December 25, 2010 | Courier Press | Original Article

Latest census shows Tri-State's Hispanic population is growing

Indiana's growing diversity will be evident as more data from the U.S. census are released — numbers that are expected to show the growing population and influence of Hispanic and Latino communities. One of the people helping Hoosiers sort through this information and the cultural changes they reflect is Daniel Lopez, executive director of the Indiana Commission on Hispanic and Latino Affairs.

This week on Newsmakers, a weekly public affairs program co-produced by WNIN-PBS9 and the Courier & Press, Lopez discusses some of the trends and traits unique to this growing population with Courier & Press Editor Mizell Stewart III.

The following is an edited transcript of their conversation. The entire interview can be seen at 11:30 a.m. today on WNIN.

Stewart: Tell us about the commission. What is the background on the commission, and what is it set up to accomplish?

Lopez: The commission, as it is set up now, is about a decade old and is essentially (composed) of 20 commissioners. We have representation on the commission from across the state. We have members of different state agencies that are critical to some of the issues that we deal with. We have elected officials — two elected officials from the House, two from the Senate. And we have nine lay appointments essentially. The House appoints four, the Senate appoints four, the governor appoints one, so it is a nonpartisan board.

Stewart: Give us a snapshot of the Hispanic communities in Indiana. Where are the highest concentrations, and what does it look like in terms of demographics?

Lopez: As a state, much like the rest of the country, it is a relatively young population. It is a population that has obviously continued to grow and will continue to grow in number and certainly in influence.

While there are pockets, for example Indianapolis has the highest total number but northwest Indiana has an extremely high population, so do Fort Wayne, South Bend, even places like Evansville and New Albany. Lafayette is another area.

So, really, the interesting thing about it is that whereas maybe a decade ago, it was really concentrated in some different pockets around the state, you are starting to see different communities that have not had this before see an influx of Latinos.

Stewart: There are also a lot of challenges that come with this population growth and come with the issue of immigration.

One of the statistics that is interesting is that 90 percent of Hispanic and Latino children born here speak English, but, often, their parents do not. What are some of the particular issues surrounding that?

Lopez: Roughly one out of every four (Latino) families in Indiana is classified as linguistically isolated, meaning there is no adult in the household that speaks fluent English. That's obviously a challenge — a challenge in the marketplace, it's a challenge from a municipal or state infrastructure perspective, and it is a challenge in the schools.

Certainly, when you are talking about something like education that is so pressing, we have an obligation obviously to educate our Latino Hoosiers, those kids. But yet we know that parents are so important in the family structure, such an important component to that — what strategies are being implemented now to be able to effectively engage Latino parents?

That is something that a lot of schools and school districts in certain areas have not had to deal with in the past. There is a learning curve that goes along with it.

Stewart: There is the whole issue of English as a second language and language education, but also, (we must consider) parents who are very comfortable in their native language, and, in dealing with their kids who are immersed in an English-speaking environment, are not able or feel that they cannot be as supportive of their children's education, perhaps, as they should be. What are some of strategies to deal with that?

Lopez: When you have parents that are involved, the kids succeed academically. And so, one of the cultural barriers tends to be, and this is a generalization, but it tends to be that in some of the cultures where these folks are coming from, that engagement with the school is not happening like it happens here. And so parents are not only facing the insecurity of the language barrier, they are also unsure as to what their role should be in the academic progress of their children.

Stewart: Because parental involvement in education is not as valued, perhaps, in some of the cultures of origin?

Lopez: No, I think it would be a fallacy to say it is not as valued. I think that it is a different perspective, it's a different way of looking at what schools and what schools represent and what authority teachers have, and those types of things vary even from country to country in Latin America.

So when you bring all of that together here in Indiana or any other place in the United States that has a very particular view of what schools should be doing, it is a challenge. But you know, I heard this from somebody one time and it really jumped out. They said, "Bilingual is good, bicultural is better."