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As part of our Curious New Mexico project, UNM student John Acosta looked into questions from a reader about the economic contributions of undocumented families in New Mexico and the number of undocumented students who complete a higher education.

UNM Dream Team Members posing for a picture at a Christmas celebration last year. Photo by John Acosta/ NM News Port

UNM Dream Team Members posing for a picture at a Christmas celebration last year.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Ramirez.

The undocumented immigrants who boost their wallets by working in New Mexico also boost the state of New Mexico’s economy, according to a 2008 study by a financial analysis firm based out of Texas.

Immigrants work for companies across the state, and the same time own a variety of local businesses. Companies owned by undocumented immigrants produced approximately $389 million dollars in economic activity in New Mexico in the years 2006 through 2010, according to the
Partnership for the New American Economy.

Immigrants are twice as likely to open up a business than U.S.-born citizens, according to the same study.

Adriel Orozco, an immigrant advocate with the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, said that the U.S. government needs to consider the contributions that immigrants provide.

“Immigrant workers are an integral part of New Mexico’s economy, whether undocumented or not – they open up businesses at twice the rate of non-foreign born Americans and make up a substantial portion of the workforce in our largest industries like oil and gas and agriculture,” Orozco said.

“Our state is blessed with a wide array of cultures, which fuels tourism here. It’s about time our government looked at all of the assets that immigrant workers provide New Mexico and it should invest more heavily in providing more paths for immigrants to become fully integrated in our educational, social, health, and economic systems,” Orozco said.

Both documented and undocumented immigrants made up 12.7 percent of New Mexico’s workforce, or 125,569 laborers in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Being part of the workforce means paying taxes, and New Mexico’s undocumented immigrants paid $86.7 million in state and local taxes in 2010, according to the data from the Institute for taxation and Economic Policy.

Maurice De Segovia, a community organizer with El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, said that society needs to push for comprehensive immigration reform in order for immigrant workers to come out of the shadows.

“We need to vigorously ensure that we do more in the arena of pushing for comprehensive immigration reform and any other forms of opportunities like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), to ensure that workers have the ability to come out of the shadows and be able to work safely and comfortably so that they are able to exercise their rights without any fear of retaliation in the workplace,” De Segovia said.

Undocumented UNM Graduate Student, Jaén Ugalde holding an “I am undocumented and unafraid” sign. Photo by John Acosta/NM News Port

Undocumented UNM Graduate Student, Jaén Ugalde
holding an “I am undocumented and unafraid” sign.
Photo by John Acosta / NM News Port

There are approximately 65,000 undocumented students who graduate high school each year in the U.S., but due to legal and financial obstacles, only about 5-10 percent of those students enroll in college, according to an Immigration Policy Center report.

New Mexico law (SB-582) states that any student who has graduated from a New Mexico high school and has held a grade point average of 2.5 or better has access to higher education, and even the Lottery Scholarship, if certain qualifications are met, regardless of their legal status.

One UNM student said he wishes more high schoolers knew about that law.

“This whole education system was basically created to control the people,” said undocumented UNM graduate student and UNM dream team member Jaén Ugalde.

“In their high schools, students are not being informed about access to higher education, and if we could create policies that would encourage students to go to school regardless of their immigration status, and have programs for undocumented immigrant students I think we would see those numbers from 5-10 percent of undocumented students enrolling in college go up.”

Ugalde said there isn’t an exact count of undocumented students in New Mexico, but there are approximately 200 undocumented students at UNM.

The UNM Dream Team, a student club consisting of undocumented students, advocates for immigration reform, increased access, and success for immigrant students and their families.

Ugalde said that the team is working in New Mexico high schools to make institutional changes that would shed a light on the opportunities that undocumented students have beyond high school.

“So one of the things what we’re doing now, through a program called D.E.E.P, Dream Educational Empowerment Program, is that we are trying to make these institutional changes in the high schools…so we’re getting certain high schools, where the students are predominantly latino, involved in this program…and we get them to pledge on how they’re going to serve undocumented students, and this could be as simple as a flyer that gives information to undocumented students on how to access higher education,” Ugalde said.

Some undocumented students who graduate are going into high-skilled careers.

In the United States, immigrants made up 46 percent of medical scientists, 35 percent of computer software engineers, 21 percent of database administrators and 20 percent of post-secondary teachers. These numbers represented a considerably larger proportion of immigrant workers than in the entire labor force in 2005, according to a report on Undocumented Students by the Immigration Policy Center.

Ugalde said local immigrants reflect that national trend.

