When The Elkhart Truth launched its special series “Hispanics at Home?” three weeks ago, we set out to answer one basic question: How well is Elkhart County’s growing Latino population fitting into a county that is still predominantly white?
After dozens of articles, videos and photos, and interviewing more than 60 people, it can safely be said that there is no clear-cut answer to that question.
By some measure, Latinos, especially those in the younger generation, are doing just fine in Elkhart County and don’t find themselves treated any differently than non-Latinos. Over three weeks, we have told the stories of many Latinos who have made better lives for themselves.
In our series, for example, we profiled Edgar Saucedo Davila, a young man from Mexico who struggled in elementary school but overcame those academic challenges and is now the chairman of the English As A Second Language Department at Goshen Middle School.
And then there’s Felipe Merino, whose mom scrubbed toilets to help make ends meet when he was a boy in California. Merino’s first job was scooping ice cream, but now he’s an immigration attorney in Goshen who has taken a leadership role in the Latino community.
But for every success story that we uncovered, we saw other examples of the many challenges and obstacles that stand in the way of Latinos truly being embraced by the non-Hispanic community.
As today’s Part 3 details, there is a serious problem with Latinos not having leadership roles on local school boards, city councils, county offices or on the boards of the most important nonprofit organizations in the county.
What is particularly ironic, and somewhat frustrating, is that many of the clients served by organizations such as the United Way, the Salvation Army, the Boys & Girls Clubs and others are Latino. Yet, there are virtually no Latinos involved in making decisions about development of programs and services or the allocation of dollars for those organizations.
Likewise, the microscopic representation of Latinos on local government boards and councils means that decisions affecting programs and service for Hispanics are being made without that community having a voice in them.
Another obstacle that can’t be overlooked is the complex issue of illegal immigration. Anyone who pays attention to The Truth’s Facebook page or the comments posted in our online articles is well aware of the proliferation of comments from those vehemently opposed to allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in this country. Some of the comments we received were blatantly racist; some were worse than that.
There are an estimated 85,000 undocumented immigrants in Indiana and while there are no estimates for Elkhart County, one can assume there are likely hundreds, if not a couple thousand, of immigrants without documentation living here.
Regardless of what a certain presidential candidate says, you simply cannot ship all of those who are here illegally “back to where they came from” — as much as some of our Facebook commenters would like to do just that.
Rather, there must be a comprehensive plan for immigration reform in place — and that’s an issue that will be decided well beyond the borders of Elkhart County.
In the meantime, Latino immigrants -- here legally or not -- are part of our community and aren’t going away. They also have many of the same goals and dreams for themselves and their families as the rest of us. Let’s try to treat them the same way we’d treat any other of our neighbors.
Did The Truth’s special report on Latinos develop any firm solutions that could help bridge the gap between Latinos and non-Latinos? Probably not, or at least not directly.
However, it is our hope that it opened up some eyes and provided some insight into what life is like for an ever-growing segment of our population. Even if you only read one story or watched one video, we hope to have provided you a perspective you may not have had before.
And, if we’re lucky, that fresh perspective could lead to change for the better.