Field Trip – GEG 236 Urban Geography

Posted on November 23rd, 2015 by

On Friday, November 20, 2015 students of GEG 236 Urban Geography went to Saint Paul’s East Side Enterprise Center (804 Margaret St. Saint Paul, MN 55106). We were received by three wonderful community organizers – Salvador Miranda of Voices for Racial Justice, Yolanda Cotterall from the Latino Economic Development Center, and Pakou Hang from the Hmong American Farmers Association. Mr. Miranda began by providing the political-economic context that has shaped the Twin Cities urban geography since the 1980s. Mr. Miranda discussed at length the effects of neoliberal economic policies on the cities’ poor and homeless population. This brief history of neoliberalism allowed Mr. Miranda to contextualize his own work on racial equity and justice. The privatization of social services and the weakening of state functions created a void which the non-profit sector has had to fill. Through asset-based community development initiatives Voices for Racial Justice and other groups have been able to put equity issues on the agenda of city politics.

Salvador Miranda

Salvador Miranda

Said Mohamed asks a question

Said Mohamed asks a question

Yolanda Cotterall used her intervention to speak about her personal journey as a single mother in East Los Angeles all the way to her current work in the Twin Cities. Having “hustled” through various jobs and career paths, Ms. Cotterall finally found her dream job when she created her own business. She tells this story to emphasize that everyone has skills to share and use for personal and collective goals. Ms. Cotterall’s story helped us concretely see how asset-based community development can be a means through which marginalized communities achieve economic development.

Yolanda Cotterall

Yolanda Cotterall

Finally, Pakou Hang spoke about her work organizing Hmong farmers in the Twin Cities area. She explained how Hmong farmers, despite performing similar tasks, were earning far less than white farmers in the area. Economic disparities were due to a lack of ownership of land from Hmong farmers and inability to gain access to credit lines. Ms. Hang spoke about her role as the founder and director of the Hmong American Farmers Association and their efforts to ensure that Hmong farmers can produce and sell their produce in different markets of the cities.

Pakou Hang

Pakou Hang

Overall, the three interventions were an opportunity for students to listen to the urban experience of Latino and Hmong communities in the Twin Cities. By listening to their stories, students were able to see how economic policies affect communities unevenly and how these communities respond to structural inequalities. The passion and dedication of the three presenters clearly resonated with students. Furthermore, this field trip enabled students to see first-hand how communities claim their right to the city and how they go about it. As we have been discussing all semester, how the city looks, who lives where, and what kind of services residents have access to depends as much on structural and institutional forces as well as the struggles and mobilizations of entire communities to correct those inequalities.

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