Imagine starting a new life in a new country unable to speak the language and unable to navigate the resources and services that could help you – simply because they are online. That’s the challenge for many individuals and families who immigrate to the US.
On this episode of Connected Nation, we talk with one man who works directly with Immigrant populations about what can be done to better help and support our nation’s newest residents.
Migration policy data - https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/digital-divide-hits-us-immigrant-households-during-covid-19
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager, Louisville Metro Government - https://www.linkedin.com/in/ricardosantiago787/
Jessica Denson, Host (00:06):
This is Connected Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all things broadband from closing the digital divide to improving your internet speeds. We talk technology topics that impact all of us, our families, and our neighborhoods. Imagine starting a new life in a new country, unable to speak the language and unable to navigate the resources and services that can help you simply because you are not online. That's the challenge for many individuals and families who immigrate to the US to start a new life. Today, we talk with one man who works directly with these vulnerable populations about what can be done to better help and support our nation's newest residents. I'm Jessica Denson, and this is Connected Nation. I'm Jessica Denson, and today we are kicking off season four with a special guest, Ricky Santiago, who is the Digital Inclusion Manager for Louisville Metro Government, located in Louisville, Kentucky. Hi, Ricky.
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (01:02):
Hi, Jessica. How are you?
Jessica Denson, Host (01:03):
It's good. I'm good. It's nice to talk to you again. We've done a podcast before and we've done a couple of pieces together regarding digital inclusion, so I'm excited to have you back to kick off our season four. Um, let's begin with you by d by really defining the term digital inclusion. What does that mean in general?
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (01:22):
So, to me, um, my definition, uh, digital inclusion is the intentional action to make sure that everyone in our community has access to equitable access to technology, internet, and the skills that they need to properly use them and to properly participate in the 21st century.
Jessica Denson, Host (01:46):
I think that's really interesting that you emphasize the word equitable. Cause there's a lot of talk about digital inequities and e and, and having digital equity. Can you expand upon that just a bit more? What you mean when you say that equitable access?
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (02:00):
Well, absolutely. We know that there are practices of digital redlining and within those practices of digital redlining that certain areas of our community do not have access to the internet. Uh, you're, you're also outside of the market, but also the market is unaffordable to you. And we know that there's a component of, of, of race. Uh, there's a component of, um, ethnicity when it comes to affordability and geographic location. Uh, and also those are the same communities that like access to technology because of many other issues. And right now, like the cost of technology, is it, it's, it's outside of my own, uh, <laugh>, you know, budget sometimes, you know, how much is a laptop nowadays? Uh, it's, it that, and to make sure that there's equitable access so that okay, maybe a family, um, we don't have to make these decisions of whether I log into this podcast or to the Zoom via my computer or my phone, or, or we don't have to make those decisions because we're not faced by the digital divide. So we need to make sure that those families had the equitable approach to not have to make the decisions, not a either or proposition for, for, to be a full digital citizen.
Jessica Denson, Host (03:29):
So you mean whether you're picking, if I'm gonna eat today versus am I gonna be able to have access to work necessarily or Right. E explain your role within Louisville Metro Government as its digital inclusion manager. Is that something that you see in all cities, or is, is it kind of an unusual role that you have?
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (03:47):
It is kind of a <laugh> an unusual role. Usually, uh, the job of digital inclusion managers is in nonprofits or funders not necessarily being led by government. Uh, so yes, uh, my job in City of Louisville is to make sure that I, uh, coordinate programs, strategies, initiatives, uh, around the access to, uh, internet computers and the skills. So I work a lot with other nonprofits to make sure that they stand up computer programs, computer labs, uh, and expand on those. So for example, if we start with just basic digital skills, what other partners could I, uh, make sure that I provide resources to, uh, to make sure that they expand on health, financial, uh, health, digital skills and financial, digital skills, uh, workforce, digital skills, all these other digital skills that could be the building blocks to a full digital citizen.
Jessica Denson, Host (04:54):
Yeah, I, I was recently traveling in Michigan and, um, one of the things that people were talking about was the need for understanding that having digital access is, is a workforce issue, that it, it, it gives more access to more people. That's just an aside, I thought was interesting. Um, I know that today we really wanna focus on the immigrant issue when it comes to digital skills and digital inclusion. So let's, let's start with, what's the immigrant makeup or numbers for Louisville? Do you have some statistics? Statistics, if I could speak some stats that, uh, reflect what Louisville's numbers are?
