By E. Richard Walton
Hispanics are playing a significant role in Greenville, but not everyone knows about the specific ways they’re growing as individuals or their vital contributions to the Upstate economy.
Many Upstate residents read about “Dreamers,” young immigrants who remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but few are cognizant of the quiet influence they have on local business.
A significant number of DACA recipients are Hispanics ages 17 to 35 who came to the United States as kids. They accompanied their parents, who rushed to get jobs.
At first, they came in small groups from Mexico. West Coast farmers played a key role in hiring many. Paying these workers less, these business folks were simply harvesting their crops for the market. Similar farmer-businessmen in Florida, Texas, and New York were complicit. This was the situation in the 1960s.
These were the first Hispanics who arrived across the border from Mexico and promptly returned to their very Catholic families. After a while, employers urged them to stay. And they did. They stayed to work for us caring for our children and our homes, serving our businesses and eating establishments, and more. They received fake Social Security cards. Meanwhile, these workers were sending cash back to Mexico, pumping up a foreign economy.
Both their (citizen) employers and the workers liked the arrangement. And then their children came.
Latino leader changes things
Enter Cesar Chavez, a former farm worker who’d become a leader in the Latino community. He began speaking to their employers for them. At his peak, he was leading 50,000 Hispanics, most of whom joined United Farm Workers.
Soon, they lobbied for higher wages, shorter-than-12-hour work days, and related benefits. Chavez was hailed as a Latin Martin Luther King Jr.
There were even times when these two leaders united, marching together. A few people were worried, but many with farms or orchards in California, Florida, New York, and Texas liked things, especially the economics. After all, the crops were being harvested in a timely manner and costs were being contained. American consumers weren’t paying as much for tomatoes, lettuce, oranges, and grapes.
Meanwhile, the Latin kids morphed into 800,000 “Dreamers.” (Some estimate the real figure is closer to 3.1 million.) Because most aren’t citizens, that means they are eligible for deportation.
The GOP, the shutdown, and the fix
In 2018, some Republicans are cool with everything. Other GOP’ers are angry at Democrats for protecting the Dreamers. The situation feels a bit out of control, leading to the temporary government shutdown in late January.
Despite pressure to drown out Latino voices, the Hispanic agenda is not fading. In reality, Hispanic power is growing, economically and politically, quietly, and at warp speed.
A few years ago, Hispanics became the country’s largest minority. There are 57 million Hispanics — 18 percent of the population, according to online statistics. Moreover, they displaced African-Americans as the top minority; African-Americans comprise 42 million, or 14 percent of the nation’s 324 million people.
By 2060, the Hispanic population is projected to be 119 million, population experts say. If accurate, that would be one-third of the American populace.
Part of the culture
Have you noticed Target’s TV ads this past holiday season? A few were entirely in Spanish — no subtitles or English translation.
We at the Hispanic Alliance, a Greenville nonprofit, keep abreast of both the DACA recipients and Hispanic issues. HA estimates there are 232,000 Hispanics statewide; about 42,000 live in Greenville County, or 7 to 8 percent of the population, according to our data. Almost half are U.S.-born; 35 percent are foreign-born, studies show.
The majority of these Latinos are under 35 and are bilingual, speaking English and Spanish. Some speak a combination of both languages.
The majority of Hispanics in the Upstate are from Mexico. Others are from South America (mostly Colombia); a portion is from Central America (El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala); and still others are from Puerto Rico.
DACA was created during former President Barack Obama’s administration after Congress couldn’t agree on updating the country’s immigration laws after 25 years. Recipients are commonly referred to as “Dreamers,” based on those never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act. It was a temporary measure to forestall the deportation of young immigrants brought here as children.
To be eligible for DACA, you must attend high school or college, be employed, and be serving or have served in the military. Many are employed and going to school. Those enrolled in the federal program are eligible to work and apply for a Social Security card and a driver’s license. Commit a crime, and your DACA status is yanked and you can be deported.
“Dreamers” are essentially Americans, supporters argue. Surveys reveal that Americans — both Republicans and Democrats — don’t want them deported or their families separated.
The Hispanic Alliance monitors new arrivals — Hispanic or not — in the Upstate. This month, Nathalie Morgan assumed the top HA leadership position as chairwoman of the board of directors. She succeeds Magaly Penn, who continues to serve along with about 15 others.
HA’s daily activity is managed by Adela Mendoza, an executive director who heads a small staff of workers and volunteers.
The HA began in 2009, shortly after 300 Hispanic workers living in the country illegally were arrested in Greenville by agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). During the Trump administration, ICE says it has made 40 percent more arrests. Many are either jailed while awaiting hearing or deported.
HA is now a registered nonprofit with a strong list of supporters including Bon Secours, Greenville Health System, Greenville Technical College, Clemson University, and Greenville County School District.
A Greenville resident since 1997, E. Richard Walton is a media consultant and journalist. He has served on the board of Hispanic Alliance for four years; he has mentored several “Dreamers.”
Based at McAlister Square, HA focuses on four target areas: education, law, health, and finance. Those interested in HA can come to a public, noontime session the second Wednesday of every month.