Kansas | By Claudia Amaro | June 1, 2022
Every corner in Kansas has an emerging Latino community. In some places, they said they feel more invisible than in others.
Brianna and I first visited Coffeyville, a city of almost 9,000 in Montgomery County near the Kansas Oklahoma border, with a census reported Hispanic population of 13.5%.
We met with a group of Latino women who were eager to attend Spanish speaking events in their area. They shared about different challenges that they face as consumers, and about how those challenges have inspired them to think about starting their own businesses. One participant, a business owner, was concerned about the lack of support and trust from the community. She believes consumers in her area trust bigger and more established businesses over small, local owned businesses.
This group was concerned about the lack of education, training, and coaching in Spanish. “What licenses and permits do we need?” one of the attendants asked. Communication was also a big part of the conversation. Their first language is Spanish and, although they can manage a conversation in English, they said they wish there was more information in Spanish through all channels. I invited them to dream big: what are their aspirations for their families and for their communities? Two things arose. They want trainings to be available in Spanish – training on budgeting, loans, marketing, business plans, among others. There was also a sentiment of mistrust coming from financial institutions, which is no small barrier. They expressed a desire for low interest, flexible term loans to start or grow a business. This is something that many of them have been unable to find.
Our second stop was Liberal Kansas, the county seat of Seward County with a population (2020 Census) of 19,825. According to census data, 62% of the population is Latino, but according to the group of community leaders with whom Brianna, Alejandro, and I met, the Latino population is even higher.
Many of the concerns of this group were similar to the ones discussed in Coffeyville although, with more bilingual people in the community, some went a little deeper; they mentioned that the problem is not merely communication, but the lack of proper communication from the top down. According to them, information tends to be delayed to the point that it is outdated and unusable. As many other cities in the state, they are struggling with talent retention; many young Latinos leave the city to attend university and simply never come back, leaving them with no capable, Spanish speaking professionals to help new business owners (bankers, developers, eco devo experts, etc.) Another concern was that Spanish speaking business owners tend to not participate and/or are not invited into the conversations that have to do with economic development, or business ownership.
What makes it difficult to close the gap? Both groups shared similar answers. The lack of spaces that bring people with diverse backgrounds together to speak and listen to each other. Different languages and different time availabilities. Trainings that speak to different people and lack of marketing material that uses inviting languages, brighter colors, and sounds through different channels to reach specific communities.
The Latino community in Kansas is already diverse: people come from different countries, different language proficiency, education, and immigration status. The conversations during this listening tour showcased that diversity and highlighted that, although Spanish speaking entrepreneurs face the same challenges as their Anglo-counterparts, they have additional adaptive barriers that continually restrict them from their community and disrupt progress.
This blog has been written for The Kansas Leadership Center . It shares the experiences of a listening tour in the state of Kansas as part of the "Hearthland Together," initiative. A collaboration between The Kansas Leadership Center and The Kauffman Foundation.