Local News

Hispanics Say They Add Spice to U.S. Melting Pot

Posted May 15, 2007 6:59 p.m. EDT
Updated May 15, 2007 8:51 p.m. EDT

— Hispanic residents in North Carolina said many transplants from Mexico and Central and South America are trying to fit into American culture while adding a bit of their own to the mix.

"We're not aliens. We're people who come here to work, to have opportunities to work and show what we can give to this country," said Rosie Espinal, who arrived in the country 20 years ago as an illegal immigrant but is now a U.S. citizen.

A 2006 study by the Kenan Institute for Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina's business school found that Hispanics, including the estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants, pump $9.2 billion a year into North Carolina's economy. Hispanics annually contribute $756 million in direct and indirect taxes while costing the state about $817 million a year for education, health care and prisons, according to the study.

It all helps make illegal immigration one of the hottest hot-button issues in the state.

In a recent Elon University poll, more than 92 percent of the state residents contacted called illegal immigration an important issue. Half said the influx of illegal immigrants has been bad for North Carolina.

State lawmakers are considering several bills related to immigration, including taxing money that immigrants wire out of the country. Nationwide, an estimated $23 billion is wired to Mexico each year.

Zulayka Santiago, the executive director of El Pueblo, a public policy group that works with the state's Latino community, said immigrants are part of North Carolina's cultural mix.

"Much of the beauty of North Carolina has a lot to do with the many different faces we have," Santiago said.

Census figures show that 40 percent of North Carolina's Hispanics are young men, ages 21 to 39. Many arrived alone to work and still pledge allegiance their native country while trying to adjust to the U.S.

"There is an attempt to acculturate, but most of the acculturation happens in the second generation," Santiago said, noting most immigrants try to learn English to have more success in the country.

Isaac Garcia has lived in North Carolina for eight years. The 33-year-old works in a store that sells "musica," and he said he sends about 30 percent of his earning to his family in Zacatacas, a state in central Mexico.

"We come here to work, to send money to our country. Sometimes, it's hard to go to school," Garcia said. "I miss my family. My dream is my country."