03/20/05 — Wayne, Duplin, Sampson leaders take 'eye-opening' trip to Mexico

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Wayne, Duplin, Sampson leaders take 'eye-opening' trip to Mexico

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on March 20, 2005 2:07 AM

KENANSVILLE -- Problems that people in Mexico face are not that different from those we face in the U.S, said Duplin County Manager Fred Eldridge after he returned from a trip there.

Eldridge was part of a contingent of Wayne, Duplin and Sampson county officials and business, education, law enforcement and church leaders who visited Mexico week before last. The purpose of the trip was to learn more about the cultural and economic issues that have driven many Mexicans to move to eastern North Carolina.

The trip was part of a Latino Initiative, a program of the Raleigh-based Center for International Understanding. The center is a public service program of the University of North Carolina and pays for the trips from money raised through grants and the private sector.

Statistics show the three counties have some of the fastest-growing Hispanic populations in the nation. Wayne County schools saw a 374 percent increase in enrollment among Hispanic students between 1993 and 2003. In Duplin in 2003, 38 percent of live births were Hispanic babies.

Eldgridge said the trip was an eye-opening experience for those who went on the information-gathering trip. The disadvantages that Spanish-speaking people face when they come to this country become more obvious when you are trying to make yourself understood in a foreign country, he said.

"I knew how it felt there as a non-Spanish speaking person," he said. "The thing of asking for your room key can be difficult."

The group of 32 people visited Oaxaca and Mexico City, returning last Sunday.

Mexicans are very family-oriented, Eldridge. Their roots are important to them. Eldridge said they, too, are disturbed that their young people are leaving home to make a living. He said those who come to the U.S. have a strong sense of being discriminated against by their countrymen as well as when they come here.

"Because of the strong ties and the roots, they say you stay and work through the problem," he said. "Some who come here are seen as avoiding the real problem by leaving."

He said he found the people in Mexico as bright, hard-working and creative individuals. They're very literate in their own language, and they're well-informed. They have a strong entrepreneurial desire, he said. They're more aware of their environment, especially in the rural areas. They do a lot more recycling, he said.

"They're happy people," he said. "They seem to be very at peace with their environment, even though we may consider it a harsh environment. I was also very surprised and disappointed to hear they have a significant amount of abuse of women and children in Mexico."

He said that could be a result from the many years of foreign occupation. The people were mainly of the Mayan Indian culture when the invaders came.

The county has a tremendous amount of history, he said. The group toured a museum in Mexico City that had artifacts from 10,000 years ago.

"We're the new kids on the block in a lot of ways," said Eldridge. "We're an infant country."

He said he found the people in Mexico friendly, open and polite. He said he came away very impressed with the people he saw. It was not just the community leaders, he said.

"You'd see a child about six years old pick up an accordion and go about playing music and taking donations to support his family," he said. "Families support families, and neighbors support neighbors, probably more than we're accustomed to."

The food was good, he said. He said he was amazed with the creativity displayed in the many different ways to fix corn.

He said a lot of the people he met were migrant workers to California. There's another U.S., he told them. He said, "Don't use California as your rule of thumb."

"Our real problem is an inability to communicate," said Eldridge. "They're well versed in the political environment. They dislike NAFTA as much as we do. Their people lost a lot of jobs, as well."

In Duplin, Eldgridge said, the Spanish-speaking population is a critical source of labor.

"Without them we'd be in trouble," he said.