Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month
Hispanic Heritage Month is underway, celebrated annually from September 15 to October 15. We observe the histories, cultures, and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Portugal, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. The observance was originally a weeklong event officially recognized in 1968 and later expanded in 1988 to cover a 30-day period. September 15 is the anniversary of independence for the countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Our neighbor to the south—Mexico—celebrates its independence on September 16.
Latino Americans enrich our country and contribute in so many ways to the strength of our nation—culturally, economically, and certainly agriculturally. According to the most recent information in FSA’s Data management system, approximately 33%, or one-third, of our customers that self-identify as a race other than white are Hispanic. The Ag Census reports that more than 67,000 Hispanic farmers are principal operators—responsible for roughly $8.6 billion in agricultural products and operating about 21 million acres of farmland.
Advancing racial equity is an important priority of our agency. And throughout the Department I see commitment to doing what we can to remove any barriers to USDA programs that may exist for historically underserved producers.
I recently spoke to a member of our sister agency at FSA, Latrice Hill, who has been with USDA for 28 years, serving as a County Office Clerk, a Farm Loan Officer, and a Public Relations and Outreach Specialist before becoming FSA’s Director of Outreach. As we continue to explore how RMA can best serve Latino producers, I wanted to get an idea of the challenges her team has faced and how they have addressed them. We can always learn from each other.
Richard: Hispanic Heritage month has officially begun.
Latrice: Yes! Hispanic Americans have contributed so much to American history and heritage that it is imperative we celebrate. The word heritage reminds us to reflect on the past and pay tribute to those who made history and paved the way for future generations. I feel it’s important to celebrate because employees should know how Hispanic individuals have shaped our country and be aware of the many accomplishments that influenced our country’s agriculture, food, culture, and arts. During this month we should recognize the hard work of the thousands of immigrants who have participated in America’s agricultural traditions at all levels of production.
Richard: As an outreach specialist with your experience with FSA, what have been the priorities or initiatives concerning outreach to Latino producers?
Latrice: Language barriers have been the greatest challenge. Most non-English producers are reluctant to visit our offices to apply for programs. As FSA’s National Outreach Director our biggest priority has been addressing language barriers and ensuring information is shared with non-English speaking producers in our county offices. Internally we research the common Hispanic ag farming practices/commodities grown/ag operations and work with organizations to identify barriers and needs of Hispanic farmers and ranchers.
Latrice Hill, FSA Director of Outreach
Richard: What actions have your team taken to meet those challenges?
Latrice: Through partnerships with community-based organizations who have bilingual specialists working with producers and office staff, we’ve been able to reach more non-English speaking Hispanic producers. Also, the FPAC mission area has now made translation services available in every USDA service center with almost 50 languages available. That has been a huge benefit to both the producers and our staff!
I want to thank Latrice for her time. When I asked her what she loves most about her job she told me: “I don’t have a job because there’s a saying—“If you find something you’re passionate about, you’ll never work a day in your life.” There are also many passionate people in RMA conducting outreach activities throughout the country at Regional Offices and representing RMA at national events. We have also made great strides in providing more of our materials in Spanish online—more than 60 webpages of important Federal crop insurance information so far this year.
In the next few weeks, we will roll out our agency’s new Strategic Outreach Plan that will help us best meet the needs of historically disadvantaged communities moving forward. There will also be emphasis on serving beginning farmers and ranchers, specialty and livestock producers, and climate change mitigation.
RMA Acting Administrator