Speaker at Granville County MLK Day event encourages including Hispanics

Jan. 21, 2013 @ 07:40 PM

Ismael Torres urged the Granville County Human Relations Commission to reach out to Hispanics in the county.

Torres spoke on Monday at a breakfast hosted by the commission to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

Referring to Hispanics, he said, “I don’t see anyone from that background here today. If you want to get to know someone, invite them to your home for a meal.”

Too often, he said, business is before pleasure, with the result of no opportunities for trust to develop.

When people are isolated, hostility grows, he said. “We need to be bringing people from the margins into community.”

The commission should extend an invitation to Hispanics, he said. When they accept the invitation, the commission should engage them.

“They came from countries that were war torn or oppressive,” Torres said. “They want the same things you want. They see America as a place where they can grow.”

He invited those in attendance to sit down with Hispanics, to have a cup of coffee with them.

“You can share your dreams, ask them to share their dreams,” Torres said. “If you do this, you can build community.”

He pointed out that there is great diversity within the category described as Hispanic. “They all speak Spanish, but they all have different influences,” Torres said.

In Argentina, the nation of Spain has had great influence. In Central America, there is a strong American Indian influence. In the Caribbean, where slavery was introduced into the new world, African influence is strong. The particular concerns of Hispanics in the United States depend on what part of the Spanish-speaking world they come from.

“North Carolina has the fastest growing Hispanic population in the country,” Torres said. “It has doubled in the last decade.”

In spite of this, Hispanic minorities are often “the invisible people,” he said. “They are ubiquitous but most of the time we don’t even know they are here.”

He described some contributions of Spanish-speaking people in the United States, pointing out that the southeastern portion of the country was originally explored by the Spanish.

“This was Florida in the 1500s,” he said, mentioning the explorations of Ponce de Leon and others.

“Three thousand five hundred Hispanics fought in the American Revolution,” Torres said, and a similar number fought in the Civil War.

“Hispanic is not a race,” he said. “Mexicans are classified as white. There are ebony Hispanics and ivory Hispanics. I find they prefer being identified by national origin.”

Granville County Commissioner David T. Smith was master of ceremonies for the breakfast.

Timothy Johnson provided background music and accompaniment for the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “We Shall Overcome.”

The meal was prepared and served by members of Oxford Baptist Church.

Torres is originally from the section of New York City called “Spanish Harlem.” He has lived in North Carolina since 1975. He attended Sandhills Community College and received a bachelor’s degree from Interamerican University of Puerto Rico. Previously, he worked as a behavior specialist for the N.C. Division of Youth Services. He has volunteered for a number of organizations as a translator and interpreter and as a cultural consultant.

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com