Map of North Carolina

The newness of the Latino population in North Carolina makes for fertile study. This same newness also means that many of the subtle and perhaps richest cultural

contributions of Latinos have yet to surface. Areas of significant impact include education, public celebrations, and changes to the infrastructure of government services, and the publication of Spanish-language newspapers such as Charlotte’s El Sol and La Noticia, Durham’s Nuestro Pueblo, and Raleigh’s La Conexion are a testament to the growing readership.

K-12 public education is usually highlighted as one of the areas that Latinos have impacted economically; however, the education sector is also one area where Latinos’ cultural contributions are most apparent in this early stage of settlement. Throughout the urban crescent, public schools have noticed a dramatic increase in Latino enrollment 2,614 percent in the past 20 years.25 In fact, the Latino presence in public schools has reached such a critical mass that the ethnic composition of the state’s school system has been significantly altered. The state’s public school demographics can no longer be broken down along the traditional lines of black and white. English as a second language (ESL) programs are present in public schools across the state to accommodate the growth of students who speak Spanish as their first language. And some counties have even begun to encourage cultural understanding among the students by offering duallanguage immersion programs in public elementary schools; such is the case at Durham County’s Southwest Elementary School. The dual-language immersion

Guadalupe Procession. Courtesy of Barry Yeoman.

allows English-speaking children to become fluent in Spanish, and Spanishspeaking children to become fluent in English. In fact, schools throughout North Carolina have begun to recognize and even celebrate the Latino presence through cultural exchanges and festivals.

These festivals have not been limited to schools. Cities throughout the state have founded their own Hispanic heritage festivals where food, music, crafts, games, and traditional dances broaden cultural awareness and celebrate the local Latino community. The Carnaval Carolina, founded in 1998 in Charlotte, highlights Latino and Caribbean artists and is growing rapidly. But the most noteworthy festival in the state is Raleigh’s Fiesta del Pueblo, founded by El Pueblo, Inc., a leading advocacy and public policy organization that promotes Latino progress in North Carolina.

The first Fiesta del Pueblo took place in 1994 in Chapel Hill, and it boasted 3,500 attendees,26 making it the largest Latino gathering in state history.27 By 1997 the festival had grown so large that it expanded to two days, being forced to move to the state fairground in Raleigh.28 More than 10,000 people participated in the festival that year. Today the Fiesta del Pueblo is recognized as North Carolina’s largest celebration of Latino heritage and culture. The event has grown to incorporate not only Latino food, music, and games but also informational exhibits that promote health, housing, employment, and other political concerns of the state’s Latino population.

Cities are not only celebrating Latino culture; they are also looking for ways to better meet the needs of the community. Changes to government offices have taken place from state down to city levels. In 1998 Governor James hunt appointed Nolo Martinez as the state’s first director of Hispanic/Latino affairs. The position has as its main duties to [sponsor] events/projects involving the state’s Spanish-language population.29 Martinez later moved on to direct the Center for New North Carolinians at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, another sign that institutions throughout the state are recognizing the impact of migration, especially Latino migration. Local governments have also created positions in Human Relations departments to cater to the specific needs of Latinos. In Durham, for example, the Hispanic Latino Initiative was started to

ensure that the Hispanic community has access to the full range of City services, have a voice and a place to express their concerns, share information regarding city ordinances, laws policies, etc., assist in the acculturation process of the newcomers, assess information of services and programs available for the community, and ultimately this will benefit the broader community.30

Winston-Salem also instituted a similar initiative with the Beyond Soul and Salsa forums hosted throughout 2006. The forums were designed to address the conflict between the city’s African American and Latino residents by helping to dispel

stereotypes, identify common concerns, and examine barriers to cooperation.31 The initiative was so successful that it was a finalist for the prestigious Awards for Municipal Excellence. The city of Carrboro took the engagement of Latino residents to an even more direct level when Alderman Herrera called to allow noncitizens to vote in city elections. Examples such as these illustrate that city-based initiatives to support and engage the Latino community are becoming commonplace throughout the state.

Churches and other local organizations have often created their own initiatives to reach out to the Latino population. Hispanic ministries have become an everyday part of Church services, as has the incorporation of Latino culture into Church celebrations. One example includes the addition of Las Posadas to the Christmas celebration at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Chapel Hill.32 Las Posadas, which dates back to the sixteenth century, is a Latino Christmas tradition honoring Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. Its incorporation in the Church’s Christmas celebration serves as a subtle symbol of the increasing Latino influence on the state’s cultural fabric. The presence of Las Posadas also reflects the impact Latinos have had on North Carolina’s religious makeup. By the early 2000s there were almost as many unregistered, active Latino Catholics in the state as the 325,000 registered Catholics.