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (05:29):
Yeah. So according to the Census Bureau, the Louisville Hispanic community has grown 233%, uh, in the last 20 years and rapidly growing. Uh, they make up about close to 8% of the community, uh, and sheer numbers, uh, I don't have that number in particular, but, uh, as far as percenters at almost 8% of the community,
Jessica Denson, Host (05:52):
That that's an incredible growth rate, 233%. Uh, in preparing for this discussion, sent me a few other stats regarding digital inclusion as the nation, not just specific to Louisville. So I'm gonna share some of those if I could for just a moment. One of those was one 10th. The families headed by Hispanic immigrants have no access to the internet that says of 2016, which was greater than 7% of the US born Latinos without access and twice the rate of non-Hispanic white residents. That's according to a study from, um, Sesame Workshops, Joan Gas Cooney Center. Um, another stat, according to researchers at the P Pew Research Center, although Hispanic immigrants comprised about half of all Hispanic internet users in the 16% of US Hispanics that do not access the internet in 20 16, 70 7% were immigrants. So in essence, 16% of those out of that huge, out of that percentage of us, uh, Hispanics, who did not access the internet, 77% were immigrants as a huge portion. Um, those are daunting figures as you work to expand internet access to immigrant families and those who are coming here and, and combating those inequities, what are some specific obstacles that are specific to that community and possibly opportunities if we look at it from both sides of the coin?
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (07:14):
So let me contextualize that less, um, really quick. Uh, it says that, uh, 16% of US Hispanics did not access the internet, and within that 60%, 16%, 77 were immigrants. Not everyone in the Hispanic community or the Latinx community is an immigrant. Some are born here, some come from Puerto Rico. So what is saying is that the majority of newly arrived or not, not, um, still in the immigrant status of our community in the Hispanic community, mixed status families, for example, a 77% of those did not access the internet or were not able to access the internet. Uh, so I just wanted to contextualize that, you know, uh, really quickly, some of the challenges is that, you know, when you come to a new country, uh, or when you come to the us, everything is so digitalized. Everything is, you know, we're, we're hitting it into the digitalized digitalization and revolution. Where do you stop and learn how to use a computer?
Jessica Denson, Host (08:29):
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (08:30):
Yeah. Where, where do you go? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, uh, I mean, I know you can go to the library, but how do you stop having to go to work, having to take care of your kids, sending the kids to school? Where do you have the time to sit down and go learn to use this computer that could potentially, uh, help you in those other aspects, but how do you stop? You, you're in survival mode. You have to get a place to live. Your kids have to go to school, have to get a job. How do you stop that machine in order to learn how to use this computer and make sure that you have internet, make sure that your kids have access to, to the internet and computers. That's the main challenge of this. And as you're an English learner, so how do you learn the computer programs and the how to use a computer in your home language?
Jessica Denson, Host (09:21):
Yeah. And, and to that point of that population, only 12% are, have proficiency in digital skills. So you really are dealing with a, a huge challenge in helping those immigrant populations focus, especially those first generation or those that you said were mixed. Um, status, what did you call mixed status? Um, how, how do you tackle that? How does the city tackle that? What can we learn from what Louisville's doing and what your, your department is doing?
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (09:54):
So the number one thing is that we have done is partner with immigrant serving organizations. So, for example, adante, uh, Hispanic Achievers is a, uh, an organization dedicated to the, a academic advancement of Hispanic students. Americana Community Center is, uh, uh, a service centered, uh, oriented organization, uh, dedicated to all services for the immigrant community, Wesley House Community Service. They offer ESL classes, uh, and, uh, uh, adult education for, uh, in Spanish for the Latino community, uh, and also the resettlement agencies, Catholic Charities and Kentucky Refugee Ministries. We have placed computer labs in there, and we have able to find, we've been able to find, uh, Spanish resource, uh, for digital skills curriculum. So, digital learn.org, uh, is in sp available in Spanish. Google, uh, grow with Google is, is available in Spanish, which it may not seem like much, but to a newcomer is incredibly significant to be able to learn this in Spanish and not have this added obstacle of having to learn English. And then as so I can then learn how to use the computer.
