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Colombians In South Carolina - 2002-03-31


English Feature #7-37237 Broadcast March 10, 2003

Among the thirty five million Hispanics living legally in the United States, according to Census Bureau data, about half a million are immigrants from Colombia. Many Colombians now gravitate to the southern state of South Carolina on the Atlantic coast which has become a Mecca for Hispanic immigrants in general. Today on New American Voices the publisher of a Spanish-language newspaper in Greenville, South Carolina, talks about Hispanics in this part of the country.

The northwestern part of South Carolina - a rural, mountainous region - is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States. New businesses and industry are moving into the region, followed by large numbers of Hispanic immigrants who are attracted by the job opportunities offered by these new factories and plants. In fact, there are so many Hispanics in the Greenville area that forty-year-old Gabriel Cuervo founded a weekly Spanish language newspaper, La Opinion, three years ago to serve that population.

"The Hispanic community was growing and growing in this part of the country. And at that time there was a bilingual newspaper, but we found that people were looking for something more local and more in Spanish with information from their own countries. So that's why we decided to try it, and so far it's been a success."

Mr. Cuervo estimates that La Opinion, with a press run of eight thousand, reaches some sixty-five thousand readers in South Carolina and neighboring states. His readers come from virtually all the countries of Latin America, with Mexicans and Colombians predominating. The newspaper tailors its information to the interests of its diverse Hispanic readership.

"It's family-oriented. We have news from our own countries. We have some pages for women. We do have a lot of sports, also, and entertainment, and classifieds - I mean, we try to target what they want."

Mr. Cuervo says the newspaper also provides news and information about life in America.

"We have a lot of information about immigration, since a lot of Hispanic people are dealing with immigration issues, and all type of legal help. I mean when somebody comes to this country they know nothing about how to get your drivers' license, or what is legal or illegal, or what you can do and not do, so we try to provide them with this information, and help them."

Gabriel Cuervo says Colombians were the first Latin Americans to settle in the Greenville area - for a reason.

"In the seventies, Greenville was the textile capital of the United States. And in South America, Colombia and in particular Medellin, in the region, used to be the strongest textile industry for Latin America. So the business people from Colombia have a lot of business with people in factories and in that type of industry in Greenville. So I guess with the years and with time people started coming. We have Colombians that have been living here for over thirty years."

Gabriel Cuervo moved to the Greenville area eight years ago. He left Colombia, where he owned a business, in 1989, seeking a better life for himself and his family. In the United States he took the first job that he could find - washing dishes in a restaurant in the northeastern state of Connecticut. There, he studied English, and eventually enrolled in a community college to earn a degree in marketing.

"When I finished college and I wanted to look for something different besides washing dishes all my life, so I had friends here and they told me that there were probably better opportunities in South Carolina at that time. And also, there was a large Colombian community here in this part of the state. So I came down here to check it out, and I liked it - basically because of the weather, and also because of the job opportunities. So we decided to move."

Gabriel Cuervo says the quiet, open country of this part of South Carolina makes it a great place to raise his two children. However, he points out that despite increasing numbers of people from various Latin American countries living among them, Americans tend to stereotype Hispanics.

"I would like for the American community to look at the Hispanics in a different way. We are not always the same, we are different cultures inside a big culture. We have different demographics and sometimes the American community is stereotyping us."

The various Hispanic groups settling in the Greenville area bring with them their specific customs, interests and culture. Gabriel Cuervo says Greenville boasts a growing number of Colombian restaurants and clubs, businesses, soccer teams, and entertainers. And the rolling hillsides of South Carolina now echo not only with the ubiquitous strains of American country and western music, but also with a beat dear to the hearts of the region's Colombian-American population.

Sound of Colombian music

See above for links related to this story, including Mr. Cuervo’s newspaper.