Saturday, January 10, 2009

Hispanic cullture and immigration awareness are focus of event

Event raises awareness of Hispanic culture, immigration
By Karen Colbenson Post-Bulletin, Austin MN 1/8/2009

The son of migrant workers, Dan Hernandez understands why immigrants come to Austin.

Hernandez, a long-time resident of Austin, shared his family's story of work and survival during the first Hispanic Cultural Awareness event to be held at St. Edwards Church.

The community gathering, which focused on raising awareness and acceptance of the Hispanic culture, drew an ethnically diverse crowd of more than 75 people, including representatives from the city and local schools.

Explaining what draws immigrants to the United States, Hernandez used his own family as an example.

Raised by a father from El Salvador and a mother who was a migrant fruit picker, Hernandez grew up in San Francisco in a neighborhood of immigrants from all over the world.

It's the opportunity to create a better life that is driving the influx of immigrants in the country, said Hernandez.

"It's pure economics," he said. "They come to work, to go back, to bring that money back to their families. Being creative to survive is what makes America so great."

The challenge, according to Hernandez, is to see the changes immigration brings to a community as an asset instead of a liability.

"I feel very fortunate to have grown up with that experience," he said, but some people don't welcome those changes. "It's not about racism or hate. It comes down to you're no longer the majority -- that's the basis for the resentment."

Hernandez and Joe Fogal, pastor of St. Edwards, also discussed the different cultures and traditions that generally drive the lives of Hispanics.

Family, faith and work are the top priorities for many Hispanics, said Hernandez.

Exposing the younger generations to diversity will be the key to closing the cultural gap.

"We are in a unique spot in Austin. How can take this change and turn it into a rural asset?" said Hernandez.

Austin mayor Tom Steihm, who has attended several community meetings on immigration in the past year, called the topic one of the most important ongoing issues in Austin.

"It's a hot topic in town -- it had an effect on the mayor's race (in November). I have more questions than answers right now. I'm trying to understand both sides of it."

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