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Report Asks: Why Aren’t Hispanics Sharing in Austin's Boom?

A five-year effort from a group of Hispanic community leaders is about to wrap up. In 2008, the Austin City Council asked the group to evaluate the quality of life for Hispanics in the city. They found big disparities between Hispanics and their peers in areas including education, health care, even access to cultural institutions.

Last night, about fifty people came together at City Hall to share ideas on how Hispanics in Austin could bridge those gaps.

Most of the ideas that came out of last night’s meeting were pretty ambitious. For instance, Sylvia Orozco, the founder of the Mexic-Arte Museum proposed the creation of a Hispanic district anchored on Fifth Street downtown – just like the shopping district anchored on Secind Street.

Other ideas focused less on geography and more on the social improvement of Hispanic quality of life. For instance, Vanessa Sarria with the Community Action Network said her group has an organization in place that could grow to benefit the Hispanic community as a whole. “We have twenty-six partners that include healthcare organizations, education organizations, economic development organizations and so on,” she said. “And I think that the city is gonna need to leverage a lot of collaborative opportunities to get this work done.”

There was a lot of agreement among the people presenting ideas. People took notes and nodded as the night went on. Then, Al Sarria spoke. He’s Vanessa Sarria’s husband and also “the highest-ranking Latino in IT with Austin Energy.”

Sarria said the final report that will be presented to the Austin City Council in June should include an emphasis in education – from early childhood to college access – because it’s in everyone’s best interest. “If Hispanics are more and more having the children and Anglos are not,” Sarria said, “then we need a very well educated young workforce to be able to contribute into those systems having higher paying jobs.”

It’s true: the Hispanic community is a young one. But judging by last night’s meeting it would have been hard to tell. Most participants at the forum were older. So Kurt Cadena-Mitchell – who is only twenty-four – stood out.

Cadena-Mitchell is with Austin Interfaith. He said instead of waiting for the city to implement a gigantic report, Austinites need to be proactive.

“Although we can say our public officials haven’t paid attention, it’s always easy to play the blame game,” Cadena-Mitchell said. “But what we as citizens need to do is to really look at what are we willing to do.”

One thing Austinites were willing to do last November was to change the way the city is governed. Some at the forum hoped the city’s new government based on geographic representation could spark meaningful changes for groups – like the Hispanic community – that have long felt neglected.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.