After a successful launch last year, the city-sponsored Spanish Language Civic Leadership Academy is returning for a second round in 2018.
The nine-week course tailored for Spanish-speaking residents will provide a quick tutorial on local civics, introducing participants to the Mountain View government and its various departments and roles. It runs for two months, starting in March.
Last year's program was considered a remarkable success, said Nancy Ducos, the city's multilingual outreach coordinator, who organized the academy. About 30 people signed up and met each Wednesday to learn about city divisions including the library, police department and public works.
"I really enjoyed it," said Miguel Sanchez, a 47-year-old software engineer who's lived in Mountain View for more than 20 years. "They really bent over backwards to accommodate the Spanish-speaking community."
Sanchez said he was motivated to participate in the Spanish Academy by the political climate following the 2016 election. Many non-native residents felt besieged by the anti-immigrant sentiment radiating from the White House under President Donald Trump, he said. For that reason, he saw it as a good opportunity to see the inner workings of his local government.
Sanchez said meeting with police Chief Max Bosel, and getting to learn more about the city's hands-off approach to immigration enforcement, was one of his favorite sessions. At another, the academy participants were brought to City Hall to sit at the City Council dais for a mock government meeting, which included debating policies and planning out a city budget. Spanish translators were always on hand to ensure everyone was easily able to communicate.
"It really opens your eyes," Sanchez said. "I became more familiar with the faces and names at City Hall, and I learned who to contact at the city."
Those lessons paid off. A few months after the meeting, Sanchez knew who to call at the city to submit a petition calling for a new stop sign in his neighborhood. Not long afterward, the sign was installed, he said. He later attended public meetings to speak about local housing issues.
For city officials, the Spanish Academy is seen as a good way to encourage more participation in local civics and possibly nurture a new generation of "emerging leaders," Ducos said.
"Before, (for them) it felt like the local government was a situation of them and us, but now it's like all of us together," she said. "This is a great opportunity for people to develop a sense of belonging and learn about their community."
The Spanish Language Civic Leadership Academy and will be held on Wednesday nights from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., March 21 through May 21. It's free, and a light meal and childcare will be provided.
Spanish-speaking residents of Mountain View may sign up by going to mountainview.gov/civico, or by calling 650-903-6145. The program has space for 28 participants, and registration closes on Feb. 23.