A new report issued by the University of Nebraska at Omaha Office of Latino/Latin American Studies finds that Latino immigrant workers in Council Bluffs, Iowa are virtually invisible and lack a voice in the city’s key venues and institutions.
The report, titled “Invisible & Voiceless,” was funded in part by the Iowa West Foundation. It combines data from the 2010 Census with 26 interviews with members of Council Bluffs’ civic, government, education, religious, non-profit and business communities as well as Latino voices gathered at interviews and a small number of Spanish-language workshops and focus groups.
According to the study, while 8.5 percent of Council Bluffs’ population (and 15 percent of the student population) is Latino, and many businesses depend on immigrants for work, to the tune of about $1.4 billion in economical output, there are very few Latinos in positions to make managerial or executive decisions.
The study also reports that the lack of involvement in front-end decision making can be seen in civic planning as well, including a lack of bilingual government services or adequate housing or classroom space.
The report specifically points to Council Bluffs’ lack of amenities and services in areas like bilingual translation and civil rights protections. While Omaha has more civic amenities and services for immigrants, Council Bluffs is appealing to immigrants due to its more affordable housing and easier access to jobs.
The study’s authors coined the term “transriver community,” to underscore the fact that Omaha and Council Bluffs are in effect a single community for Latinos and immigrants whose social and economic ties extend beyond geographic borders.
The report ultimately asked participants to suggest ideas that could help bridge the gap between Latinos and the rest of the Council Bluffs community. These ideas include:
- Involve Latinos in local and regional agriculture initiatives and farmer’s markets
- Educate people about the advantages of a diverse workforce
- Share histories of how various immigrant groups came to Council Bluffs
- Make GED classes available in Spanish
- Develop part-time jobs for youth to help the community and gain skills
- Connect professional Latinos in Omaha with those in Council Bluffs
In addition, the report includes other policy recommendations:
- Recognize and support growth of positive immigrant integration efforts through Iowa Workforce Development, Iowa Western Community College and other institutions
- Identify the top needs for bilingual personnel and processes in public offices such as schools and the Department of Motor Vehicles
- Support Latino clubs in the high schools and development of middle school, high school and young adult groups in area churches
- Support the development of Latino-led organization and effective leadership in Council Bluffs.
- Recognize and reward current bilingual employees for the value they add in facilitating integration of Spanish-dominant employees and customers
- Facilitate Latino involvement in Council Bluffs Community Pride Week.
The “Invisible and Voiceless” report was compiled by members of OLLAS, the UNO Department of Sociology and the UNO Department of Psychology. The lead authors are Maria Teresa Gaston, Gouveia, Christian Espinosa Torres, Clare Maakestad and Christopher C. Blue.