The rising number of Latino residents has shaped the state’s infrastructure in much less subtle ways than it has the cultural celebrations, especially in the education, health care and judicial systems. Schools throughout the state have found great difficulties in accommodating the rapid growth in enrollment resulting, in part, from the increasing numbers of Latino migrants and residents. Counties are currently in the process of deciding what direction they must take to meet the demands of the swelling numbers. Some have chosen to build more schools, but Wake County where Raleigh, the state’s capital, is concluded that building new schools is not enough solve the problem. In 2006 the Wake County School Board voted to switch from a traditional school calendar to a year-round school schedule, a decision that proved controversial at a minimum and brought a certain amount of backlash to the Latino community. In the fall of 2006, for example, Klu Klux Klan members distributed fliers blaming the Latino community for the over population in Wake County’s schools:

The November Criminals of both political parties are cowardly & treasonously evading this issue in pandering to these illegal non-white invaders’ votes; thereby forcing you and your children to pay for all this through higher taxes, overcrowded schools, inadequate classrooms and class size, and forced year-round schooling.33

In health care, language not blatant racism has proven to be the most notable barrier. Doctors, pharmacists, and nurses all need to communicate with

patients. Spanish-English interpreters have become highly sought after, as have bilingual health practitioners. Moreover, Latinos boast one of the greatest numbers of uninsured people of any ethnic group in the United States, and as the Latino presence in North Carolina has grown, so too has the number of bilingual health services and free clinics catering to those without insurance.

The judicial system has also had to incorporate interpreters, bilingual materials, and outreach programs to meet the needs of the Latino population. For example, the aforementioned Hispanic Latino Initiative in Durham was founded in part after law enforcement officers and community activists noticed that a disproportionate number of victims of violent crimes were Latinos. The initiative increased police presence in targeted neighborhoods and sought to both integrate Latinos into the broader community and decrease potential friction between Latinos and other groups by promoting understanding throughout the community.34

The Durham Hispanic Latino Initiative highlights another influence Latinos have had on the culture of North Carolina that of potential friction. The state’s strong historic racial divides are no secret, and the great influx of Latinos in North Carolina has worked to reawaken some of the racist sentiments in the state, as in the example of the Ku Klux Klan fliers distributed in Raleigh. At the same time, the negative backlash has served to fuel community groups such as El Pueblo, Latino/Hispanic centers, and Church ministries across North Carolina, which seek to embrace the Latino presence and incorporate Latino identity into the greater identity of the state.

Many of the subtleties of cultural exchange have yet to be realized, but the arrival Latinos has brought with it a great awakening throughout the state. North Carolinians are no longer unaware of their neighbors in the Americas, for they are now their next-door neighbors too. The state has awakened to the Latino culture, and it is shaping itself into a multicultural space that makes room for a great variety of people, languages, and traditions.


1. Kochhar, Suyo, and Tafoya, 2005, 10.

2. Kasarda and Johnson, 2006, 1.

3. U.S. Census Bureau, North Carolina, 2004 American Community Survey.

4. Kasarda and Johnson, 2006, 1.

5. Luis Ernesto Derbez Bautista, The Economic Impact of the Hispanic Population on the State of North Carolina, December 2005, iv.

6. Kochhar, Suyo, and Tafoya, 2005, 12.

7. Kochhar, Suyo, and Tafoya, 2005, 13.

8. Kasarda and Johnson, 2006, 2.

9. Kasarda and Johnson, 2006, 5.

10. Kasarda and Johnson, 2006, 6.

11. Cooperativa Latina Comunitaria de Credito, Our History, 2006.

12. Kasarda and Johnson, 2006, 8.

13. Meiling, 2006.

14. Kasarda and Johnson, 2006, 15.

15. Kasarda and Johnson, 2006, 16.

16. Kasarda and Johnson, 2006, 17.

17. Kasarda and Johnson, 2006, 17.

18. Kasarda and Johnson, 2006, 21.

19. Kasarda and Johnson, 2006, 25.

20. Kasarda and Johnson, 2006, 28.

21. Kasarda and Johnson, 2006, 28.

22. Latin American Research Center, Mission Statement.

23. Camacho, 2007.

24. Triangle Community Foundation, About TCF, 2007.

25. Kasarda and Johnson, 14.

26. El Pueblo Inc., History of El Pueblo, Inc.

27. Elliston, 2000.

28. El Pueblo Inc., History of El Pueblo, Inc.

29. North Carolina Office of the Governor, Community Affairs Office: Hispanic/Latino Affairs, 2004.

30. City of Durham, North Carolina, Human Relations Department, Mayor’s Hispanic Latino Initiative, 2006.

31. Marketing and Communications, Winston-Salem is an Awards for Municipal Excellence Finalist, 2006.

32. Deconto, 2006.

33. Hiu, 2006.

34. City of Durham, North Carolina, Human Relations Department, Mayor’s Hispanic Latino Initiative, 2006.

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