BURLEY – Latinos now make up 33.4 percent of Burley’s population of 10,345.
‘Whenever there is that kind of growth so quickly, there is often a lag in the ability of the community to actually cope with that change,” said Juan Alvarez, chairman of the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs. “Often government leaders don’t recognize anything has changed.”
The community needs more bilingual employees in most agencies and businesses, more opportunities to learn English as a Second Language, and Latino foster parents and community leaders, he said. “Everywhere we go, we have names of community leaders that repeatedly pop up. That was missing in Burley.”
The Latino community must look within to find those leaders, Alvarez said.
Members of his commission visited Burley about four years ago and decided to revisit the community to see how the school district, city and county government, health-care providers, faith-based and non-profit organizations and the community were reaching out to Latinos.
Family Health Services is providing good primary health care, not only for Latino families, but also for all low-income families, the commission found. Specialized care is scarce, though, because of the community’s size.
“Everywhere we went, the message was consistent: ‘I need more bilingual staff,’” said Alvarez. “One of our biggest challengers will be how to attract and retain people in the community who can help with that.”
Latino foster parents also are scarce, he said.
“You’ve got Hispanic kids getting put into homes where they don’t have the language to communicate with their foster parents. That’s a very difficult challenge that needs to be addressed, and it won’t get addressed from the outside. We have to educate ourselves.”
The commission also found insufficient opportunities to learn English as a second language.
“We’ll go back as a commission to see if there is more the College of Southern Idaho can do or other community-based organizations,” Alvarez said.
The commission also identified a lack of cultural awareness among school teachers and staff.
“The schools would like to see more involvement from Hispanic parents,” said Margie Gonzales, executive director of the commission.
Gladys Montoya, former chairwoman of the commission, asked why so many Latinos are in the district’s alternative school for at-risk kids.
They made up 56 percent this year, slightly higher than in previous years, said Cassia High School Principal Lauri Heward.
Alvarez said language barriers might be being misinterpreted as bad behavior.
“I refuse to believe all Hispanics have behavioral issues, so why are they there?” asked Montoya.
In a Day’s Work
More than 90 percent of state dairy workers are Latino, said Bob Naerebout, executive director of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association.
“There are strong cultural differences between the dairy producers and their workers,” Naerebout said. “And they need to understand that culture.”
Dairy work is not considered low-paying, however, Naerebout said. Beginning workers in the milking parlor typically make $9.65 per hour.
“I don’t think it’s a bad wage per hour. It’s not $20 per hour, where we’d all like to be, but it’s not bad,” Naerebout said.
The local workforce is productive, Alvarez said, and he would enjoy living in Burley.
”It’s a wonderful place. ... But there are challenges in the community, including a lag in catching up with the growth.”