I don’t do this often enough, and when the opportunity comes along I always try to route myself through North Carolina, ‘The Land of the Long Leaf Pine” and land of my birth.
A few miles after crossing the NC/SC border I took at left at Lumberton NC and headed up Rte 211 to Red Springs, Raeford – destination Chapel Hill. Two-lane blacktop all the way. I love it.
As the miles ticked by I started to see interesting signs, like “Se habla Espanol” -“Iglesia Santa Maria”. When I was in school at UNC the state was pretty much 100% black and white and while I had trouble with the accent at times, English was the first and only language. Now this?
“What gives?” I asked my friend Sharon who has lived in Kinston NC long enough that I think of her as a native. Her reply opened my eyes.
“North Carolina is home to the fastest-growing Hispanic population in the country. That's right -- not CA, or AZ, or TX, or NM. The Old North State. I sit on an advocacy task force for our Community Health Center with at least two Hispanic members and two Hispanic staff people; all of our public agencies have Spanish-speaking staff; several churches now hold a Spanish-language service to their Sunday rosters.
Kinston is typical, and this is a town of only 24,000 people. More than 5 years ago, I was driving cross country to a meeting in Wilmington and rounded the curve between Beulaville and Chinquapin -- and nearly had a wreck. St. James Baptist Church had morphed into Iglesias Santiago. The state legislature is practically under siege to reverse a law it passed four years ago granting in-state tuition at state educational institutions (including Blue Heaven) to the American-born children of illegal immigrants. So that's what gives.
A friend and ex-colleague who lives in Chapel Hill added, “ ALL the service people -- plumbers, painters, electricians, yard maintenance--are hispanic. A working knowledge of Spanish is becoming vital. Why NC? This a builder's mecca and one of the fastest growing states in the nation. NC passed NJ last year as the tenth most populous and Raleigh is the new Seattle, a magnet for young people. As a realtor said, "We are the new Florida (for retirees)."
The melting pot of our grand parents is bubbling all over again, in every corner of the country. I imagine on my next trip there I’ll be having salsa with my hush puppies.