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24 September, 2023

Hispanic and Latin American Heritage Month is More than Culture to Me

24 September, 2023

September 15, 2023, begins Hispanic and Latin American Heritage Month nationwide and in counties across North Carolina. Festivals will celebrate the cultural significance and contributions of many Spanish-speaking residents in our communities. For example, the Concord International Festival, hosted by El Puente Hispano, will acknowledge the cultural richness of Hispanic and Latin American people and others with international roots. WeBuild Concord will join this celebration of life. However, Hispanic and Latin Americans also offer us a unique source of talent and leadership for the present and future. 

The labor participation rate for Hispanic and Latin Americans, regardless of race, was above 67 percent, one of the highest. However, they also share the highest poverty rates, with African Americans at 17 percent. Fifty-three percent of Hispanic and Latin American renter households are cost-burdened and spend too much of their income on housing. Many of these residents are among our most overrepresented working poor or economically disadvantaged populations. Hispanic and Latino Americans continue contributing to our culture and economy through all these barriers.

Last year, approximately 5 million Hispanic and Latin American-owned businesses contributed over $800 billion to our nation’s economy and provided over 3 million workers jobs. The value of these statistics is great but fails compared to what we could gain if economic and educational barriers, including the lack of affordable housing options and segregation, are eliminated. In other words, we leave too many valuable human assets on the sidelines of opportunity. 

In 2017, I was one of the nation’s first two local workforce board presidents and chief executive officers to influence its board to sign the Executive Letter supporting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals under my signature as leader of Charlotte Works. Of course, not all impacted by the act are Hispanic or Latin American, but they represent one of the largest affected communities.

It was the first time the organization took such a stance that continues today. While I am not suggesting that WeBuild or our board take such an action, I did it because I asked myself one simple question. Why would we invest so much of our resources in developing young talent and then send them to compete against us in another country? In other words, the Hispanic and Latin American population needs economic and housing support because the youth of their communities can help bridge the talent gap. Housing is one place to start.