Did you know that the United States is the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world?
People don’t often realize how the Latinx populations have historically influenced numerous aspects of American culture and how they continue to do so today. This is particularly true throughout the American South and in North Carolina. We can see this cultural impact in food, music and even some town names throughout the state.
North Carolina is unique in the sense that it has the fastest-growing Latinx population in the country. We now have almost 1 million Latinx living in the state out of a total population of 10 million, and this number is expected to continue to grow exponentially. After the 2016 election, Governor Roy Cooper reinstated the State Office of Hispanic/Latino Affairs after it had been previously abandoned by Governor Pat McCrory. The intent of this position is to have a liaison for Hispanic and Latinx residents of North Carolina at the state level.
Yet, we don’t often get the chance to celebrate this culture. Due to a number of socioeconomic and educational barriers, Latinx individuals are among a number of minority groups that continue to be underrepresented at places of higher education, such as UNC. While the percentage of Latinx students who attend a two or four-year college is increasing, they may feel isolated or subjected to discrimination when they arrive at college.
Latinx workers in the South also deal with workplace inequality. While Latinx people in North Carolina are statistically more likely to be employed than other demographic groups in the state, they tend to be concentrated in jobs such as construction and agriculture – in fact, North Carolina is the fifth-most populous farmworker state in the US. These statistics also call into question the working conditions of farmworkers throughout the country. Latinxs in North Carolina are also more likely to live in poverty, at a rate of about 27.4%.
Latinx residents also participate in the local economy through entrepreneurship. In 2012, Hispanic/Latinx-owned business made up 4.3% of North Carolinian business firms. This number is also increasing at a faster rate than the overall number of new businesses in the state.
Yet, it is also important to note the Latinx community is more than its economic contributions. It is a dynamic community of people from different countries and backgrounds throughout Latin America.
(The motivation for writing this article came from Dr. DeGuzmán’s talk, “Being Latinx in the South”, that took place on campus last week. During the discussion, she encouraged the audience to draw connections between old and new history. Latinx people have impacted this region even in pre-colonial times, yet we often don’t realize this due to how we tend to whitewash history.)