Immigrant Latinos in central Illinois offer glimpses into their lives
This article was originally published on April 5, 2011 and expired on November 11, 2012. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.
Immigrant Latinos in five central Illinois rural counties exhibit a resilience that is rooted in their family ties and culture despite the challenges they are facing in a new country, says a University of Illinois report.
"Surprisingly, the rural Latinos we surveyed say they don't encounter discrimination frequently, and most report being satisfied and having the important things they want in life," said Angela Wiley, a U of I associate professor of applied family studies and a lead investigator on The Latino Families in Central Illinois Project.
"This positive outlook exists although most remain near the poverty line even if they've lived and worked in an area for 10 years or more. Whatever their challenges here, consumer goods are less expensive and incomes are steadier than they experienced in Mexico," she added.
In terms of challenges, the respondents identified the lack of English classes that go beyond the beginner level and being able to find child care that meets their cultural expectations, is affordable, and is available during shift work, she said.
Why the urgent interest in rural Latino life? The Latino population in non-metropolitan parts of Illinois grew by 71 percent between 1990 and 2000 and continues to grow. In Champaign County alone, the number has more than doubled.
To learn about these Latino families' challenges and strengths, Wiley and co-investigator Marcela Raffaelli hired Spanish-speaking U of I students to interview 112 mothers with at least one child under age 12 in Champaign, Douglas, Iroquois, Macon, and Vermilion counties.
"We found that Latino immigrants in these counties mainly come from the poorest parts of southern Mexico. Many have worked in a community for several summers, became familiar with it, and settled there," she said.
The problem is that there are few other Spanish speakers and little infrastructure in these communities to help meet immigrants' needs.
"Basic employability and access to higher-paying jobs are undoubtedly affected by two key challenges: learning English and accessing child care that families feel comfortable with and can afford," Wiley noted.
Fifty-seven percent of those interviewed said that accessing Spanish-language services was the greatest challenge their families faced, and 47 percent have taken classes to learn English. But the vocabulary covered in these classes is very basic, they reported.
"One of our strongest recommendations is that communities create opportunities for immigrants to learn and practice their English skills," Wiley said.
The inability of rural Latinos to communicate well in English increases their isolation, she added.
"These families stick together in tight-knit communities. The average interviewee knew only seven non-related adults. Because the people they know are apt to be other Spanish speakers, their ability to reach out is limited," she said.
But the closeness of rural Latino communities is also one of their strengths, Wiley said. "We stick together and help each other" is a typical response.
What do the researchers recommend? "There's a need for information about social services, resources, skills training, employment opportunities, and child care in Spanish that could be distributed creatively in these counties through public schools, churches, and the offices of the USDA's Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program," she said.
"Immigrants also need intermediate and advanced English classes," she said.
Co-authors of the report include the U of I's Maria Galarza, Steve Phan Tran, Diana Rodriguez, and Vanja Lazarevic with assistance from the U of I Extension Office of Hispanic Outreach. The Illinois Department of Human Services and U of I Family Resiliency Center funded the project.
Source: Phyllis Picklesimer, Media Communications Specialist, News & Public Affairs, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pull date: November 11, 2012