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2013.11.08> For Immediate Release
contact: Charley Reed - University Communications
phone: 402.554.2129 - email: unonews@unomaha.edu

UNO Study: Council Bluffs Latinos Lack Access to Decision-Making Roles, Important Civic Services Despite Strong Economic Impact in Metro Area

Omaha - While Latino immigrant workers in Council Bluffs, Iowa have contributed significantly to the Iowa and Nebraska economies, they remain virtually invisible and lack a voice in the city’s key venues and institutions – this according to a new report being released by the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) Office of Latino/Latin American Studies (OLLAS) and funded in part by the Iowa West Foundation.

The report, titled “Invisible & Voiceless,” will be released on Saturday, Nov. 9, at the tri-annual OLLAS’ Cumbre (“Summit” in Spanish). The report combines data from the 2010 Census with 26 interviews with members of Council Bluffs’ civic, government, education, religious, non-profit and business communities as well as Latino voices gathered at interviews and a small number of Spanish-language workshops and focus groups.

According to the study, while 8.5 percent of Council Bluffs’ population (and 15 percent of the student population) is Latino, and many businesses depend on immigrants for work, to the tune of about $1.4 billion in economical output, there are very few Latinos in positions to make managerial or executive decisions.

“I see them working. I know from friends in the retail business that they are brand-loyal, and that they put in an honest day work, but I really don’t know much more than that (about them),” says one of the study’s participants.

The study also reports that the lack of involvement in front-end decision making can be seen in civic planning as well, including a lack of bilingual government services or adequate housing or classroom space.

“I’m sure there are areas where Hispanic and foreign-born folks are working in management positions, but to tell you the truth I don’t know if I know where they are,” a social services director reported in the study.

The report specifically points to Council Bluffs’ lack of amenities and services in areas like bilingual translation and civil rights protections. While Omaha has more civic amenities and services for immigrants, Council Bluffs is appealing to immigrants due to its more affordable housing and easier access to jobs.

The study’s authors coined the term “transriver community,” to underscore the fact that Omaha and Council Bluffs are in effect a single community for Latinos and immigrants whose social and economic ties extend beyond geographic borders.

“For many of us, crossing the bridge connecting these two towns may be an infrequent and even foreign experience,” says Lourdes Gouveia, director of OLLAS and one of the study's authors. “For Latinos of various generations and nationalities, however, doing so is integral to their strategy for accessing jobs, bilingual services and support systems.”

The report ultimately asked participants to suggest ideas that could help bridge the gap between Latinos and the rest of the Council Bluffs community. These ideas include:

- Involve Latinos in local and regional agriculture initiatives and farmer’s markets
- Educate people about the advantages of a diverse workforce
- Share histories of how various immigrant groups came to Council Bluffs
- Make GED classes available in Spanish
- Develop part-time jobs for youth to help the community and gain skills
- Connect professional Latinos in Omaha with those in Council Bluffs

In addition, the report includes other policy recommendations:

- Recognize and support growth of positive immigrant integration efforts through Iowa Workforce Development, Iowa Western Community College and other institutions
- Identify the top needs for bilingual personnel and processes in public offices such as schools and the Department of Motor Vehicles
- Support Latino clubs in the high schools and development of middle school, high school and young adult groups in area churches
- Support the development of Latino-led organization and effective leadership in Council Bluffs.
- Recognize and reward current bilingual employees for the value they add in facilitating integration of Spanish-dominant employees and customers
- Facilitate Latino involvement in Council Bluffs Community Pride Week.

“Monitoring these changes and measuring their impacts on both sides and specifically on educational institutions, such as UNO, will be critical in the years to come,” Gouveia says.

The “Invisible and Voiceless” report was compiled by members of OLLAS, the UNO Department of Sociology and the UNO Department of Psychology. The lead authors are Maria Teresa Gaston, Gouveia, Christian Espinosa Torres, Clare Maakestad and Christopher C. Blue.

Now in its 10th year, OLLAS has been central to enacting UNO’s strategic priorities of research and community engagement. This study follows in the footsteps of two other key research articles, including a report with the University of Nebraska Medical Center on the disparities Latinos face in access to healthcare and a report on the economic impact of immigrant populations in Iowa and Nebraska.

For questions or media inquiries, contact Charley Reed, UNO media relations coordinator, at unonews@unomaha.edu or by phone at 402.554.2129.

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The University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska's metropolitan university. The core values of the institution place students at the center of all that the university does; call for the campus to strive for academic excellence; and promote community engagement that transforms and improves urban, regional, national and global life. UNO, inaugurated in 1968, emerged from the Municipal University of Omaha, established in 1931, which grew out of the University of Omaha founded in 1908.

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