KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Hispanic community is growing and making an impact on the local economy; not just in Knoxville, but all around East Tennessee.
We recently sat down with Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero to get her take on the Hispanic community and more importantly, what still needs to be done to make sure it continues to prosper moving forward as her time in office comes to an end.
“The entire state of Tennessee has seen a big increase and the number of Spanish-speaking Hispanic people over the last decade,” Rogero said.
That includes Knoxville – the reason being, there are jobs to be had.
“I think it’s because we have a booming economy. There are business who need people to work the jobs and so folks go where the work is.. right,” Rogero said. “We have so much of our economy that depends on immigrant labor and it’s kind of the biggest secret, only it’s not a secret… Everybody knows that, but yet we can’t get the action needed at the federal level.”
That’s why during her tenure, the mayor has made it a mission to get her and other mayors’ messages across to those in Washington, D.C.
“I was a part of our U.S. conference of mayors and reaching out to congress and the Presidents,” she said. “We’ve had two administrations during my time as mayor… and encourage them to really tackle this problem.”
Problems she has seen tackled first-hand out west.
“Years ago, I worked with farm workers in California… and there had been a program called the ‘Bracero program,’ where they acknowledged that the growers.. the agribusiness in California needed workers,” she said. “There was a program set up so that they could come in, legally, work the fields and help our economy grow as a country. When we know that our businesses across the country and in our community are hiring workers, then we need to acknowledge that and help them come out of the shadows.”
This is a sentiment the mayor says she hopes her successor will continue champion.
“I hope that in addition to the festivals, the support for the social services, the kids and families in our community – I hope that the next mayor will also work at the state and national levels to make sure that we are really addressing the problems which is workforce availability and workforce development,” Rogero said. “First, we do it from a very human approach in terms of helping people feel welcome… helping them adapt and get the services they need so they can work and their children can go to school, but there’s also policies and laws and regulations that need to be realistic.”
The mayor also tells us officially, 5% of the city’s population is Hispanic, with around 10% of the children in Knox County Schools actually coming from Hispanic families and households.
She also says it’s important for everyone to take part in the 2020 Census as we continue to gauge the area’s immigrant population and what programs need to be implemented.
For more information on the city’s partnering organizations through the Mayor’s Office of Immigration & Citizenship, click here.