“Also this year we recently learned the first undocumented student was accepted into medical school, and we also have two undocumented immigrant students that are in law school and we also have some undocumented immigrant students in the engineering program, and these careers are the ones that are in demand in New Mexico, and in the U.S.”

Food Trucks Teach Students

Sous Chef Joe Meyer waits inside the Street Food Institute food truck for customers. Photo by John Acosta / NM News Port

Food trucks teach culinary students entrepreneurial skills

The streets of Albuquerque are coming alive as culinary students serve innovative and sizzling local fare out of their food trucks.

The students are part of the Street Food Institute (SFI). The culinary arts school helps students develop business and technical skills for an entrepreneurial start within the food industry. For the past three years, SFI partnered with Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) and trained students on SFI’s food trucks.

SFI students take an entrepreneurial training class, a mobile food operations class teaching business practices and cooking techniques. Upon finishing students have an option of doing an internship on their food trucks, said Julian Griego, SFI’s lead instructor.

“That’s really where they get the practical application, they get customer-service training, they get cash-handling training, and they get food training as well…so students who take all aspects of the program benefit the most,” Griego said.

SFI student Fred Dotson prepares Korean BBQ tacos while the food truck was parked at Marble Brewery on Wednesday, March 9, 2016. Dotson wants to start a pastry food truck once he graduates from the program. Photo by John Acosta / NM News Port.

SFI student Fred Dotson prepares Korean BBQ tacos while the food truck was parked at Marble Brewery on Wednesday, March 9, 2016. Dotson wants to start a pastry food truck once he graduates from the program. Photo by John Acosta / NM News Port.

Expansion into the community

SFI expanded its core program to other schools and added a couple of other classes. During the Spring 2016 semester SFI partnered with Santa Fe Community College(SFCC), Robert F. Kennedy Charter High School(RFK) and South Valley Economic Development Center (SVEDC).

“Our recruitment pool is much larger now…so we got students coming from CNM, students who come from RFK High School, and we also reach out to community members,” Griego said.

With SFI classes students learn the business aspects of starting a food service business with lessons in  marketing, licensing and financing, Griego said.

“We chose the food truck as our business model because it’s a good option for students who want to start a business at a lower cost versus a brick and mortar restaurant,” Griego said.

As of March 2016, SFI has 12 food-truck interns, and 20 students in each of the two sections of the spring semester program. The students have 12 weeks to finish 135 hours on the truck. After finishing their hours SFI students receive a certificate of completion.

The Korean BBQ Pork Tacos are the Street Food Institute's most popular dish. Photo by John Acosta / NM News Port.

The Korean BBQ Pork Tacos are the Street Food Institute’s most popular dish. Photo by John Acosta / NM News Port.

‘Real world setting’

“I’ve had a lot of fun so far…this is only my third shift on the truck, but so far it’s been super fun,” said Erik Kill, 19, a SFI student.

Kill said he is still unsure what he will do after graduation but would like to continue learning and absorbing everything he can while on the truck.

“This program definitely exposes you to a very real world setting, it’s a whole different environment than just going to school,” Kill said.

It’s been a nice kind of change of pace from what I’m used to….working on trucks is an experience unique to itself, it’s kind of it’s own thing,” said Robin Dibble, 33, a SFI student.

“I’ve been kind of wanting to venture out into the land of owning my own business so it’s kind of a nice experience to be able to kind of see what it takes to run a truck and to see what it takes to operate it everyday,” Dibble said. “It takes a lot more wore work that what people give it credit.”

The internships are paid, Griego said, and that makes SFI proud.

“We feel passionately about wanting our students to get paid well for their work,” Griego said. “I mean not only in our internship, but in the industry, we try to advocate for better wages for food service workers.”

SFI provides other culinary and business entrepreneurial resources to their students. In 2016, SFI created a secondary internship allowing students to run their own business idea at the railyard market. The market is community organized and features New Mexican culture. The students will run a food booth instead of a food truck.

“We’ve rented a booth at the railyard markets, where we’re allowing our students to run their concept through the booth,” Griego said. “What’s really cool about this market internship is that we pay for the first round of food for the students so it’s kind of like a scholarship so they can get started…if they balance their money correctly…they can have some start-up capital to pay for things like their health permit, their business license, and maybe buy small equipment.”

Spending locally

So far there have been four SFI graduates who have ventured out to open their own food trucks, and three of them are still going, Griego said.

Having more local food trucks are better for New Mexico’s general economy, Griego said.

