How to Build a Latino Community in a Place Where There is None

Latinos are one of the fastest growing populations in the United States

Photo: Unsplash/@mariopurisic

Photo: Unsplash/@mariopurisic

Latinos are one of the fastest growing populations in the United States. By 2060, one third of the population will identify as Latino.  This means that many areas of the United States that never had significant Latino populations in the past will have them soon— which leads me to ponder how we can foster community development. How do we cultivate our culture in places that have no historical context for us?

I live in Pittsburgh, so I’ll use that as my main example. Using digital platforms, in-person events, marketing and smart partnerships, you can 1) Increase the visibility and connectivity of the Pittsburgh Latino community 2) Offer marketing and translating services to businesses and nonprofits, in order to help them build authentic relationships with Latino consumers 3) Educate the general population on who Latinos are, and what are some of our common characteristics. Based on my own experiences of “what has worked,” below are recommendations for how to build a Latino community without historical precedent.

Use Data to Learn About The Hispanic or Latino Community in Your City

Photo: Pexels

The first step to building anything right is to understand what, and for whom, you are building. Take a survey of the Latino population in your area—where do they live, work, and shop? What are their interests? Are they bilingual or monolingual? Survey Monkey is a great free tool, that can be shared easily through social media. To reach people who do not have access to social media, create a paper survey to pass out at events. Make sure that you confirm the person has not taken the online survey before handing them a paper survey, so you do not get information from the same person twice (we want to avoid voter fraud)!

Develop Your Organizing and Advocacy

Any Latino community anywhere is not monolithic. We are a complicated, multinational, multilingual, multiracial population. But we do have some common interests, and they vary, to a certain extent, by geographical location. It is important that all Latino leaders in your region be on the same page. Building relationships between leaders is the start of that process—the second piece is to create a “Latino agenda,” that is shared with all the regional Latino leaders. This agenda is not exclusive, but rather lists the priorities identified collectively by Latino leaders, spanning a wide range of issues and needs. In this way, you are creating an advocacy plan, that empowers Latino leaders to talk about the community, allowing for education of who the Latino community is, and what its priorities should be.

Employ Communications and Marketing Techniques

Photo: Pexels

In areas that do not have a historic Latino community, there is no media in place to tell our stories, in the languages we speak. While starting a full-blown newspaper or magazine can be a daunting undertaking, digital media gives us the opportunity to create a basic blog, and social media accounts. Using these tools, we can tell our own stories, and share information that is relevant to the local Latino community. And we can do so in culturally and linguistically competent ways.

The blog post can be done simply by asking community members to contribute 3-5 paragraphs about the work they are doing, or just sharing their perspective on a topic. You can also profile local nonprofits that offer services and resources that can benefit the community. The blog can be released anywhere from every day to once a month, whatever your schedule allows for—just keep in mind that consistency brings readers back. Share the blog through your social media channels, post in Facebook groups, begin to collect email addresses, and create an email list to send the blog out to. Tip: Editorial calendars and regular release dates can increase the efficacy of your blogs.

Set up (and Attend) Events

Building relationships is one of the most important ways to build community—the quality of the relationships in a community directly affect the quality of the community. It’s very likely there are no Latino-focused community parties that play the music we love, serve the food of our grandparents, and allow for people to meet each other. The best way to meet these needs is to start hosting regular events, such as a dance party, a supper club or potluck, happy hour, or organized trips to local sites. You could also create a list, “Latinos Making a Difference” in your region. Create a nomination form on your blog, and ask community members to nominate Latinos in the region who are doing good work. Highlight these leaders in a blog post, and host an event in a local venue to honor their work. Invite not only people from the community, but others who support the Latino community to celebrate the leadership of Latinos in the region.

Harness The Arts

Photo: Pexels

The arts provide a myriad of powerful ways to tell stories. Artists are generally community minded, and can find ways to tell complicated stories and histories in ways that resonate with a broad range of people (just look at the success of Hamilton). Working with local Latino artists to create events, blogs, and other content can be a watershed moment in bringing visibility, connectivity, and education around Latinos in your region. Doing this may bring about great opportunities for partnerships. Work with local community-based arts organizations to figure out how they can support initiatives like this—they will likely be really excited to be a part of something so innovative.

The population we now refer to as Latinos has been in the United States before the United States was founded. Our history is rich and deep, and we continue to add new chapters. In this new period, Latinos are quickly becoming a formidable group throughout the country. As we build communities in places we have not been before, the onus is on us to educate others on who we are, and what we need to thrive. Let’s share strategies of what is working in other places. Please tweet @Hip_Latina and tell me what you’re doing!

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community development hispanic latino latino community latino population
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