Latina woman’s struggles reflect recent report

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December 3rd, 2013

Omaha, NE – The report, “Invisible and Voiceless: Latinos in Council Bluffs,” was released recently by the Office of Latino/Latin American Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

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Its purpose was to document the experiences, needs and aspirations of Latinos in Council Bluffs. It was organized by UNO’s department of Psychology and Sociology, and funded in part by the Iowa West Foundation.

Guadalupe, whose last name is being withheld, took part in the report. She lives in Council Bluffs and immigrated to the United States. She said she has experienced a small measure of discrimination while working at a meat packing plant in Council Bluffs. Unfortunately, she feels that there is nothing she can do about it.

The report, mentions several accounts of Latinos being mistreated in the workplace. An interviewee reported on the poor conditions at her job. She said after complaining to her boss about the ill-treatment, she was told if she didn’t like it, ‘there is the door,’ as they had ‘a thousand other applications.’

The Office of Latino/Latin American Studies at UNO published the report November 9. (Photo Courtesy UNO)

The Office of Latino/Latin American Studies at UNO published the report November 9. (Photo Courtesy UNO)

Tyson Foods, ConAgra Frozen Foods and Plum Rose USA are major employers of Latino immigrants, according to the report. A manager at a major food processor in Council Bluffs was quoted as saying that an estimated 50 to 60 percent of his employees are Latinos.

The report recognizes complications that obstruct the Latino community in Council Bluffs but also indicates a plethora of ideas to help alleviate the stress.

Guadalupe said the language barrier hinders Latinos’ ability to prosper in Council Bluffs. The report shows an increased need for bilingual personnel in hospitals, pharmacies, banks and government agencies.

“So take me as an example, I speak some English but I don’t feel confident enough to speak it,” Guadalupe said.

This makes Guadalupe feel forgotten.

She said without the ability to speak English well enough, Latinos are often times left in the dark. This became very apparent during a parent-teacher conference when Guadalupe’s son’s instructor turned her away because she didn’t speak English.

“We go to the schools and there isn’t anybody there to translate for us as parents, for me as a mother, and I have to go away,” Guadalupe said.” How do you take that to the next level where that becomes a need that is known, that is heard, (and) that is addressed?”

Guadalupe said scheduling an interpreter isn’t an easy task with several schools sharing the same interpreters. Latino enrollment in Council Bluffs Community Schools has risen from seven percent of the total in 2003 (717 students), to more than 14 percent last year (1,291 students), according to the Council Bluffs Community School District.

Council Bluffs Community Schools have been working to repair issues by hiring more interpreters to ease scheduling conflicts.

Director of OLLAS and a co-author of the report, Lourdes Gouveia, said Latinos are not represented in community organizations such as parent groups at schools because of the language barrier. She said if Latinos can’t speak for themselves, someone else will.

Tom Hanafan has served as Council Bluffs mayor for the last 25 years. (Photo Courtesy City of Council Bluffs)

Tom Hanafan has served as Council Bluffs mayor for the last 25 years. (Photo Courtesy City of Council Bluffs)

“Latinos are not involved in any organized effort to make their voices heard to address the schools because there are no translators. (They don’t) address the hospitals or the clinics because the services that they need are not there,” Gouveia said. “So that opens the door for somebody to speak for them, always to speak for them.”

The report also addresses a shortage of Latinos in decision making roles such as managerial positions. Of the Latino professionals and high ranking employees identified in interviews, those who were noted in the report include a doctor, two dental assistants, two teachers at a Catholic school, two public school employees, a state employee, a pastor and several professionals living in Council Bluffs but working in Omaha.

Gouveia said Omaha is a good example of a place with a thriving Latino community.

“Immediately when we starting working in Council Bluffs we realized that there were major contrasts with South Omaha for example or the Latino community where you have a plethora of organizations that have been there for a long time that have acquired a voice that is increasingly heard,” Gouveia said. “That was not happening on the other side (of the river).”

Council Bluffs Mayor Tom Hanafan agrees that his city doesn’t have the amount of services and opportunities as Omaha. But he notes that Centro Latino, a non-profit organization in Council Bluffs, as one group that has teamed up with the Council Bluffs Library to help Latinos find services they are eligible for.

“There is a Latino service center just down the street from city hall and they have been working with the library to do a lot of things that are offered,” Hanafan said. There are more and more opportunities opening up because of cooperation with the Latino center.”

The mission of Centro Latino is to empower the Latino community by referring adults and parents to GED classes, food pantries, health services and counseling. Hanafan said this is only a start. He said Latinos in Council Bluffs are essential to the prosperity of the town and they need to be included in public events.

“The Latino population, maybe (need to) be more involved in community activities,” Hanafan said.
Hanafan notices the growth in the Latino population of Council Bluffs over the past few years. He said he sees it as a great opportunity.

Hispanic/Latino growth in the total enrollment at Council Bluffs Community Schools during the last ten years. (Info-graphic courtesy KVNO News)

Hispanic/Latino growth and total enrollment at Council Bluffs Community Schools during the last ten years. (Info-graphic courtesy KVNO News)

“What I look at as not a problem, but a way that we can handle it is, there are a lot of services that are offered in the Metro area and we just have to know what they are and make sure that the information is being given to the people that need those services,” Hanafan said.

Participants in the report also said they would like to have more Latino-owned businesses in Council Bluffs so that they won’t have to travel to Omaha. Census information shows Latino-owned businesses account for only about two percent of all businesses in Council Bluffs.

Claudia Lucero, community engagement coordinator at OLLAS, said small changes like more Latino owned businesses in Council Bluffs would be a quick remedy, but more than anything else, she would like to see Latinos have a space they can all meet and interact.

Lucero also said the possibility of upward mobility for Latinos is the cornerstone of laying the ground work for future success for Latinos in Council Bluffs.

“Day-by-day we are learning, always we are learning new things and developing new skills,” Lucero said. “Having more Latinos even working for the city, that we can have Latinos working there. And Having Latinos working in the medical fields, having more Latinos working the in schools as well in the school districts, we can work as a community to help each other.”

More than 25 interviews were conducted with civic and government leaders as well as education, religious, non-profit and business representatives from Council Bluffs for the report.

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