“We’re trying to provide a pathway for folks to start their businesses, to be their own boss, in turn that helps the economy because there’s more money staying here in New Mexico. People are spending money on food trucks instead of fast-food restaurants because the money stays here instead of some big franchise.”

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Biz Event Helps Hispanics Connect

Hispano Chamber hosts traveling networking event

Ray Lucero Jr. had a hard time holding back tears while explaining the history of his business to Hispano small-business owners at an event organized by the The Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce’s small business committee last month.

Lucero Jr. was hosting the event, called Biz Gratis, at Ray’s Carpet One Floor.

“The real strength is our parents. They are the ones that started this,” Lucero Jr. said while getting choked up.

“I apologize, I’m very close with my family. My mom and dad passed away. Mom in 2008 and dad in 2010. Their legacy obviously lives on with us,” Lucero Jr. said.

“This is not an easy business that were in, but we’re here for our community and all of those that mean the world to us.”

That community connection is part of Biz Gratis. This event gives AHCC members a chance to expose their businesses to other small-business owners, said Patrick Baldonado, member of the AHCC Board of Directors and committee liaison.

The event rotates locations each month, depending on the small business hosting it. Biz Gratis has existed for five years.

Lucero Jr. said hosting the Biz Gratis event gains support from business owners who are unfamiliar with his company.

“We don’t do a lot of marketing of our retail store which is critical in any type of retail environment. You have to go out there to the masses to get people to the store,” Lucero Jr. said.

“By being part of the Hispano Chamber, what it has allowed us to do, with an event like this, is expose ourselves, and our company, and our business to at least 50 different business owners.”

Members of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce sign into the Biz Gratis event. The event was held at Ray's Carpet One Floor & Home, located at 7441 Paseo Del Norte NE Suite 6 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo by John Acosta / NM News Port

Members of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce sign into the Biz Gratis event. The event was held at Ray’s Carpet One Floor & Home. Photo by John Acosta / NM News Port

Lucero Jr. said his family has been in the flooring business since 1972, and have been doing retail for about 15 years. Lucero Jr. said that he took over the business when his father died in 2010. He still follows his father’s business advice.

“Networking is something my father loved to do. Early on, my dad didn’t spend a lot marketing the name,” Lucero Jr. said. “It was always word of mouth. So events like this were critical in seeing the growth of our company over the years.”

Lucero Jr. says these events are invaluable and plans on hosting more events at least once a year.

“Just to refresh people, in their mind, that we’re still here, and a . . . viable part,” Lucero Jr. said.

Building connections

Baldonado said the group has been doing the Biz Gratis events for five years and is by far its most successful networking event.

The Biz Gratis event idea came to be when the chamber realized its members were not aware of other members’ businesses, Baldonado said.

The chamber used to host events at common areas like restaurants and hotels but it proved difficult bringing members to the businesses, Baldonado said.

The AHCC decided hosting the events at their members’ businesses would bring customers through the door and provide an opportunity to showcase what they do, Baldonado said.

“So it allows us really to feature each member one member at a time, and get a lot of non customers in their door and hopefully get them some business and that’s what our job as a chamber is to help commerce grow within our membership,” Baldonado said.

Baldonado said he feels like people at the event walk away with a really good knowledge of proper networking.

Baldonado said the main goal of networking is building a connection with different business owners in order to help each other out.

“Even if they’re business competitors they can find ways to hash it out…there’s ways to work through any business, and find niches within each other’s businesses to help each other and compliment each other, and build a partnership so you both grow,” Baldonado said.

AHCC’s Small Business Initiative

According the AHCC’s website, the group works to increase economic development and provide business and workforce education with a focus on the Hispanic and small-business community.

According to the consulting firm Geoscape’s study, the number of Hispanic-owned businesses grew at an annual rate of 7.5 percent between 2012 and 2015 compared to the 0.5 percent growth of all businesses during that time span,

AHCC has 1,500 members. Non-Hispanics comprise 35 percent of the membership whereas Hispanics make up 65 percent, said Ranee Tafoya, AHCC’s relationship manager.

Mike Silva, small business committee chair, said the group set up many events helping out their small business membership.

Silva said they set up a small business committee meeting bringing in large businesses connecting with small businesses. The meeting happens every third Wednesday of every month from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Silva said the group also holds a network alliance meeting where they train small businesses in services such as expert advice.

“This past month we had SCORE, retired executives, who provided free mentoring,” Silva said.

Silva said the group also does a “four by four” event, the third or fourth Wednesday of every month, where ACHCC’s members break into groups of four. The goal of the meeting is to get to know each other more personally.

