April 23, 2015
By Rae Tyson
With local farms prospering, population booming and southern Delaware's poultry industry growing, the demand for workers in Sussex County has continued to grow. And many of those arriving in the region to fill those jobs are Hispanic, primarily immigrants from Guatemala and Mexico.
Indeed, the Hispanic population in Sussex County has more than doubled since 2000, from 4.4 percent to more than 9 percent in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
And projections are that the Hispanic population will comprise the largest minority percentage in Sussex by 2060, overtaking African Americans.
"The Hispanic population has become pretty significant," said the Rev. Michael Williams of the Georgetown Presbyterian Church, where Spanish language services are held weekly.
And the influx of Spanish speaking immigrants has had a significant impact on Georgetown and the surrounding area — economically, spiritually and academically.
In some Sussex County churches, for example, attendance for services in Spanish overshadows the turnout for English language worship in the same building.
"There is a strong faith background for the people who migrate here," said Williams.
Perhaps the most compelling example is the St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church in the heart of Georgetown.
Two decades ago, the church was coping with declining attendance and an aging congregation. When Hispanic immigrants started settling in the area in droves, they brought a Catholic heritage from their homeland.
And, suddenly, the church began to grow. So much so that a Spanish speaking priest — the Rev. Cesar Augusto Gomez — was assigned to the Georgetown church by the Diocese of Wilmington about 15 years ago.
Now, the church holds three Spanish language services per week, with attendance over 600 a routine occurrence. In fact, services over the recent Easter period each saw over 1,000 worshippers, a number too large for the church to accommodate. At a Good Friday service, local police were on hand to direct traffic because the crowds were so large.
"It was so big, we have to hold those services outside," said Jose Rodriguez Trejo, a deacon and St. Michael's business manager.
In addition to worship services, the church also offers English language classes taught by Sister Maria Mairlot. "Those classes attract a lot of people," Trejo said.
The church also has other programs for adults and children alike. "We have many, many activities involving the Hispanic community," Trejo said.
Other churches in the Georgetown area offer pre-school programs for Hispanic children.
But the churches are not the only institutions to feel the impact of the growing Hispanic population. Local public schools are scrambling to accommodate a student population that, on arrival, speaks little, if any English.
"It's not the language they speak at home so, sometimes it can be a challenge for them," said Carly Zych, a seventh grade science teacher at Mariner Middle School in Milton.
Patrick Kilby, ninth grade science teacher and soccer coach at Sussex Central High School agreed.
"When you have an English speaking student who struggles, you can imagine that it is that much harder for nonEnglish speakers," he said. "It is an uphill climb."
Both Kilby, as coach, and Zych as a volunteer for the Henlopen Soccer Club feel athletics help Hispanics assimilate — and makes them feel comfortable in their new homeland.
Kilby even launched an annual soccer match with a rival school called World Culture Night that highlights the Latino culture.
"I thought to myself, why not celebrate that culture, why not celebrate that diversity?" said Kilby.
Science teacher Zych volunteers for the soccer league by transporting Hispanic players to practice and games.
"Soccer is one thing we have in common," she said. "Once they are on a team, skin color doesn't matter."
But the commercial landscape in places like Georgetown has changed to cater to the influx of Hispanic families. Locally, a number of businesses, from clothing stores to Spanish language newspapers and even medical centers, have been established to meet the needs of Hispanic families.
Even the local Redner's Supermarket has produce and other products that are unique to Hispanic cuisine.
"It was certainly not by coincidence," said Redner's spokesman Eric White. "In many of our stores, we are able to carry products that cater to a Hispanic market."
One of the best known local vendors is the El Mercado Market, which offers an array of products that are indigenous to Mexico and Central America.
Though it caters to Hispanic families, it also supplies ingredients to local restaurants like Papa Grande in Fenwick Island and Rehoboth Beach. Both were the creation of the late Matt Haley, who was on the board of La Esperanza, a Georgetown-based Hispanic assistance organization.
Douglas Ruley, executive chef of SoDel Concepts, the company created by Haley, said the two restaurants continue to depend on El Mercado for indigenous Mexican ingredients.
"When you walk into that place, it is amazing," Ruley said.
Haley's company also has hired a number of Hispanic workers, including most of the staff at Papa Grande in Rehoboth Beach.
"The culinary industry could not do without the Latino community," said Ruley.
And many agree the influx of Hispanic families has been a positive development for Sussex County, given that many of them espouse strong family and religious values and a work ethic that many employers desire.
"That is the background for everything from faith to child rearing that I have seen," said the Rev. Williams of the Georgetown Presbyterian Church.
Source: Delmarva Now