Latina Matters: Why You Should Care About the Latino Population Increase in Oak Park

latino familyBy Carmen C. Rivera

Our village is changing fast. It is becoming increasingly more diverse, and Latinos are a force in the demographic change.

Why should you care? According to the United States 2010 Census, the Latino population nationwide has jumped to about 16 percent of the U.S., and Latinos own 2.3 million businesses. Nationally, Latinos have helped pump about $60 billion into the economy, and that number will do nothing but rise in the coming years with the continuing growth in the Latino population.

In Cook County, Latinos own more than 7 percent of businesses, and we make up 6.3 percent of homeowners in Oak Park.  As a longtime homeowner and a Latinaprofessionalliving in Oak Park, I want to take advantage of this flourishingand diverse municipality and I hope I am not alone. I want my family and yours to benefit from the changes and continue to make the community a great place to raise a family.

It’s important to talk about differences between Latinos and ethnic groupsand the dynamics Latinos have within the community. Non-Latinos should care about the growth of a population that directly affects us all.

If you’re a non-Latino business owner, you should try to understand the specific niche of the Latino community. Talk to your Latino neighbors, friends, and Latino businessowner counterparts; that can lead to specific niche-marketing tactics for your business. But don’t get too specific: People are people (as a wise ’80s band pointed out years ago) and there are many minorities in the area, not just Latinos. Be inclusive with your targets but also be specific aboutwho you’re targeting with your business. Do the necessary work to discover what you don’treally know about your new, growing group of patrons. You’ll be happy you did.

If you have Latinos in your children’s school or park district (and you most certainly do), learn from the parents about their culture, including games, children’s books, and folklore. Conversation is the best way to learn about things Latino.

We want to learn about you too. Take the awkwardness out of it with a simple question or an invitation to your special event or a traditional neighborhood event. That will go a long way toward bridging the gap. Just as you may be curious about how Latinos celebrate “3 Kings Day,” for example, we probably have many questions about your family’s cultural events too. Latinos and other minorities probably feel the same anxiety about your traditions and celebrations as you do about Latinos’ ways.

Nothing is as easy as pie, ever, but with a few baby steps, we can all work well and live well in our changing environment. We can make each other feel comfortable while learning about the differences and similarities we share. We all want the same thing: to live, prosper, and grow in Oak Park. My hope is that Oak Park we will emerge as a national example ofa stronger community for everyone.

The monthly Latina Matters column seeks to identify issues facing Latinos in Oak Park and help bridge the cultural gap that many residents perceive in our diverse community. If you have questions, concerns, or hot-topic items that you would like to see addressed, contact Carmen Rivera at carmen@digitalcitiesmedia.com.