“In that little group of four you get to know each other more intimately so that you can have referrals. Those referrals really generate revenue for you,” Silva said.

Silva said that the final event of the month is the Biz Gratis event that celebrates small business success.

“We have a lot of resources so get involved. It’s your chamber. If you don’t get involved, nothing happens,” Silva said.

Taos Students Get Earthy for Sustainable Housing

Students from around the world come together in Taos, New Mexico, with one goal in mind: to learn how to build and maintain their own earthship.

Earthships are self-sustainable and entirely “green” forms of housing that began to be developed more than 40 years ago by the founder and owner of Earthship Biotecture, Michael Reynolds. The buildings are made out of natural and recycled materials, such as tires, plastic and glass bottles, empty steel and aluminum cans, reclaimed wood and scrap metal.

Not only do the earthships recycle salvageable materials, but they are designed to reduce carbon emissions by integrating carbon-zero technology into building plans. Because discarded materials take the place of materials that would require energy to produce, construction of these buildings allow for a negative carbon footprint, according to the company’s website.

Earthship Biotecture is a company that promotes the manufacture of environmentally-friendly earthships, and encourages people from all different climates to try them. The company was started in the 1970’s, when Reynolds realized that there was a market for those who wanted to turn away from conventional living methods, and instead seek out an environmentally friendly living option that offered the security of independent utilities, according to Earthship Biotecture. Since the company’s creation, Reynolds has been refining his earthship plans so that they are more sustainable, and less costly.

Reynolds travels all over the globe to help others learn how to build their own earthships. He is helped by his staff, interns, and students, including those who attend his Earthship Academy, according to Earthship Biotecture.

Earthship Biotecture’s Earthship Academy is a month-long program that costs students $2,500, and is located at the company’s world headquarters in Taos. It offers students extensive training in the methods of creating an earthship, through hands-on learning and construction. Running six days a week, each academy session is split into classroom time and on-site construction work, where students are taught how to safely and effectively use the tools and the materials they are given to build an earthship. Students must be over 21 years old in order to participate.

Ron Sciarrillo, education director of Earthship Biotecture’s Earthship Academy teaches his students the importance of job health and safety. Sciarrillo has been teaching classes at the academy since 2011. Photo by Brenna Kelley / NM News Port

Ron Sciarrillo, education director of Earthship Biotecture’s Earthship Academy teaches his students the importance of job health and safety. Sciarrillo has been teaching classes at the academy since 2011. Photo by Brenna Kelley / NM News Port

Ron Sciarrillo, the education director for the Earthship Academy, uses the program to teach students a range of valuable information, including proper equipment and tool usage, which helps reduce the risk of injury.

“What we’re trying to accomplish is to educate people, from all over the world…that they can have their freedom, and live as healthy as anybody ever could,” Sciarrillo said.

2016 marks the Earthship Academy’s fifth full year in existence, and it has seen more than 600 students so far, according to Earthship Biotecture.

One Earthship Academy student, David Blanchet,came from Quebec, Canada, to learn more about building earthships. Blanchet plans on using the skills he learns at the Earthship Academy to create earthships for his community when he returns home to Canada.

“I’m kind of living in an eco-village up north, in Gaspésie, in Quebec. There we have the first earthship in Quebec, but it’s never been finished,” Blanchet said. “That’s because the people who started it never had the knowledge to end the project. So that’s why I came here; to end up finishing that project, because it’s now 12 years old.”

Blanchet is one of the many students at the Earthship Academy who have paid to live on the work site in Taos, for the duration of the class. His room is in an earthship called “E.V.E.”, which stands for Earthship Village Ecologies. This prototype building is still under construction, and functions as an experimental site where Earthship Biotecture can test for carbon emissions using different materials, as well as for basic living conditions.

“In the last four years I’ve been traveling, trying to find sustainable ways of living,” Blanchet said. “I think earthships are a good way to reach that point, because you are so self-sufficient. You have more power over your own life.”
For their room, students pay between $450 and $800 for the duration of their stay, depending on the earthship they choose. For tourists looking to stay in an earthship, prices can run from between about $200 to $400 a night, depending on the number of rooms they choose and the time of year. Prices run more over the holidays.

