Last week I attended the Latin American Association (@TheLAA) State of Latinos in Georgia Conference in Atlanta (#2018StateofLatinos). Having supported the Latin American Association for many years, I was eager to participate in this inaugural event. The purpose of the conference was to analyze and address the critical issues facing Latinos in Georgia.
A nonprofit service organization based in Atlanta, the Latin American Association (LAA) addresses the needs of immigrants from Latin America in metro Atlanta by providing a full spectrum of services and programs that help families to adapt to their new country and integrate into the community. Founded in 1972, the organization has grown to be one of the most influential organizations in the region. Under the leadership of Executive Director Aníbal Torres and Chair of the Board Chris Marquardt of Alston & Bird, the LAA continues to grow in stature and influence. In fact, for the first time in its history, the LAA is now offering membership to the community. Are you in?
I commend the LAA for hosting the State of Latinos in Georgia Conference and leading such a timely discussion, especially considering the immense growth of the Latino population in Georgia and its impact on the state.
The conference featured an impressive line-up of local, state and national leaders that discussed the most pressing issues facing Latinos and Georgia. They discussed demographic changes, immigration, workforce, municipal development and other topics. Although the conference explored many subject matters, the majority of the conference focused on two critical issues facing Latinos in Georgia: education and housing.
I enjoyed the conference immensely, especially learning how various organizations,communities and leaders are attempting to address the multiplicity of challenges facing Latinos in Georgia. As a native Texan who has lived in Georgia for the past twenty years, it is interesting to observe how the people, institutions, and organizations in Georgia have been flustered by the influx of Latinos to the state. Our presence appears to have disturbed and disrupted the state’s social structure and “order.” To state it candidly, the systems, as well as the rules that manage these systems, are no longer “black and white.” Essentially, Georgia is asking, “What do we do with all of these Latinos?”
Clearly, as implied by this conference, Georgia, its leadership, educational and political institutions, organizations, and communities are not yet ready to welcome, accept and embrace the Latino community.
Well, Georgia, if you aren’t ready, you better get ready. WE ARE HERE!!!
Below are my top 10 takeaways from the Latin American Association inaugural State of Latinos in Georgia Conference.
- The inaugural State of Latinos in Georgia conference boldly establishes itself on the Georgia scene with an excellent attendance! Impressive indeed! Considering that this is the first year for the conference, the high participation of people from various areas of the state is especially impressive. A critical next step for the LAA is to identify creative ways to expand the attendance to appeal to a wider audience. More people beyond Latinos must attend, learn and engage in the conversation in order to maximize the effectiveness of this powerful conference.
- National Latino leadership recognizes and supports the work of the Latin American Association and the Latino community in Georgia. The conference featured prominent national leadership, who play a major role in Latino/a empowerment. Nationally recognized leaders such as Janet Murguía (@JMUrguia_Unidos), President and CEO of UnidosUS (formerly National Council of La Raza); Brent Wilkes (@BrentWilkes), CEO of the League of United Latin American Citizens; Ali Noorani (@anoorani), Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum; and Representative Rafael Anchía (@RafaelAnchia), Texas House of Representatives District 103; all participated as speakers, giving the conference even more credibility and prominence. In their addresses, most of these speakers placed the challenges of Latinos in Georgia into their national context.
- “There is no America without Latinos!” Bam!!! Challenge speaker Texas State Representative Rafael Anchía (@RafaelAnchia) delivered a compelling speech, challenging the audience to push back against anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment. Anchía gave us a US history lesson describing how Latinos have made a significant impact on each and every phase of American history. As an American historian, I was thrilled! How refreshing it was to hear Rep. Anchía put Latinos as center of American history. “Latinos are as American as Benjamin Franklin himself.” Arguing that the inclusion and advancement of Latinos is integral to Georgia, Rep. Anchía contended, “The success that Georgia will have in the future is directly related to the progress of its minority population.”
