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Raleigh Program Builds Bridges Between Cultures

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RALEIGH — The Census bureau reports a 393 percent increase in the Latino population in North Carolina since 1990, and in a sign of the times, Governor Easley recently signed a bill requiring the instructions for future election ballots to be printed in both Spanish and English.

The shift in our state's population has created new opportunities and new challenges. A program called Dialogo, taught by Raleigh's Latin American Resource Center, helps kids of all backgrounds learn more about each other's cultures -- and many of the lessons learned cannot be taught from a textbook.

The kids do not mind that they come from different places. After spending five weeks in academic summer camp together, they are all speaking -- and singing -- the same language.

"It's boring talking one language. I want to talk a lot of languages so I can talk to different kinds of people," said Dialogo student Quannesia Thomas.

Dialogo is the Spanish word for dialogue, and dialogue is what community advocates started in the North Raleigh community of Cameron Gardens.

About 40 students studied academics and the arts at the center. Along with their lessons, they also learned about each other's cultures.

"Most of our kids here thought that Hispanic students didn't know English. But they found out they do speak English. They also found out that when they're speaking Spanish, it doesn't mean they're speaking bad about you," said Dialogo teacher Gabriela Gutierrez.

Organizers chose this community because it reflects a trend that is happening all over North Carolina. Cameron Gardens used to be predominantly African-American. Now it is about forty percent Hispanic, and it is experiencing all of the growing pains that accompany immigration.

"With our children growing up, things are going to change. They're not going to be like they are now. They have to be willing to get to know other people and accept their differences," said Dialogo parent Marisa Beltran.

Organizers hope those differences will diminish as students embrace each other's cultures. Some barriers are already falling. Students who graduated from Dialogo got new books -- in Spanish and English.

Organizers plan to begin an after-school program at Cameron Gardens when the school year starts in August. Dialogo has been taught in public schools for years. Until this summer, though, it had never been taught outside the school system.


Stephanie Hawco, Reporter
Ron Pittman, Photographer
Julian King, Web Editor

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