Successful strategies for engaging the Latino and Hispanic population

Explore lessons learned from 10 years of Oregon State University Extension’s 4-H Latino Outreach Project.

According to a May 2011 report published by the U.S. Census Bureau, more than half of the total U.S. population growth that occurred between 2000 and 2010 was due to the increase in the Latino/Hispanic population. During this period, the Latino/Hispanic population grew by 43 percent, which is four times the growth rate of the total population. Among U.S. Latinos/Hispanics, the Mexican origin population was the fastest growing. The 2010 Census estimates the population of U.S. Hispanics of Mexican origin at 31.8 million people.

Here in Michigan, the Latino/Hispanic population grew by 30 percent from 2000 to 2010. Michigan ranks nineteenth in the nation for the size of its Latino/Hispanic population. Wayne County is home to the largest population of Latinos/Hispanics in the state. However, one out of every four Latinos/Hispanics in Michigan live in the west Michigan counties of Allegan, Kent, Oceana, Ottawa, Muskegon or Van Buren. The median age of Michigan’s Latino/Hispanic population is 25 years old and Mexicans or Mexican-Americans constitute 75 percent of Michigan’s Latino/Hispanic population.

Community leaders must recognize that it is important to engage the Latino and Hispanic population in community issues, programs and projects. In order to engage this growing population, research and ten years of experience by Oregon State University Extension shows one must make specific efforts:

Steps should be taken to build relationships with the Latino/Hispanic community
The lack of relationships and trust will limit outreach efforts. Time must be spent dedicated to developing relationships with families, individuals, businesses and organizations before programs begin. Listen to what people value, their concerns, needs, interest areas, and learn about assets and resources within the Latino/Hispanic community. This community generally has a fear of state and federal government, so keep that in mind when introducing yourself or your program.

Programs should be offered in English and Spanish
According to a 2002 study by the Pew Hispanic Center, Hispanic and Latino adults typically have limited proficiency in English. Irregular work hours and the availability of English-as-a-second-language (ESL) programs also contribute to this limited English proficiency. Research by Brown University in 2002 showed that offering programs in Spanish shows respect for the culture and helps build trust.

Programs should include a family outreach approach
According to a 2003 report by the National Latino Children’s Institute, Hispanics and Latinos are more inclined to engage as a family rather than only as adults. This includes multigenerational family members as well. Accommodations should be made to engage or care for children and the elderly at meetings.

Accommodate varied work schedules and limited financial resources
Outreach efforts by Oregon State University’s 4-H Program concluded that several meeting time options were needed and sometimes home visits were required to engage people. In addition, Oregon State found that Hispanic and Latino families often have limited financial resources; therefore, programs that were very low cost and offered food were more successful.

Use indirect methods of collecting data
Research and experience from Oregon State’s 4-H Latino Outreach program concludes that Latinos and Hispanics feel more comfortable working as a group rather than as an individual. Group dialogue and reflection are effective data collection methods. Direct questions to an individual should be avoided. Due dates and timelines for participants should also be avoided.

Understand cultural differences
Latinos and Hispanics have very heterogeneous cultures. It is important to know which specific cultures exist in your community. Generally, Hispanics and Latinos value family, youth, cultural art, food and music. Find ways to incorporate these things in your projects, programs and meetings to create a welcoming atmosphere.

Michigan State University (MSU) Extension provides programming to Latino and Hispanic audiences in Michigan. MSU Extension programs designed for Latino/Hispanic audiences include: agricultural production in West Michigan, 4-H youth development programming in Lenawee County, and a youth mentoring program in Southwest Detroit. For more information, contact Dionardo Pizana with the MSU Extension Directors Office at or the MSU Extension website.

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