In recognizing Hispanic Heritage Month, eastern NC leaders strengthen community tiesEn español aquí
The City of Washington in Beaufort County recently proclaimed September 15th- October 15th as Hispanic Heritage Month to “honor and celebrate the many ways Hispanic and Latino Americans contribute to the success of Beaufort County communities.” The proclamation follows nearly three years of work and actions by local leaders and community stakeholders to better engage with immigrant residents. After completing a community-led planning process in 2021, the City implemented an ordinance to support minority-owned businesses, appointed immigrant leaders to government decision-making councils, translated critical documents into Spanish, created a new staff position of Bilingual Community Outreach Coordinator and hosted community input meetings to create a public monument commemorating the city’s Latin American heritage.
These efforts acknowledge that three generations of Beaufort County residents celebrate Mexican and Latin American heritage, tracing their ancestry to family members who settled in the area in the 1970s to work in seafood, poultry, and agricultural industries. Washington residents with Latin American ancestry make up thirteen percent of the total population. Beaufort County families also celebrate a more distant Latin American and Caribbean ancestry dating back to the 19th century, when men with African ancestry in shipbuilding industries settled permanently in the area.
The proclamation of Hispanic Heritage Month and other recent efforts by Washington leaders build trust with residents and recognize an important community demographic. To ensure that community members knew about the proclamation, local leaders visited businesses in person and presented them with framed copies of the proclamation, signed by Washington Mayor Don Sadler. A key person in this effort was Leesa Jones, co-founder and director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.
She shared her experiences: “One business owner said the proclamation was a gift from God, and it came at just the right time, because he and his wife had just talked about closing their business and possibly moving away from Washington. He said it was ‘confirmation’ from God to keep his business going and felt blessed that the community cared for him and would honor him with a gift like this.” The effort to engage with residents in person reflects an awareness that relationship and trust building is key to reaching underrepresented community members, particularly in communities with limited English proficiency or limited internet connectivity.
The proclamation of Hispanic Heritage month and other efforts by the City are important stepping stones towards addressing community disparities in leadership, income, health, home ownership, and education. To learn more about the City of Washington’s efforts to build integrated communities, visit https://www.washingtonnc.gov/residents/building_integrated_communities.php.