Jessica Denson, Host (11:22):
Yeah. And let's take a pause for a moment and really consider, imagine if myself, if I suddenly was living in Brazil, I don't speak the language, I don't understand, um, a lot of the culture, yet I'm still being acclimated. Uh, and then I, I I'm trying to, uh, access resources or services. I, I think we take for granted a lot in, in the us if, if I just may speak out loud, my thoughts here that it's simple to come here, that we un, you know, our country's so big, we can go from state to state, it doesn't matter, but it has to be such a daunting and scary situation to suddenly be placed in this new environment that you're hopeful brings better life to you, but, and for your family. But there are all these obstacles, and this is just one more. We need to find a way to remove it. Am I making, um, a leap there that's not right, or do I have that right?
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (12:24):
No, you're absolutely right. The resettlement agencies do a fantastic job of trying, uh, to do the best they can to make sure that, um, there's this warm handoff, uh, for the, the, their clients into the community. But there's just so much to learn. The learning curve is so steep, uh, especially now with digitalization, uh, you know, banking, uh, you know, school, your immigration court system, your immigration system is now moving to a digital system, uh mm-hmm. <affirmative>, where you're, you're doing your, you could even do your, your case via a web conference. So that is a, a major obstacle for, uh, a lot of folks in the community.
Jessica Denson, Host (13:15):
Um, what about some of these mixed status families? Explain how you, uh, address those types of issues. Is that unique, uh, to just simply a new I immigrant coming into town?
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (13:28):
So, mixed status families are, are families where, um, you may have a father or a mother that is, uh, one status. Uh, they may be resident, uh, or, you know, whatever their, their case may be, but then the child is, is a, uh, citizen, or you have, uh, married spouses of different, uh, immigration status. Um, particularly speaking, uh, to those that have children that are born in the US that puts the children in a very particular situation where they have to take on responsibilities that are not really, uh, meant for a child, uh, where they, they may have to help them learn how to access their telehealth and keep their password for their financial, uh, uh, banking. That's not, uh, that's not something that, you know, uh, your, you know, do you want your child to know how much money you have in your bank? Do you want your child to know your recent diagnosis that was sent to you in your health? Those things are private, uh, to some extent in many families. And what it does, just like translation services, so this is the digital, the lack of digital skills is an extension of other issues. Um, just like translation services sometimes, you know, we find that the doctor's using the kid as a translator, and that's not necessarily inequitable or correct process for, for families.
Jessica Denson, Host (15:05):
That, that is a really interesting point, because I can imagine a lot of parents cringe as they listen to that thinking that their kids would have such access rather than the parent deciding what the child should know. Um, and you know, as a child, you're not necessarily ready to cope with some of those bigger issues, so that must be very difficult.
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (15:25):
Exactly. So that's why I wanted to point out that particular situation because it, it does happen a lot.
Jessica Denson, Host (15:31):
Um, since we are on the topic of children, um, we really saw during the pandemic, I don't think there's a parent out there who couldn't say that they understand why, um, their child needs access to the internet, uh, re after the pandemic because of the schooling need. Um, now imagine if a kid's sick, they might have to be out for two weeks just to make sure they aren't, um, they aren't contagious. Uh, you know, when we have schooled snow days, you know, has still having school go along, um, that's now a possibility because of remote learning. So what are some additional challenge that for, for children of immigrants or, um, immigrant children even to accessing our schools through this technology is do, are they having to sign up online? Um, are they, is there something special that Louisville Metro or, uh, it's Jefferson County Schools here, public schools at in Louisville, Kentucky, are they doing anything to address that? Um, what are your thoughts on that?
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (16:29):
So, I, I can't really speak on behalf of J C P S, um, but my thoughts on remote learning are that sometimes we get caught on the catch 22 where we're asking families that are disconnected to go online to get connection, and that happens to a <laugh> not, and that happens to, to a lot of different systems. Um, we want to make sure we disseminate information and we've been trained and, uh, conditioned to disseminate information via the internet, whether it's social media, WebPress, or any other kind of outlet. Uh, and using that, we're telling families to get connected. So it's a bit, it's a bit of a catch 22.
