Balancing the Hispanic presence

Last week, a parent discussed with me her son's progress in my Spanish 1 class. She was curious as to whether her son was transitioning successfully to Spanish after taking a year of French in eighth grade. He is.

There is no doubt the foundation from one foreign language to another has proven helpful to him, just as it would for any child. Yet, had I talked to her before her son's enrollment in my class I would have told her that learning a language is as much knowledge of grammar as it is culture and that solid preparation for citizenship in our growing community mandates awareness to that fact. It is imperative we understand where the Hispanic community is coming from.

Our children are growing up in a different America. Everything from home-values to high school expectations are being balanced on a global scale, and those of Hispanic heritage play a big role in how the scale is tipped. I know for many people what I just said sounds like a reason to panic, but I promise it's good.

The macrocosm of American society shows significant growth in all regions of the United States in terms of people who claim Hispanic heritage.

Data compiled by Pew, the national research center devoted to non-partisan opinion polls and data analysis projects, charts Hispanic growth in the United States as potentially seeing a 10 to 20 percent increase in the next 10 years based on numbers compiled between the 2000 and 2010 census.

Even with all this newness and excitement, there is this disheartened attitude many have toward different cultures that almost suggests throwing in the towel when it comes to developing relationships. It is unspoken for the most part, but in my own experience, it reflects in this question asked to me by students: "They don't speak our language or do what we do, so why should I learn about them?" The question itself is innocent, deep and massively impertinent to answer. Yet, every time I hear it, I'm dumbfounded. Honestly, it bothers me. It bothers me to the point where I can't help but ask myself, "If they are so different, why not learn about them?"

Frankly, the problem with under-educating on this point is worse when the heaviness of misunderstanding keeps us from weighing in on topics concerning all of the community. The Hispanic community presence here is real and viable. But, the evidence of how it will shape our public and private sectors is yet to be seen. In many ways, there is an unmentioned fear and distance from both ends on how the Hispanic community will grow, and when it does, what will be the best way to approach it? Maybe it is time to start thinking of those questions now. It has not been a problem to date, but if numbers show anything, it will.

Since the year 2000, Edgefield and Aiken counties have seen over 100 percent growths of Hispanics. In fact, Aiken is in the top 10 of all counties in South Carolina with that type of growth.

Moving forward, how do we integrate understanding amongst the Hispanic community and the people of our area?

I offer to you the same assignment I gave my student's in regards to understanding culture. If you could ask someone of Hispanic heritage any question, what would it be? I'll investigate the answers each week, addressing the information you want to know.

Now that you know we are here, let's continue our discussion next week.

JoBen Rivera-Thompson is a Spanish teacher of Puerto Rican heritage at Fox Creek High School. He has a B.A. in Journalism and Spanish from Georgia Regents University. He has written for The Bell Ringer and Garden City Jazz Journal. Email him at