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City Survey Will Examine Quality of Life of Austin's Asian-American Community

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT
Kui Keun Park serves brunch to Chongnan Kim, Oe Suk Chong and Sum Cha during the Parents' Day celebration, the day before Mothers' Day at the Korean United Pentecostal Church in May of last year.

The City of Austin is doing a survey through the first week in September called the Asian-American Quality of Life Initiative. The idea is to find ways to improve the experience of Asian-Americans, the city's fastest growing ethnic group. While the City of Austin is not new to quality of life initiatives, the results and recommendations of the studies traditionally take a long time to come to fruition.

Lisa Byrd served on Austin’s first quality of life survey, which focused on African Americans. She says there were more than 50 recommendations forwarded to the Austin City Council. That work was done ten years ago.

“I think the easy-A is to say [the quality of life study] hasn't been effective," she says. “But, that's not going to solve anything.”

Today, the City of Austin is the only major city in the country with a declining African American population.

The second attempt came in 2013 with the Hispanic Quality of Life Initiative. A host of volunteers like Geronimo Rodriguez worked on it for five years. Rodriguez says it's hard to discern its results. For one, communication between the city and different language speakers is still poor.

“There's a real conscious awareness that you can no longer translate documents using Google,” he says. “There actually has to be a transcultural translation where you have to determine whether the communication is being understood by the other community.”

In 2013, that initiative only called for quality Spanish translations, but the Asian-American community may need to hear messages in Nepali, Urdu or Mandarin.

So, why are these initiatives producing only nebulous results? For one, Rodriguez says, city leadership has to be on board to implement the necessary changes. Beyond that, Lisa Byrd says, support means nothing until it's accompanied with funding for the recommendations.

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.
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