SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The Latino community has boomed in the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry over the last few decades.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the Latino population grew over 165% in Chatham County between 2000 and 2010.
Current predictions suggest the community has continued to grow since 2010, with data still being collected during this year’s census.
Community leaders from Savannah and the Lowcountry spoke to WSAV NOW about why the growth of their community matters and how it impacts the overall community.
‘The change has been night and day’
Lowcountry native Eric Esquivel says he would’ve never imagined how much the community would grow.
“The change has been night and day,” said Esquivel. “Growing up here, there were very few Latinos, especially Spanish-speakers. There was definitely no economic or political influence.”
Esquivel runs La Isla Magazine and LatinxToday, which has introduced Hispanic culture throughout coastal Georgia and South Carolina over the last 29 years.
He admits there has been some resistance to the greater Hispanic influence in the Lowcountry. Still, he hopes more people push past any xenophobia they may have to learn about the growing and influential community.
“They’re the fastest demographic. They’re young, having lots of kids,” he said. “The best thing anybody could be doing, especially during Hispanic Heritage month, is taking the time to get to know some of their neighbors.”
Political and economic effects of the Hispanic boom
The community’s influence has considerably grown, and political leaders look to translate Latinos’ spending power into voting power.
Mayra Rivera-Vazquez moved here from Puerto Rico in the early 2010s and is now the chair of the Beaufort County Democratic Party.
She says Latinos contribute economically to the community in great numbers and has been working to ensure they also head to the polls.
“We are a strong force here if we could translate that in terms of votes,” she said. “That’s the part that we need to work on more.”
Alfonso Ribot is working with the U.S. Census and is the president of the Metropolitan Savannah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
He hopes new census data will be able to address future needs for his community.
“We’re going to have a lot more population,” he said. “If we don’t get counted, then the county is not going to have enough funds to provide appropriate services to the whole entire community.”
Specifically, Ribot is referring to Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin.
If data from the census shows a certain percent of the population in any given area speaks a language other than English, then the government is required by law to provide information in the secondary language.