Let’s Celebrate Latino/Hispanic Heritage Month!

This mural is in the Arlandria neighborhood, home to many Hispanic-owned bakeries, restaurants, salons, and bookstores. Centered around Mount Vernon Avenue, its borders form a rough triangle bounded by Four Mile Run, West Glebe Road, and Route 1. An influx of Salvadorian immigrants into the neighborhood in the 1980s earned it the nickname “Chirilagua,” after the city on El Salvador’s Pacific Coast. (Courtesy Women’s Commission)

By Katherine Hall

ALEXANDRIA,VA- September 15 thru October 15 is Latino/Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to acknowledge and honor the many contributions that Latinos have made to the City of Alexandria, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the United States.

We recognize not only the great diversity that the Latino/Hispanic community brings to our city but also the inequities and the work needed to ensure that all residents have access to the resources and services to help them thrive and succeed.

One in nine Virginians is an immigrant. One in seven is Asian or Latino. Alexandria is home to 155,000 people, some 44,000 of whom were born outside the U.S. Latinos make up 16.7 percent of the population. But low incomes and a high poverty rate present particular challenges for Latino immigrants because here in Northern Virginia, rent, childcare, and living costs far outpace national averages.

The Economic Policy Institute recently released numbers on the cost of childcare. Virginia ranks 10 out of 50, being among the most expensive states for this service. Virginia parents pay an average of $14,063 for infant care every year, or $1,172 each month. (D.C. topped the list, at $24,243 yearly, or $2,020 each month.)

Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for essentially all expansions of services, and even lawfully present noncitizens face barriers to coverage and are likely to be uninsured. The obstacles they face hinder their efforts to succeed, and that hurts everyone. It is critical for federal, state, and local lawmakers to find ways to ensure that all Virginians have a chance to build a secure life.

Foreign born Latinos make a significant contribution to Virginia’s economy. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2007 Survey of Business Owners (the most recent numbers available) shows 28,578 Latino-owned businesses in Virginia had sales of $5.9 billion and employed 34,177 people. Most Latino immigrants in Virginia are of working-age, which contributes to our high rate of employment.

The Alexandria Commission for Women’s 2018 Status of Women Report found more women in the workforce than ever before, and that 94 percent of Alexandria’s single mothers work, which is the highest rate in the region. And Latina women enter the workforce at higher rates than all other ethnicities or races. Yet, in Alexandria they disproportionately work in jobs and sectors with wages that don’t support the basic cost of living.

Benefit and leave policies negatively impact their economic stability and growth. They have little or no access to services like daycare or parental leave that would free them to pursue jobs with higher wages. Many cannot enroll in training or classes that require a predictable schedule. And in a city with rapidly rising living costs, affordable childcare and housing are critical for women with children, particularly single mothers.

Nationally, Latina women are paid 54 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. In the larger Washington D.C. region, the disparity is greater: Latina women are paid 33 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men.

And yet, while many barriers and obstacles still exist for the Latino community, their relative youth and striving for more education, plus a marked entrepreneurial drive, foretell great opportunities for our city’s future. We are very excited that in 2018, Alexandria elected the first Latino to City Council, Canek Aguirre.

We at the Alexandria Women’s Commission wish you a wonderful Latino/Hispanic Heritage Month and encourage you to visit a Latino owned business here in the City of Alexandria!

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