David Blanchet, an Earthship Academy student, enjoys spending his down time on his own personal balcony. This earthship room he is renting during his stay in Taos is part of a larger infrastructure called “EVE.” Photo by Brenna Kelley / NM News Port

David Blanchet, an Earthship Academy student, enjoys spending his down time on his own personal balcony. This earthship room he is renting during his stay in Taos is part of a larger infrastructure called E.V.E. Photo by Brenna Kelley / NM News Port

Unusual building materials

On average, an earthship can cost between $250,000 and $300,000 to construct, but after they are completed, costs to live in the home are less than $60 a month, according to Earthship Biotecture.

Earthships are first created from tires rammed with dirt, which are then staggered like bricks in order to become load-bearing foundations for exterior walls, according to Earthship Biotecture. Each earthship can use anywhere between 500 and 5,000 tires, which also act as a thermal mass to help the buildings naturally heat and cool themselves, and maintain a constant temperature despite the time of year.

Interior structures of the homes are formed by arranging bottles and cans in a honeycomb-like manner. Spaces are filled in by an earthen plaster made from dirt, sand, water and straw, which act like concrete to make the wall solid. Insulation is created from sheep’s wool, straw, adobe bricks, scrap metal, and other materials.

To become more environmentally friendly and cost-efficient, snow and rainwater that falls on the roofs of the earthships are recycled four times. The use of recycled water therefore reduces the need for centralized water systems. Solar panels and windmills create all of the electrical power used within the buildings.

Overall, Sciarrillo said the Earthship Academy teaches students all of the necessary tools they will need in order to build their own off the grid homes. To reach that goal, however, he says the students must work hard during their time spent in Taos, and maintain their resolve after leaving.

“They’ll have enough knowledge, they’ll have enough experience, it’s just a matter of their drive,” he said. “It does take a huge effort to really take the risk, and go out and be your own person.”

Second Annual Race and Media Conference 2015

Dr Angharad Valdivia, answering questions after her keynote speech.
Dr. Angharad N. Valdivia, answering questions after her keynote speech. Image: John Acosta

Students and scholars packed UNM’s Honda Auditorium to listen to Dr. Angharad N. Valdivia’s keynote speech about contemporary media issues; her speech kicked off the second annual Race and Media Conference last Thursday.

The Race and Media Conference spanned three days, from September 24 through September 26, and gave well-known scholars a chance to share research in a space especially created for working through challenging questions about race.

“I must admit I’m quite a bit intimidated by all of your collective scholarship,” said Valdivia before giving her keynote speech. “As soon as I saw who was coming here I tried to gather as much of your research as possible so I would not be saying something that made you think if only she read my latest publication.”

Most participants that were invited to the Race and Media Conference made the trip to New Mexico from different universities across the U.S.

“The goal is mostly to get all of this ridiculously brilliant people here,” said Dr. Myra Washington, organizer of the event. “I think Albuquerque is a little bit isolated and so we don’t have as many speakers or talks to come in as I think college campuses should, and so this was a chance to get like forty people who folks at UNM would probably never get to hear…it’s a chance to hear about how media really impacts how we think about people and then how we treat those people.”

Christopher Ramirez, UNM graduate student and Community Organizer, believes that the Race and Media Conference gives different scholars the ability to network with other faculty across the nation.

“It is an incredible opportunity to learn from and network with faculty of color from all over the country because often there’s only one Latino, one Asian faculty and highlights more diversity of research and theories well also promoting intersectionality and critical analysis,” said Ramirez.

Richard Schaefer, UNM Mass Communication Associate Professor, believes that this conference helps students figure out difficult academic concepts.

“I think the purpose of this conference is to help undergraduate and graduate students, and reinforce concepts that are buzzing around academia these days and across our political lines too,” said Schaefer.

The conference included panels of scholars who discussed topics ranging from Latino/a representations, Asian American representations, multiculturalism, sexuality, ethnicity, and racism.

Savannah Serna, Interdisciplinary Communication Senior Student, attended the panel about Latino/a representations and found them to be both insightful and informative.

“I thought it was important that they discussed the brown aspect in Latino and Latina communities, and how that relates to the audience in different forms of the media,” said Serna. “I think these discussions are extremely important and informative.”

Kerry Kortkamp, Interdisciplinary Communication Senior Student, was amazed by the discussion about race and sexuality.

“I think it’s amazing how they can take something so novel like social media platforms and show how there are gender discrimination and race discrimination in these platforms,” said Kortkamp. “It would be beneficial to see how gender and race are socialized.”

Students want the race and media conference to be an ongoing annual event at UNM.

“This is something that needs to be addressed,” said Graham Unverzagt, Geography and Environmental Science senior student. “I definitely want the conference to be back.”

“I want this conference to continue every year here at UNM,” said Kortkamp.