Jessica Denson, Host (17:23):
Yeah. So it's, before the pandemic, there was a number that people would throw around. There's about 16.9 million children that were part of what they called the homework gap, you know? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> those kids who didn't have access at home. So you can imagine the pandemic's changed that. There's a lot of numbers that still haven't come out from that, um, from the FCC and some other groups that we're still waiting on to, to know what the true impact of that was. But I can imagine that for immigrants and vo other vulnerable populations, that number is extremely high. Um, let's, let's talk about what we can do better as a society, in your opinion, from this lens of digital inclusion. What do you think we can all do better?
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (18:00):
I think all resettlement organizations need to take a page out of the book of Catholic Charities and Kentucky Refugee Ministries. They need to teach digital skills, uh, and they need to incorporate, uh, access to, uh, uh, services like the Affordable Connectivity Program. You know, as families get transitioned in, make sure that they are applying to those, uh, uh, programs. Uh, it's not just nowadays. It's not just food stamps and any other kind of social safety net. Let's add that layer of the Affordable Connectivity Program. Uh, and let's add the, the teaching digital skills, even basic digital skills so that they can navigate, um, the, this new world of digitalization. Uh, that's one. I think, um, immigration advocates, uh, need to incorporate the need for digital inclusion, right? Especially now that the immigration, uh, world is turning into digital, uh, uh, services, right? There's just so much from, uh, scheduling your appointment with your lawyer to your court hearing could be online to, you know, your anything is now turn the immigration, the whole immigration system is turning into a, uh, digital service, uh, model. And, uh, yeah, those are some of the, just, so those are some few quick things that, you know, the immigration advocates and Immigration Allies, uh, could, uh, potentially be doing.
Jessica Denson, Host (19:44):
Yeah, I think those are great points. And sometimes you don't think about it until you think about it, <laugh>. Um, and I know that sounds simple and simplistic, but it's true. Sometimes you don't think about that issue until you're faced with it suddenly, and then you're left going, oh, great. How do I handle this? Um, I can't even imagine handling the courts. Just getting your driver's license is a pain. Um, so not having access to court hearings that will determine whether you stay or not, that's, that's gotta be very, um, an, an uneasy place to be. Um, I just have a few more questions. I won't keep you all day late, even though I want to <laugh> <laugh>. Um, uh, are there any programs in development or that Louisville is really doing well and right, right now that we could, other, other cities can learn from that you're really proud of?
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (20:30):
Well, <laugh>, uh, uh, so with the, uh, um, uh, affordable connectivity program, uh, one of the things that we created was some advocacy symposiums. So we broke it down into Hispanic and Latinx population, and a lot of credit to the Hispanic Federation and the Aspen Institute, uh, because they really joined us virtually, uh, to help sort of disseminate their information on their data that they had. And, and the programming models of like the Latino, uh, digital accelerator, um, with the Hispanic Federation. They actually joined us, uh, during those process. And then also, uh, in addition to that, uh, a lot of credit to Goodwill and their chaplain, Rob Moore, they helped us host a symposium for, uh, African American churches. Uh, and the role that the church can play in digital equity and digital inclusion, uh, because it's important. This is not the, this, the digital divide is, is a issue that we all have to work and try to solve. It's, it's a community effort and has to live and breathe in the community.
Jessica Denson, Host (21:46):
Yeah. I think, um, accessing faith-based organizations is a great way to really, um, reach vulnerable populations, you know, whether it's the black community or the Hispanic community, uh, because they do live, like their, their families are, are families can be very faith-based. Correct. The Hispanic community, I'm not gonna just say they're all Catholics, but there are, there's a large Catholic community within the Hispanic community, and I know for, uh, black families that they have a lot, a lot of the life blood is in the church. Am I wrong? Am I making a sta statement that's, that's inaccurate, or am I No,
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (22:20):
You're right. You're absolutely right. Uh, you know, church, uh, for many communities or, or faith, faith-based organizations is the gathering, uh, spot, uh, obviously, um, for their own purposes. But the fact is that there is a gathering place of community in those faith-based organizations and in the Hispanic community, it, it plays a big role. Of course.
