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Viewpoint: Strong Latino communities are building new opportunities in Sussex County

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Stuart Comstock-Gay
Guest Columnist

A community is strongest when all its people have the opportunity to thrive ““ and businesses thrive when they fully tap the market as it evolves.

In Delaware, an exciting segment of our community ““ the Latino population of Sussex County ““ has been growing stronger over the past 30 years. This growth, which is happening upstate as well, presents both opportunities and challenges for the business community.

We at the Delaware Community Foundation thought it was time for all of us ““ in both the public and private sectors ““ to get to know these not-so-new neighbors a little better.

That’s why we commissioned Perspectives on the Latino Population in Sussex County, Delaware, which we released on Oct. 7 at an event at Delaware Technical Community College in Georgetown.

The Perspectives study ““ funded by a grant from CFLeads and researched by Drs. April Veness and Jennifer Fuqua of the University of Delaware ““ aims to shine a light on the Latino communities in Sussex County, highlighting their complexities and contributions, and the opportunities for us to leverage and enhance their successes.

The study revealed a range of ways in which businesses, nonprofits, government agencies and others can adjust to fully leverage and serve the Latino population statewide.

Map c/o Delaware Community Foundation

Over the past 30 years, Sussex County’s Latino population has grown by more than 1,200%, and now constitutes nearly 10% of the population in that county.

Perspectives explores who these newcomers are: Where did they move from? What caused them to upend their lives to come to Delaware? What do they value? What do they aspire to for their children?

The study shows that the Latino population in Delaware, which is often lumped together as a single community, actually is highly diverse in four key ways: national origin, immigration status, socioeconomic position and integration process. In both the public and private sectors, we have the opportunity to maximize our engagement with these audiences by recognizing and catering to these differences.

Perspectives is also a study of the assets Latino immigrants offer to Delaware. Besides enriching our culture with their traditional music and food, the report reveals that Latino immigrants in Sussex County are running 800 small businesses, paying $50 million in taxes each year, starting sports leagues, going to church, buying houses and otherwise pursuing the American Dream.

Their commitment to community makes life better for all of us. How can we maximize the impact of their efforts to everyone’s benefit?

Finally, Perspectives examines some of the ways in which we can support and further strengthen these important communities. Latino communities face the same challenges we all do, as well as obstacles related to language, immigration status, unfamiliar systems and more.

The research team identified important moments that can be leveraged by community members, nonprofits, pro bono services and the business community to build opportunity, including through culturally sensitive and bilingual programs and services for immigration assistance, college and financial aid navigation, public transportation improvements, home buying, business training, and banking.

In the business community, opportunities abound to engage the growing Latino market. The lowest-hanging fruit, of course, is to employ bilingual staff and provide information in Spanish to ensure Latinos can conduct business with your company.

Other opportunities include marketing to our Spanish-speaking neighbors, establishing a presence in predominantly Latino neighborhoods, and providing additional guidance for individuals who may be unfamiliar with American practices and processes.

These are communities of hard-working people, and anything we do to help them thrive “¦ well, it helps all of us thrive, too.

No single entity can leverage the assets and address the challenges of Sussex County’s Latino communities. It will require many partners ““ including private-sector partners ““ working together, collaboratively and strategically.

For this report alone, we relied heavily on the expertise and support of the Arsht-Cannon Fund at the DCF, La Esperanza, La Colectiva de Delaware, and countless others. We are particularly grateful to the many Latino individuals and families who shared their personal experiences of life in Sussex County.

We at the DCF hope that Perspectives will serve in two ways: as a catalyst to spark conversations and new partnerships, and as a source of information and knowledge to help maximize the impact of the resulting efforts. 

Stuart Comstock-Gay is president and CEO of the Delaware Community Foundation. The full report, as well as highlights and an executive summary, is available at delcf.org/Sussex-Latinos.

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