Naked City

Is Austin really no. 1 for Latinos?

In case you haven't heard already, Hispanic Magazine has crowned Austin the No. 1 city for Latinos to reside in for the second year in a row. In an August cover story, "Top 10 Cities for Hispanics to Live In: Where Latinos Love to Live, Work and Play," the Miami-based publication with a reported circulation of 280,000 touted Austin's low crime rate, reasonable median housing price of $154,000, and vibrant cultural scene. The article goes on to note city-co-sponsored free concert series Sabor Latino, Carnival Brasiliero, the fact that " ranks Austin third in the nation for jump starting a business career," and the fact that Hispanics make up 30% of the city's population.

The story contradicts itself, however, in that its introduction mentions "a Hispanic population that is active in the local political scene" as one of the magazine's main rankings criteria. Yet Austin's at-large election system limits Latinos' participation in city politics, Hispanic community leaders say. "We're the only major city in Texas that does not elect our city council by geographic regions," said Cathy Vasquez-Revilla, publisher of local bilingual newspaper La Prensa. "It's always who the environmentalists want to win, or who the business community wants to win, or the Mexican the people in West or Northwest Austin want to see win."

Eliza May, president of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, agrees. A regional election system, in which voters in various parts of the city elect representatives from their own neighborhoods, would give Latinos a better chance to win seats on the City Council, May said. The fact that only one out of the seven current council members, Raul Alvarez, is Latino, even though Latinos make up 30% of the local population, illustrates that the at-large system doesn't produce a council that's truly representative of the city's population, she said. "We're still living under the old 'gentleman's agreement' to honor one seat for a Hispanic, one seat for an African-American … that we're still [held] to one [Latino] slot is, in my opinion, not good enough," May said.

Mexico native Antonio Ruiz Camacho, managing editor of Spanish-language tabloid Rumbo de Austin, noted that a huge chunk of Austin's Hispanic population is made up of first- and second-generation immigrants, and that the city is going to have to stay on top of new immigrants' educational and language needs, among others, in order to remain a desirable place to live. As May put it, "We applaud ourselves, of course. … [But] we've got a lot of work ahead of us. To continue to stay number one, we've got to start generating the programming that we need."

Hispanic Magazine's List of the Top 10 Cities for Latinos to Live

1) Austin

2) Albuquerque

3) Los Angeles

4) San Jose

5) San Antonio

6) Las Vegas

7) El Paso

8) San Diego

9) Miami

10) Chicago

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