Jessica Denson, Host (22:47):
Well, um, any final thoughts you'd like to leave us with on this topic? Or, or, or was there something that you wanted me to bring up that I didn't today?
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (22:55):
Well, I think we covered a, a lot of, um, we, we co definitely covered a lot, but I think the main thing is there is, I kind of explain the issues of being new to the country and facing the digital divide, uh, of being a newcomer to the city. But I think one part that was missing perhaps, is the, he decency, if I'm saying it correctly, probably not, uh, of the community to adopt technology, right? Um, and this is my personal sort of feeling towards it. Um, there's this feeling that, um, you know, that is to advance for me. I don't have time for that. Uh, a lot of implicit bias towards technology and, and incorporating the technology. And it goes from, you know, the small businesses that I'm trying to bootstrap their business that could totally be automating their, their business, but they prefer to do it manually doing cash transactions. There's this, uh, really, uh, there's he there, there seems to be hesitance, and I don't know, it, it's kind of hard for me. I, I kind of look at myself and my perspective as a, as a Latino man, as like, what could be leading this? And is it because, um, we prefer as a community to do it a certain way rather than finding the, the, not the smart way, but the most efficient way to operate. I think there's a, there's, there's something to that.
Jessica Denson, Host (24:39):
Is there, um, any hesitancy in the fact that, you know, that you're throwing away some traditions, perhaps, or I I'm making a leap there, of course. Or, um, some hesitancy and mistrust of what's online even,
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (24:54):
You know, it, I think it's a lot of mistrust. I think it's a lot of mistrust. Like, um, we went to from the generation of like, Hey, be careful who you talk to online to, like, everything is online now, right? Uh, and dynamics of completely being friends with a person you've never actually seen in person before, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> that happens on the internet. Uh, so there's a lot of mistrust and a lot of like, you know, maybe I'm not comfortable with this.
Jessica Denson, Host (25:26):
Yeah, I could understand that. Uh, I, I could see that. And, um, you know, you're coming into a new place and this new technology and this new <laugh>, all of this new, at some point you're like, you've gotta be, there's some part of you that hesitates for the next step, you know?
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (25:42):
Exactly. Or, you know, and it could also be overwhelming, uh mm-hmm. <affirmative>, uh, it's everything, right? Everything all at once. Uh, it, it can be overwhelming. I can't quite put my, my pulse into exactly what it is, but I do know that there is, uh, there's a skills gap, there's a language gap, and there's an access gap in the digital divide when it comes to immigrant families. But there's also, uh, the, the, the community's very hesitant, uh, into accepting and adopting the technology. And I haven't been able to figure out why. It takes somebody a lot smarter than me to figure out why. But the, the basic of it is, is that there's, there's, he, uh, the community is very hesitant to adopt a, the, the technology.
Jessica Denson, Host (26:29):
So it's definitely something to explore more as you go down this road, but we, in the meantime, we can start to address digital skills and accessibility and affordability.
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (26:39):
Exactly. Maybe, you know, uh, what I have seen is that as they learn, um, they are more accepting of the technology, but there are different, um, so, okay, I know how to use the computer, but now how do I, you know, apply for a loan or, you know, do some sign up for my bank or, you know, something like that. There's different steps that need to be taught and how to become a full digital citizen.
Jessica Denson, Host (27:06):
All right. Well, Ricky, thank you so much. I always enjoy talking to you. I appreciate you joining us for our first episode of our season four of Connected Nation.
Ricky Santiago, Digital Inclusion Manager (27:15):
Thank you so much. I really, truly appreciate it. And, um, if anybody wants to get in contact with me, um, my email is ricky dot santiago louisville k.gov. My Twitter is freaky san 7 87, and, uh, you can also find out more information at Louisville. K Dig, digital Inclusion.
Jessica Denson, Host (27:35):
Awesome. I'll also include your LinkedIn, uh, profile in the description of this podcast. Uh, my guest again today was Ricky Santiago, who is the Digital Inclusion Manager for Louisville Metro Government, which is located in Louisville, Kentucky. I am Jessica Denson. Thanks for listening to Connected Nation. If you like our show and wanna know more about us, head to connect to nation.org. Our look for the latest episodes on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Pandora, or Spotify.