There is a difference between “Hispanic” and “Latino,” José Sandoval says.
▪ “Hispanic” refers to persons of Spanish-speaking national origin.
▪ “Latino” (and its feminine form, “Latina”) refers to Hispanics as well as to persons from Brazil – where they speak Portuguese instead.
And as for persons from the Latin American nations Belize, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana with the official languages English, Dutch and French – “These guys are not Latinos,” he said.
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Sandoval, who represents the Woodcroft neighborhood on Durham’s InterNeighborhood Council, gave his fellow delegates a lesson on Durham’s Latin American residents last week, in the interest of what council President Philip Azar called “a baseline of understanding.
“It’s a diverse population,” Azar said.
A native of Chile, who retired after holding a variety of research and teaching positions at Duke University and UNC, Sandoval was joined by Mexican Jesus Gutierrez, a supervisor with Habitat for Humanity who came to Durham in 2001, and Colombian Pilar Rocha-Goldberg, CEO of El Centro Hispano and a resident since 2004.
“We are very different,” Sandoval said.
According to U.S. Census estimates, he said, Durham County in 2013 had 37,021 Hispanic residents, roughly 13 percent of the total population.
Durham’s numbers are the result of “a huge explosion” of immigrants in the 1990s, and it made a major difference in the local demographics.
Sandoval and his wife, Clara Muschkin, arrived in Durham in 1983 after she was accepted to a program at Duke, he said. At the time, there were about 1,000 Hispanics in Durham, most working at the Research Triangle or universities.
“There were no Mexican restaurants in Durham, no Mexican stores, no peluquerias (beauty salons), no Latino community,” Sandoval said, and he figured they would stay “three or four years.”
By 1990, there were 2,054 Hispanics in Durham according to the census; in 2000, 17,039 – an increase of more than 729 percent. In the same decade, the North Carolina Hispanic numbers rose by 394 percent, with a great variation by county. In Alamance and Randolph counties, the growth percentages were more than 900 percent.
The attraction, he said, was a demand for cheap labor – in some counties, for chicken processing; in others, agriculture; in others, including Durham, construction – a factor that has endured as the Hispanic population has continued rising.
The makeup of Durham’s Hispanic population has changed, Sandoval said. When he arrived, there were Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans, very few from Central America.
Now, Mexicans are still the largest group – 21,785, or 59 percent – but less than 2,800 Puerto Ricans and Cubans, with 12,500 “other.”
Most of those, he said, are from Honduras and El Salvador, seeking refuge from “political violence.”
“They heard Durham is a nice place to live,” he said. “So they came and stayed.”
Personal contacts have a lot to do with who comes. “You see big pockets (of people) from certain parts of Mexico,” Gutierrez said. People find a congenial place and send word to friends back home.
In Durham, though, the rise isn’t all due to immigration from Latin America.
“We are seeing more families coming here from other places in the United States,” Rocha-Goldberg said. In some cases, a man may work elsewhere – going away for two or three weeks at a time – while his wife and children remain in Durham.
“This area is a more friendly and welcoming place for immigrants,” she said. “That is the big reason people are staying here. They’d rather leave their families here and drive.”
With construction remaining the most common job for Hispanic men, the panel was asked what happened when the 2008 recession put a halt to building.
“You saw a lot of Hispanic stores opening,” Gutierrez said. “We adjusted.”
“We’re very creative,” said Rocha-Goldberg.
Durham may be friendly and welcoming, but as a group Hispanics find it hard to blend into and take part in the general community, Rocha-Goldberg said, despite encouragement from El Centro and others.
“We are saying we are part of the community,” she said, “but many (Hispanics) are too busy working, trying to live. (There are) barriers of language and culture. ... Navigating any system is difficult.”
A lot of immigrants arrive with only rudimentary education, she said. “We still have adults who don’t know how to read and write in Spanish” and for some, Spanish is their second language because they grew up speaking a dialect.
Children start school with no preparation and fall farther and farther behind, and even those who were born and raised in the U.S. and speak perfect English run into anti-immigrant attitudes. They hear “‘This is not your country’ and they don’t even know another,” Pilar-Rocha said.
Sandoval had maps that showed Hispanics living all over Durham, many living in poverty. Some, established in Durham with good income, move out of Hispanic pockets into more affluent, mixed-population neighborhoods and send their children to private schools, said Gutierrez.
Still, he said, “We tend to stick together.”
Joining in and taking part in the larger Durham community is important for Hispanics, Pilar-Rocha said, but, “It’s not easy.”
Azar and others wanted to know what the InterNeighborhood Council could do to engage Hispanics – and if the INC’s concept of “neighborhood” as a group with collective interests had meaning for Durham Hispanics.
“We want to understand our neighbors better,” Azar said. “We want to be in the position of good neighbors ourselves.”
Rocha-Goldberg said finding individuals with some leadership status and working with them to bring others along to find common ground is one way; but, again, there are language and cultural barriers – some Hispanics are not comfortable in formal meetings.
Still, Sandoval said afterwards that he thought the INC panel accomplished its purpose.
“My main point of the presentation was just to enlarge the knowledge base of the group and maybe encourage discussion,” he said.
Sandoval and Azar spent several months planning the presentation, with a longer-range goal “to incorporate some of the ... Hispanic community into INC in a more formal way,” Sandoval said.
“There are well-identified communities of Hispanics that live in clear, marked neighborhoods in Durham,” he said. “I wonder whether we could persuade them to create a (neighborhood) association and become active members of the INC.
“But I don’t know. ... There’s going to be these issues, reluctance to be in formal settings for some, inability to speak English in an articulate way and ... understand what other people say.
“That reduces the pool of potential leaders that could be brought in,” Sandoval said, “but we’re going to give it a good shot.”