A focus group of adult Latinos who live in Richfield say that they often find it hard to use public services and programs, despite the city’s large Latino population and trailblazing Latina mayor.
The group cites language barriers, concerns about data privacy regarding immigration status, and a lack of access to public transportation as hurdles. Similar themes also have emerged in recent city surveys collected from Latino residents, officials said.
“This is a huge constituency of our residents,” said Mayor Maria Regan Gonzalez, the state’s first Latina mayor. “Given that it’s so big, I do think we should find ways to do better.”
City officials said the focus group provided valuable information they will use as Richfield continues its racial equity efforts. The findings also will be “very helpful as we move into the strategic planning phase,” said Blanca Martinez Gaviña, the city’s executive analyst and a liaison to Spanish-speaking residents.
The group of six residents met four times online this summer to discuss community engagement, knowledge of Richfield resources and what kind of communication they want with officials. The project was funded through the city and conducted by MIRA, a Richfield-based nonprofit that connects Latino residents to local services.
About 17% of Richfield’s residents are Latino, the fourth highest concentration in the metro area. Only Landfall, Hilltop and West St. Paul have bigger shares of Latinos.
Focus group members noted that Richfield’s city website isn’t in Spanish and that there’s no option to speak to someone in Spanish if they call city offices. Some spoke about their anxiety in cases where some family members are documented immigrants while others are not. They worried that signing up for city programs might require a Social Security number or that city staffers might share their status and information with other agencies.
They also said transportation issues held them back. Some didn’t have a driver’s license or car. Others said that public transportation was lacking, or that they didn’t know how to use the buses and that the schedules are only in English.
Martinez Gaviña said she expected most of the results. “We can definitely do better in bringing the city to these communities instead of … having them come to us,” she said.
But Ruth Evangelista, director of La Red Latina de Educación Temprana, a network of child care providers, said she was “very surprised.”
“I’ve heard the people are very happy with the city,” said Evangelista, adding that more than half of her network’s members live in Richfield.
Surveys that her members fill out point to the city’s progress in assisting Spanish speakers, she said. Evangelista said the city’s website could be improved but noted that Regan Gonzalez offers introductions to city resources and programs for Spanish speakers.
Richfield has a Spanish-speaking community liaison in the Police Department. Martinez Gaviña works with Latino residents, along with other staffers who speak Spanish, and three members of the City Council — Regan Gonzalez, Edwina Garcia and Simon Trautmann — are Latino and speak Spanish.
Regan Gonzalez said the city must aim for structural change, including city hiring practices. Translating fliers is a great first step, she said, but won’t get the results they want.
“At the heart of what we’re seeing is that there’s that gap in trust and connection,” she said.
Focus group members said they want to continue working with the city, possibly via an ongoing monthly group. “This really showed how ready this community is to continue to partner,” Martinez Gaviña said. “They said, ‘We want to be part of the city. … Whatever it takes for our voices to be heard.’ ”