Since the election of its first Hispanic to the City Council in 2015, Mesa officials are finding ways to better serve its diverse population.
The city’s Mesa en Español team is bringing a renewed vigor to that effort despite this year’s harsh circumstances caused by the pandemic, helping to bridge the communication gap between city workers and Spanish-speaking residents.
The team’s Facebook page, publicly launched in 2018, translates for those residents complex government documents, informs them of citywide events and connects them with elected officials – all in Spanish.
“Our most important role is connecting with our Spanish speaking community and helping to break down barriers of local government,” said Marrisa Ramírez-Ramos, senior public information & communications specialist of Mesa en Español.
“Local government can be an obstacle for anyone to know how to maneuver correctly, who to contact, what departments to speak with when they have questions or concerns, but especially when a language barrier is added to the mix,” Ramirez-Ramos said.
Last year, the Mesa en Español Facebook page earned the Diversity Award for cities of 200,000 to 500,000 residents from the National League of Cities, an award created to acknowledge forward-looking initiatives within a multicultural community.
This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team’s services were in even higher demand.
“Our culture is very much based on family and connections and in large get-togethers, and that tends to be a way to disseminate information, and it was greatly affected by not being able to have those in-person interactions,” Ramírez-Ramos said.
The group has used their established platform to give residents accurate and timely information on the virus, precautions and resources available.
After becoming inundated with translation requests, the city’s diversity officer helped the team create “a pretty solid translation services document for the city to follow,” Ramírez-Ramos said.
Some of the events and support systems they promoted during this time included meetings with council members that citizens could attend and ask questions virtually with the help of a translation, as well as the location of nearby emergency food distribution centers and boxes.
Mariano Reyes, Mesa en Español co-administrator and department of environmental engineering sustainability official, said the group posts about important changes to everyday life such as “making sure resident are aware of what can be recycled, how to properly put out your containers, as well as information on hazardous materials disposal.”
Lucy Hambright, another administrator on the Facebook page, stressed that the team’s services are crucial.
“When people reach out to the city, it really helps to be that person that looks like them and speaks like them,” she said. “To me, it’s very important that I connect with them and they connect to me so we can learn from each other and we become better as we work together.”
According to the most recent U.S. Census, there are 518,012 Hispanic residents in Mesa, making up 27.7 percent of the city’s total population.
While the idea of the Facebook page was still being conceptualized, the demographics of the area were carefully studied in order to accurately assess the needs of the community.
Ramírez-Ramos said the Hispanic community is also highly digital and interactive on social media pages and these interactions often generate more interaction within the community.
Similarly, in the Mesa Public Schools district, Hispanic citizens making up the largest minority demographic.
The city began its outreach to its Spanish-spreakign residents with a pilot project titled “Imagine Mesa.”
It preceded the Mesa en Español page and was a space where residents could submit suggestions and government officials could gather ideas.
“I think that’s where we noticed that our target audience was a Spanish audience,” Ramírez-Ramos said.
Looking towards the future, the Mesa en Español team aspires to branch out to other social media platforms, and reaching new and unexplored audiences.
“We know that if we go to Instagram, it tends to be the younger generation,” Ramírez-Ramos said.
“The young people who have been here most of their life and those who grew up here and are doing the translating for their parents or grandparents or aunts and uncles” would be the target audience, she explained.
The team also hopes to enter Spanish-speaking communities again when COVID-19 permits to continue advocating for more innovative diversity programs and find new ways of fostering connections with residents.
“That’s really a point I would like to stress, that we’ve tried very hard to bring it more in person and overcome that stigma of government being this high up hierarchy that you can’t interact with or there’s really not a person behind it,” Ramírez-Ramos said.
“We really wanted to be a real person to our community.”