04/21/04 — Wayne officials to join The Latino Initiative

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Wayne officials to join The Latino Initiative

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on April 21, 2004 2:13 PM

Wayne County officials agreed Tuesday to join The Latino Initiative, a year-long study of the county's fast-growing Hispanic and Latino population.

The commitment includes sending an eight-member delegation to Mexico for a week next March to better understand their new citizens' background.

The N.C. Center for International Understanding, the initiative's sponsor, will find private funding to pay for the trip for Wayne, Duplin and Sampson delegates.

Bill Bryan, chief executive officer of Mount Olive Pickle, and Lynn Williams, company spokeswoman, took part in the program and endorsed it Tuesday.

"You learn immigration issues on this side of the border and then see them on that side," Mrs. Williams told the commissioners. "It's a powerful, powerful program."

The commissioners asked County Manager Lee Smith to form a steering committee to work on the program. That group is expected to meet later this month.

The N.C. Center for International Understanding is part of the University of North Carolina and based in Raleigh. It launched The Latino Initiative in 1998. North Carolina had then the fastest growing Latino population of any state, with the majority of the new residents from Mexico.

The center identified the 20 counties with the highest percentages of new Latino citizens. Twelve of those counties have already gone through the study program, with Wayne, Duplin and Sampson counties this year's invitees.

The center has already secured funding for 17 of the 14 spots in this year's group, Bryan said. He anticipates that all costs will be covered by grants.

In Wayne County, Latinos and Hispanics make up 5 percent of the population but around 16 percent of births. Between 1990-2000, enrollment of Latino children more than quadrupled in Wayne County public schools.

The Latino Initiative has three goals:

*To develop a network of elected and appointed officials, businessmen, educators, law enforcement officers and others who are working to incorporate immigrants into their communities;

*To educate these people about how Latinos support the local economy and benefit North Carolina; and

*To give everyone a better understanding of the cultural, political, social and economic issues that lead many Mexicans to immigrate to the United States and the effect that has on their home country.

The center promotes stronger communication and networking, but it does so without a specific agenda, Bryan said.

Representatives from the three counties will meet for the first time in August.

The group would then travel to the Triangle Dec. 8-9 for two days of presentations, readings and facilitated discussions led by scholars and experts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University.

The Mexico trip would be March 7-13, 2005. That would be followed in May 2005 by a full-day discussion intended to lead to changes in local policies and programs. At least nine communities have developed new health education programs for the Latino community. Some have developed new law enforcement training.