Hispanic Migration Finally Hits Northern Appalachia

AP, May 7

When a quiet customer with the sniffles heads for the door, Flores stops him, presses a bag of chamomile into his hand and tells him to boil it for tea.

“It will make you feel better,” she says in Spanish, shaking her head as he reaches for his pocket. “No, no charge.”

For six months, Rincon Latino has flourished amid the antique shops, real estate offices and historic homes of Washington Street, the main avenue in a West Virginia town where times have begun to change.

Though their numbers remain small, Hispanics are now streaming into historically homogenous, overwhelmingly white West Virginia and other parts of northern Appalachia, including western Pennsylvania, southern New York and Ohio.

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Flores collects donations for the poor. She lays out business cards for Spanish-speaking real estate agents. Her doors and windows bear flyers for churches and would-be employers. Sometimes, she takes people who can’t speak English to doctors’ appointment and the Division of Motor Vehicles.

“Get ready,” she says, the afternoon sun filtering through a polyester portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “In two more years, you will have a lot of Hispanics here.”

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Nearly half of Appalachia’s 321,000 new residents since 2000 are minority, about 80,000 of them Latinos. And because so many are children or working-age adults, the study done for the Appalachian Regional Commission concludes that racial and ethnic diversity will only grow.

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“Today if you go into the schools, our brothers and sisters of Latino descent are everywhere,” she says.

School district officials agree: The number of children enrolled in English as a Second Language classes has surged from fewer than two dozen in 2000 to almost 260 at the start of the current school year. Nearly 80 percent of them are Hispanic.

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Real estate companies and banks have also started reaching out, advertising for bilingual employees.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston also launched a full-time Hispanic ministry. Though the 2000 census found about 12,300 Hispanics across West Virginia, the church, which surveyed parishes in February, believes that figure is now at least 16,000.

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