DURHAM: Durham group meeting the needs of Hispanic population - CBS 3 Springfield - WSHM

Durham group meeting the needs of growing Hispanic population

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The Latino population in Durham County is growing rapidly, increasing more than 10 percent in the last 20 years.

With the growing population, one organization is responding, serving as a mediator between the Hispanic community and the police and legal systems.

El Centro Hispano is a grassroots community-based organization dedicated to strengthening the Hispanic and Latino community and improving the quality of life for those living in Durham, Carrboro, Chapel Hill and neighboring cities and towns.

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For Maria Sanchez, El Centro Hispano is a place for her to learn to read and write in Spanish. She's taking an adult literacy class in order to earn her GED and get a certificate through the Mexican Consulate.

Maria crossed the Mexican border 14 years ago in order to be with her husband, who works in Durham as a painter. All seven of her children are United States citizens.

"Her husband was here for 15 years. She was alone; she wanted to have the reunion with her husband and children," says Fanny Fragaso, Maria's teacher and translator. "She's so happy because they are together."

El Centro Hispano was founded in 1992 in the basement of a church. Now the organization serves 11,000 people in a building on Main Street.

In 1990, two years before the group formed, the Hispanic population made up 1 percent of the Durham population with more than 2,000 people.

In 2000, the population grew to 8 percent and in 2010, 13 percent of Durham's population was Hispanic.

Durham County currently has the 6th highest Hispanic population in North Carolina. Overall, the state ranks 11th in the country with 9 percent of the population being Hispanic and Latino.

Rocha-Goldberg says El Centro Hispano often acts as a mediator between the Hispanic community and police, encouraging people to come forward and report crimes. They have staff who work with police.

"In our community, everything is word of mouth, so they start saying don't call the police if you don't have papers; you will get deported, so people start calling less," says Rocha-Goldberg.

In 2008, Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez spoke about that very issue after a rash of robberies targeted the Latino community in the city. 

"There's been a distrust throughout the years, not just in Durham, but everywhere and hopefully in Durham they're going to know that they can call the police department," says Lopez.

Still, sometimes El Centro Hispano gets the call first.

"They don't have enough bilingual staff to do that, and that's why the community comes here," Rocha-Goldberg.

The Durham Police Department has 19 sworn employees and five non-sworn employees who have passed the City's Spanish language proficiency test, according to Kammie Michael, Public Information Officer of the Durham Police Department.

This means the employees will provide Spanish translation or communication services for the City of Durham. Michael also says the department has a Victim Services Unit where every member of that unit is bilingual.

But despite the challenges, Maria Sanchez continues to build a future. A future she says she could only have here.


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