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Hispanic series intended to promote understanding

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Scott Angus
February 7, 2012

“Know me; know my story.”

That quote from Whitewater resident Jorge Islas-Martinez could be the theme for a series, “Changing Face of America,” that starts in The Gazette on Sunday and runs for three days.

Initially, we wanted to look at the growing minority population in our midst. Anyone who has lived in Rock and Walworth counties for more than a few years has seen the change. It has been particularly noticeable in historically white Janesville.

As we tried to focus, however, we realized that the topic was too big. We decided to narrow the project to Hispanics because they are the fastest-growing minority group in our area.

From 2000 to 2010, Rock County’s Hispanic population more than doubled to 7.6 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In Walworth County, the Hispanic population is up 72 percent and totals more than 10 percent of the population.

Hispanics are our neighbors and co-workers. That will never change. In fact, as Anna Marie Lux explains in the series, their numbers and their influence will grow in the years ahead, regardless of our immigration policy.

Who are they? How did they get here? Why did they come? What have they experienced since arriving in the U.S.?

We sought to learn the answers to those questions and share them with our readers. If nothing else, we hoped to foster understanding among the people who share their communities with an increasing number of Hispanics.

All of our subjects are from Mexico. Not surprisingly, most came to America illegally. Many have become legal residents and citizens. Some still live in the shadows. The series explores immigration policies and laws, but the more we learned, the more we realized how complicated these topics remain.

Even after narrowing our focus, we recognized that we couldn’t cover all of the issues related to the Hispanic population. Our education system, for example, has had to adjust and respond to the influx of non-English-speaking students. Other parts of the system and society have been affected, as well.

Rather than extend our effort and the series to the impact of these new residents, we limited our scope to the experiences of migrants and their families.

As it is, the series presented significant challenges, particularly for Lux, who has worked on the project for parts of six months.

Understandably, people who are in the country illegally hesitate to share their stories and expose themselves to scrutiny and more. Many who are legal have family members who are not. Lux was persistent and persuasive in her efforts to gain their trust.

Additionally, many Hispanics don’t speak English well or at all, further complicating her efforts to gather information.

In the end, though, Lux and our photographers produced a series that we think will make a difference in our communities. We expect pushback from people who don’t welcome the Hispanics and believe all of those who are here illegally should be sent back.

Even people who believe that, though, must recognize that the face of America has changed forever. This is not a fad. The growth in the Hispanic population, fueled largely by births of legal citizens within the U.S., will continue. Judge them and judge us if you must, but recognize that this is reality.

While we’ve tried to provide balance, some readers will complain that the series is overly sympathetic to people who came here illegally. To be honest, it’s hard not to feel compassion for these immigrants as you read their gut-wrenching stories of danger and struggle.

So starting Sunday, read their stories. Learn more about their motivations, their harrowing journeys, their lives here. If nothing else, we think “Changing Face of America” will help you better understand the people you see at school, at work and in the store who came here in one of the largest mass migrations in modern history.

Scott W. Angus is editor of The Gazette and vice president of news for Bliss Communications. His email is sangus@gazettextra.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @sangus_.



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