Civic-minded residents told to reach out to Hispanics

Published 12:28 pm Sunday, March 16, 2008

By Staff
Hear how to engagethat community’s voters
Staff Writer
Juvencio Peralta wants political groups and civic-minded citizens in Beaufort County to reach out to the county’s Hispanic population. At a get-out-the vote seminar hosted by Democracy North Carolina on Saturday, he said engaging Hispanics in the voting process was a challenge all 100 North Carolina counties are facing.
Peralta, president of the Mexican Association of North Carolina, said the ratio of Hispanics to Hispanic voters in Duplin county was typical of populations throughout eastern North Carolina. Eighteen percent of Greene County’s population is Hispanic but only 65 are registered to vote. Only about 4 percent of Beaufort County’s 43,000-plus residents are Hispanic. That comes to about 2,000 Hispanics, but only 85 are registered to vote, he said.
Once an immigrant worker has held a job for five years, he or she can apply for citizenship, Peralta said. The process to naturalization then typically take three years, he said. But for populations that already have first-generation U.S. citizens, getting them to the ballot box requires reaching out to their community through familiar faces, he said.
The Mexican Association already takes on that task in other eastern counties. Last year the association held 27 community forums aimed at educating Hispanics on their civic rights and duties in seven counties. Similar informational session in a non-threatening environment is what Peralta encouraged Beaufort County residents to attempt.
But, in reaching out to Hispanic voters, he said it was important that those reaching out looked like the people they are trying to reach. Hispanics in Beaufort County typically “don’t like to make a lot of noise” and are generally reluctant to engage in the political process, which has become more pronounced in recent weeks, he said.
The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners has embarked on an initiative to make the county uncomfortable for illegal immigrants, primarily by denying county-provided services to non-English speakers. Commissioners Stan Deatherage and Hood Richardson, who have led the effort contend that the measures will encourage English proficiency among immigrants and make the county unattractive to illegal aliens.
Peralta strongly disagreed, calling the tension the measures have created within the Hispanic community “sad.”
Peralta countered claims by Deatherage and Richardson that the English language and the United States itself is under attack by illegal immigrants.