Shining a Light on Hispanic/Latino Community
On September 29th, Joan Ryan Estay, Board President of Enlaces Alaska, took the stage as part of the “Shine a Light” initiative organized by the University of Alaska Fairbanks. This presentation titled “Understanding the Real Needs of Latinos in Alaska” marked a historic moment, as it unveiled the first-ever comprehensive needs assessment of Alaska’s Hispanic/Latino community. This provides an unprecedented insight about the status of our community and provides evidence to guide advocacy and potential policy ideas to better serve the community.
The presentation began with an introduction highlighting the significant growth of the Hispanic/Latino population in the United States over the past decade. “The Latino population in the U.S. is growing,” Ms. Ryan noted, “and our state is no exception.” According to Ms. Ryan, Latinos have accounted for a staggering 46% (10,000) of Alaska’s population growth in the last decade, making up 7.3% of the state’s population. This positions them as the second-largest minority group, just behind Native Americans and Alaska Natives. She further emphasized the need for a comprehensive understanding of this community’s unique needs.
The organization she leads: Enlaces Alaska embarked on a cross-sectional survey to shed light on these issues by partnering with BSP Research, a firm with over 20 years of experience supporting political, corporate, and community-based organizations to understand diversity in the country. The survey, conducted in early 2023, involved a state-wide effort to gather data from the Hispanic/Latino community. It included 449 respondents, supported by two focus groups conducted in both English and Spanish.
The key findings from the survey were revealing. The top concerns for Alaska’s Latinos included the cost of living, healthcare expenses, and the economy. A staggering 56% of respondents reported no improvement in their financial situation over the past year, highlighting the economic challenges they face.
Furthermore, healthcare costs and health insurance expenses were deemed expensive by over 70% of respondents, shedding light on the affordability issues in accessing essential services. The survey also showed that Alaska’s Latinos are concerned about the state’s well-being. Furthermore, substance abuse and homelessness are significant worries. It was notable that these concerns were more pronounced in Anchorage, underlining the urban/rural gap.
Ms. Ryan brought attention to a critical issue that cuts across all concerns – the lack of language access. She stated, “Threaded through all this concern is an innate desire both to understand and to be understood by the broader Alaska community.” Shockingly, 54% of Latinos in Alaska speak Spanish daily, and only 27% report being bilingual. A concerning 43% reported needing translation and/or interpreting services for various situations, often experiencing discrimination when attempting to access these services.
The presentation did not only include quantitative data but was supported by powerful testimonials from community members who had faced language barriers and discrimination in crucial situations like legal proceedings and medical care. These testimonials underscored the urgent need for language access and social infrastructure development to build cultural connections.
However, and despite these challenges, the survey revealed that Alaska’s Latino community loves the state and is optimistic about their future in Alaska. Many reported feeling safe, happy with protections for minorities and immigrants, and experiencing stability or improvement in their quality of life.
The presentation concluded with a compelling call to action. She urged the community to focus on language access, emphasizing the need for more robust language and social service resources. Compliance with federal law, such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was highlighted as a critical step that would benefit both the Latino community and the entire state.
Ms. Ryan further emphasized, “It’s time to include the Alaska Latino community because it’s the right thing to do.” Her presentation marks a significant step towards understanding and addressing the unique needs and challenges faced by Alaska’s Hispanic/Latino community. The insights from it, provide a shining light that can guide decision making and that can orient organizations as to the best ways to support this growing demographic, ultimately promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the state.