It’s been a sight to see for us old-timers here in the hometown. For years now we’ve been viewing with a touch of curiosity an influx of new folks coming in here.
We can tell they’re new folks because they look different. They talk different. We see the new folks on the job, in the stores, perhaps some have become neighbors.
I hope the new folks with the brown skin feel welcome. As far as I can tell they have been welcomed.
So I took notice of a new report from the N.C. Association of County Commissioners. It provides another sign of the times that we’ve been seeing around here.
The report states that now nearly five percent of us here are foreign-born, non-citizens. Overwhelmingly these numbers represent a portion of our emerging Hispanic population.
Surry County is now 4.7 percent foreign-born, according to the association’s “2015 NC County Snapshots.” Yadkin County’s population is listed at 4.8 percent foreign-born, while Wilkes is at 2.7 percent. Alleghany County is noteworthy at 5.1 percent.
That’s still less than in the big cities. The Triad is in the six-percent range, while Charlotte and the Triangle area that includes the state capital looks to be around eight percent each.
Duplin County, a rural county that you pass on the way to Wilmington that has a big agricultural industry, is tops in North Carolina with 11 percent.
We began noticing signs of an influx here in the 1990s. For instance, in 1999 I reported in this newspaper on the opening of the first Hispanic store in Elkin, El Milagro (The Miracle), on North Bridge Street.
The store’s opening was a signal that the area’s Hispanic population was settling in, making themselves at home and expanding beyond the traditional occupations of migrant-farm and mill work.
Since then we’ve seen additional Hispanic stores, restaurants and churches open. We’ve seen more and more of the new folks in stores, out and about.
A little Hispanic seasoning continues getting mixed into hometown life, and vice versa.
For instance, for the past two summers an Anglo church youth group has taken a traveling vacation Bible school to Hispanics in North Elkin. Youth mixed in a bit of their own seasoning at a mobile home park and at Spring Valley apartments.
“They were very receptive,” recounted youth-group member Abby Reeves of the Hispanic children she met last summer. A soccer shootout with Salem College goalie Paige Ketchum, niece of the church pastor, proved especially popular, she said.
“We wanted to show them some love and to show that we were there because we cared,” said Reeves, a junior East Wilkes High School student. “They kept asking us when were we coming again.”
By the end of two evening sessions parents who did not speak much English were coming with their children, drawn by extra incentives like an ice cream social and Silly String wars.
“I guess two universal languages are love and laughter. We use both of them to tell the Gospel message,” said youth pastor Jason Lawson.
Most of you know about the heated debate on immigration going on both in America and in Europe. At the heart of the debate is what change immigration is bringing and will continue to bring.
Things will change. Change is inevitable. The big question is how to steer the direction of the change. You could say that we’re feeling our way forward on that one.
Whatever is decided on the national and international stage, here’s hoping that on a hometown level we will continue to be welcoming and live together in peace and with kindness. Felicidad.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.