to make appointments to see a doctor.
Helping hands needed
Loyo said the Hispanic community in Lake City could use an organization such as the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association, a nonprofit in Rochester that helps immigrants acclimate and integrate into American society.
"That would be my wish, to have a place where you can go if you need to set up a bank account or make an appointment with a doctor," she said.
Yoder said while the data of the survey seemed evident as they conducted interviews, the surprising thing was how barriers of culture, social integration and language overlapped and compounded problems for the Hispanic community in Lake City.
Her goal, she said, is to take this information to businesses and civic groups to explain the impact felt by these immigrants and look for ways to build solutions throughout the community that will help the Hispanic people of Lake City.
Helping new Hispanic arrivals is something Loyo hopes the greater community in Lake City will embrace. After all, in her own experience, helping her fellow Hispanic community members has been very rewarding.
"This is the best job I’ve ever had," she said. "It pays you back."