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ECU Chief Diversity Officer Kimberly Baker-Flowers speaks at the first summit focused on North Carolina’s Latino community, held at ECU June 27. At right is keynote speaker Helen Marrow. (Photo by Marc J. Kawanishi)

State’s Latino Community ‘Makes History’ at ECU

By Christine Neff

The Latino community in North Carolina held its first summit to discuss current issues and strengthen collaboration among its leaders at East Carolina University this June.

“Today in eastern North Carolina, we’re making history,” said Juvencio Rocha Peralta, president of the Association of Mexicans in North Carolina (AMEXCAN).

“That is because of everybody in this room and everybody who lives and works to protect the rights or our Latino community and our communities in general.”

The summit, organized by AMEXCAN with support from ECU and other organizations, attracted nearly 300 attendees. The number far exceeded what organizers expected when they began planning the event earlier this year, Peralta said.

“There has just been more and more of a response,” Roberta Bellamy, an ECU student and summit organizer, said. She found the turnout to be “very encouraging.” “Obviously there is a huge need to get this information out there,” she said.

Those in attendance represented a cross-section of North Carolina, from community organizers to people involved in health and school systems, government officials to college students.

Speakers at the day-long event included academic researchers and representatives of national organizations, such as the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities.

Helen Marrow, a Tarboro native who received her Ph.D. in sociology and social policy from Harvard, delivered the keynote address.

Marrow presented her research on immigration in eastern North Carolina, a region that has seen a large growth in immigrant populations, particularly from Mexico, in recent years.

Marrow said while, traditionally, immigrants were drawn to large cities, changes in agriculture and local economies have brought more immigrant workers to rural areas.

Her research presents a “cautiously optimistic picture” of how immigrants view life in the rural South, she said.

Many of them, said Marrow, enjoy the “tranquilo – the slow-paced lifestyle” of eastern North Carolina, the job stability and their neighbors.

But, she said, a lack of legal status and, sometimes, tense relationship with the African American community continue to be sources of concern.

The summit focused, in part, on discussing those concerns. An afternoon panel discussion was dedicated to the relationship between African Americans and Latinos under the header, “Uniting for Social Justice in North Carolina.”

Speakers noted that dialogue and collaboration will be important as the region and state go through changes due to immigration.

David Conde, senior associate vice chancellor for special initiatives at ECU, said the implications reach beyond the Latino community.

“This is no longer about Latinos or Latino immigrants,” Conde said.

“Really, it’s about the future of this country. It’s about the people of the United States.”

This page originally appeared in the Aug. 1, 2008 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at