By: Oscar L. Orias
Latino Heritage/History month ended this year with much fanfare and Hispanics being under the microscope politically. Arizona’s proposed new laws raised many question about Latinos integration within American society and how they are compared with other immigrants of the past. In Houston, their presence is felt in all parts of the city. They are our cities political leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers, doctors, and business leaders. Latinos make up almost 45 million people in this country and the fastest growing minority group. Even with such large numbers and integration into American life and business many Latinos still face racial discrimination and other barriers in this country. Even in Houston where Latinos make a large percentage of the population they still fight for their place in proverbial political and economic table.
How Latinos Changed the Face of Houston
My father arrived to Houston in the early 80s; he described it as a mostly Anglo town with a strong Texas flavor. Houston by many was considered a backwater city with little to offer and no real diversity. Things have a lot changed over the last 30 years in this city due in part to Latin immigrants coming to this city. Much of those changes have a very visible Hispanic imprints on them.
The Spanish language one of those visible imprints. It has become the second primary languages spoken in the city of Houston and in some section it is the predominant language. In many businesses, especially the service sector, Spanish has become a must in order to serve customers. Talking to people in their language isn’t enough anymore, businesses are having website information, commercials, and marketing materials in Spanish. The language has also served as a lightning rod of discrimination against Latinos and in some ways an economy handicap. Studies have shown that Bilingual Spanish speakers earn much more than their one language counter parts.
Another visible imprint into Houston culture is the popularity of Latin American festivals and holidays. Celebrations like Fiestas Patrias, Cinco De Mayo, Cuban/Puerto Rican Festival, and Chicano Day have become an integral part of the city’s traditions. These celebrations bring all Houstonians together to relax, learn, and enjoy the regions culture and food. These festivals and celebrations also introduce new cultural ideas that will later be blended into the general culture.
Latin owned and styled companies have made a deep impact in Houston’s landscape. These firms aren’t just confined into just one section or one part of the city, they are found in different types of neighborhoods and Suburbs. More than 1/5 of all businesses in the city are owned by Latinos, much higher than other ethnic groups in the city. 19 of the largest 500 Hispanic run businesses in the nation are based in Houston.
Open for Business
Hispanics open businesses to cater to the underserved Latino market and to tap into their large purchasing power. Companies such as restaurant, food markets, grocery stores, financial firms, and clothing boutiques cater to the market well. Increasingly many of those companies have expanded their market to the rest of the general public (i.e. Fiesta Supermarket and Ninfas Restaurant). The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce estimates there are 75,000 Hispanic-Owned businesses in the city. Those firms aren’t just found in the service industry, they are visible almost every sector of the local economy.
Why does Houston have such a large amount of Latino-own businesses? Much of it has to do with the culture of the town and Hispanics. The laid back attitude and the hungry for the city to expand have allowed immigrants from all walks of life to settle here. Texas also has a very independent culture and spirit that actually encourages people to take risks and become their own boss. Entrepreneurs are celebrated for being risk-takers and pioneers. This is reflected in the state’s business friendly tax-codes and public policies. The historically inexpensive housing market also allows for new comers especially with no real monetary value to live in the city on a limited budget. Inexpensive housing helps free up capital for a start-up business down the road.
Latinos come to this city in search of new opportunities, financial and political independence, and a stable place to raise a family. Citizens face a lot of barriers when opening industries in Latin America. These barriers range from the large amounts of administrative red tape to corruption in obtaining business licenses. Inhabitants see their own governments as a liability not an asset to start-up businesses accord to a Gallup Poll done this year. According to the poll 2/3 of residents say that government doesn’t make getting permits and paperwork easy to obtain. The next reason cited is the lack of businesses being fearful of making profit without government intrusion. This highlights the tension and distrust between private business and nationals governments.
Nuestro Futuro (Our Future)
The outlook of the Latino in this metropolis and country depends on them flexing their political and economic muscle. Until now they have been an important swing vote but not really an influential voting block. They are an important market but not a market shaker or changer. This new generation of American-born Latinos still faces obstacles like discrimination, culture clashes, political legitimacy, and poor education. The dropout rate for Hispanics in High School still stands a whopping 18.3% according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This number is alarming because education today is the key for social mobility and economic success. This statistics and other factors must change if this country is to succeed in the long-term. The future of the Latino and the future of this country are indissoluble.
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