- The growth of the Latino population in Georgia has immensely altered the demographics of the state thus immensely impacting the state. This fact was supported by the demographic research presented by Michael Carnathan of the Atlanta Regional Commission. As emphasized by the various speakers, the Latino community is not an island unto itself. The issues that affect Latinos also affect the state. Leadership, therefore, must recognize this fact and develop strategic approaches that address challenges in the context of advancing the state.
- Mayors in Georgia are creating Welcoming Cities, and metro-Atlanta municipalities are leading the way. A component of the Welcoming America movement (@WelcomingUSA), Welcoming Cities work to create immigrant-friendly, welcoming communities. They accomplish this through policy, institutional engagement, public/private partnerships and social interaction. According to the mayors, despite what is going on in the federal government, cities have power to create policy and progress on local level that fosters a welcoming environment for all people, particularly immigrants. In fact, the City of Decatur has created the “Better Together” initiative, an action plan that brings people together to build deeper connection, understanding, and mutual respect among the Decatur community. With multiple metro-Atlanta municipalities creating Welcoming Cities and counties, according to David Lubell (@dmlubell), Founder of Welcoming America, the area combined has the potential to become the first Welcoming Region in the country.
- The Immigration Panel addressed Georgia’s immigration challenges in its national context and proposed multiple solutions that government officials, institutions, organizations and citizens can implement in their respective communities. Panelists
discussed a range of issues including immigration policy, Temporary Protective Status (TPS), law enforcement, social engagement, Welcoming Cities, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), as well as a host of other issues that Georgians must confront in order to adequately address Georgia’s immigration challenges. The panelists also argued that Georgians must purposefully engage community institutions in order to effectively promote understanding among people of diverse backgrounds.
- Instead of dehumanizing immigrants, Georgia needs to recognize their worth as a component of the Essential Economy. The Essential Economy (@EssentialEcon) is a human capital economic structure that values people, particularly immigrants, and the work they do. Conceptualized by former Georgia State Senator Sam Zamarippa (@SJzamarripa), the Essential Economy places Latino immigrants as a valuable component of the economy and vital to Georgia’s economic growth.
- Georgia must focus its resources on developing an effective educational pipeline from pre-K through college that addresses the unique needs of Latino students. The educational success of Latinos is critical to the progress of Georgia. There were multiple
panels in the educational track that proposed ideas on how to advance the education of Latino youth. Georgia needs more Latino educators, more financial resources for college bound Latinos, and more programming that engages Latino families in the educational success of their children. There are multiple organizations that are currently doing some great work in Georgia, among them:
- Learn for Life uses a collaborative model to advance educational outcomes for metro Atlanta students from cradle-to-career. (@L4LMetroAtlanta)
- Georgia Gwinnett College HOGAR (The Hispanic Organization for Growth, Advancement and Retention) Program brings the Latino community at GCC together to teach parents how to provide academic, financial & emotional support for students to ensure their success.
- Led by Amanda Fernández (@AmanFernan24), Latinos for Education (@Latinos4Ed) work to develop, place and connect essential Latino leadership in the education sector.
- Through its Director of Hispanic Outreach, Quincy A. Jenkins, Dalton State University engages students and families through a cultural lens in order to increase student success.
- Joel Alvarado (@joelalvarado) of Georgia Piedmont Technical College uses a collaborative impact model to engage various community partners to ensure Latino student success.
- There is a significant connection between education and housing in the status of Latinos in Georgia. Georgia has an affordable housing crisis. The lack of adequate housing drives
displacement and deplorable living conditions which, in turn, affects the educational success of children.
- Georgia elected officials play a critical role in creating an environment that embraces Latinos and in addressing the critical challenges that Latinos face in the state; therefore, they must think long-term instead of short-term in their approach to creating policy. It is vital for Georgia policymakers to invest in its successor generation. Their ability to create a future Georgia that embraces all of its residents is critical to the success of our state.