A Latino Agenda
By Willians Silva, President and Lois Athey, Founding Executive Director, BU-
Latinos who represent Arlington’s largest minority are a diverse and dynamic community. Until recently this group of mostly young people was growing by leaps and bounds. According to the 2000 Census Latinos comprised 18.6% of the county’s population. Just six years later, this population had dropped to 15.8% of the total. What has happened? Why have Latino families left Arlington? How has Arlington responded to this immigrant presence that includes individuals from all corners of South and Central America and the Caribbean islands? Over the years the BU-
“There are three major areas that require immediate attention by all agencies involved. The first is the ineffective communication existing between the Hispanic community and the agencies alluded to in this forum. The second area is the lack of existing processes that allows the Hispanic community to bring directly to the attention of the agencies in question, their issues, concerns, and perceptions. The third is the absence of significant statistics kept by agencies that serve to both dispel wrong perceptions and to warn agencies of problem areas that must be addressed before they escalate into major problems”.
In response to our concerns, the Police Chief, Doug Scott, agreed to hold a community meeting for Arlington’s Latino population. This 2004 forum, a first for Arlington, was held at the Arlington Mill Community Center and was well attended by 150 Latinos. In response to a request that the Department hire more Spanish-
Another issue that the Latino Agenda raised in 2003 was access to information when persons had limited English proficiency. In 2003 there was no translation available for citizens testifying before County Board meetings unless a staff person knew in advance that a Spanish-
In response to our petitions, in 2004 the County Manager issued a policy statement that was approved by the County Board in July of that year. It required County departments “to implement strategies to improve accessibility of County programs, information and activities to persons with limited English proficiency”. In order to comply with this resolution, each department was required to submit an implementation plan for review by the Assistant County Manager for Human Rights and EEO within 90 days. It is our understanding that a County employee now monitors and reviews each department’s plan. For example, in the case of housing services, the department must identify if there is immediate or direct contact between service recipients with limited English proficiency and County staff. If barriers exist, the department must make plans to remove them. As a result of this policy change, over the past five years many Arlington programs and services now have brochures and information pamphlets in both English and Spanish – a major improvement. In addition, premium pay was allowed for staff in key departments that had constant public interaction and contact with Spanish-
Finally, the Latino Agenda called for the establishment of a centralized Office of Latino Affairs. This office would provide consistent translation services to all departments, advocate for Latino needs and programs that responded to this community, and centralize a coordinated response to Latino constituents who had trouble accessing county services or programs. The County Manager did not support this request. To this day the County maintains that it is more cost effective to hire consultants who will translate during meetings instead of employing full-
In conclusion, that brings us back to one of our first questions: why has the Latino population in Arlington declined over the past few years? We believe that it is the steady displacement from affordable rental housing and gentrification that have caused Latinos to locate to other jurisdictions. Many apartment complexes with majority Latino populations have been redeveloped or demolished: Arna Valley, Colonies of Arlington, and of course, Buckingham Village East of Glebe Rd. and Gates of Ballston. Now the economic crisis and the steep decline in new housing starts has had a significant impact on Latinos who work in construction. This population which could be classified as “working poor” has definitely been hit by the current economic crisis. The numbers of Latinos who do not have stable housing has increased dramatically, as has the need for donated food at the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC). AFAC estimates that Latinos regularly comprise 40% of families that seek food. While AFAC does not know whether the Latino population has increased in recent months, the Executive Director does estimate that the number of households seeking food has increased by 20% in the past four months at the time of this writing in 2009.
We continue to believe that the County needs to be pro-