Progress has been made

Members of the Hispanic community sat down to discuss their growing presence in Augusta.

GEORGE C' DE BACA

Title: Past vice president of Asociacion Cultural HispanoAmericana (ACHA)

NATIVE OF: New Mexico

YEARS IN AUGUSTA: 52

Q: How would you measure the growth in Augusta since your arrival?

A: I think I was the first Hispanic in Augusta, Ga., when I came here in 1956 with the Army. Since then, I've seen it grow. It's amazing how the growth cuts across social and economic status. We have doctors and lawyers and recent arrivals of laborers. There's been tremendous growth.

Q: What are the main misconceptions about the Latino community?

A: There's a lot of anti-Hispanic bias. Many people see a Hispanic and think they all look alike. They see me with light skin and blue eyes, and they think I'm not Hispanic. It's the anti-Hispanic attitude.

Q: What are your views on the political representation Latinos have in Augusta?

A: I think it's unfortunate that we don't have it (representation) at the state level or local level. The anti-Hispanic bias is one of the things that have kept Hispanics from getting involved. They don't want to become a target when it comes to issues such as immigration problems.

Q: What should be done to raise the profile of the Latino community in Augusta?

A: ACHA has tried. There's also the annual festival in October. We try to bring the culture to people, but there's mostly Hispanics there when we have the festival. The best thing we can do is have folks to go to classrooms and talk to children about Hispanic culture. We need to make that connection.

NANCY NUNEZ

Title: Editor-in-chief/ publisher of Hola Augusta newspaper

NATIVE OF: Puerto Rico

YEARS IN AUGUSTA: 5

Q: How would you measure the growth in Augusta since your arrival?

A: There's no way for them to transmit the information, but I've seen estimates of more than 70,000 Hispanics in the CSRA. I think it's much more than that. This is the second-fastest-growing area for Latinos in the state.

Q: What are the main misconceptions about the Latino community?

A: People think that if you speak Spanish you might be illegal. When you ask a Puerto Rican if they are illegal or not, that's a slap in the face. Puerto Rico is an American territory.

Q: What are your views on the political representation Latinos have in Augusta?

A: We are not well represented politically. I think we need participation from Hispanics. With the complete lack of representation at the government level, it's hard for Hispanics to have a voice.

Q: What should be done to raise the profile of the Latino community in Augusta?

A: We have a lot of work to do. We are working very hard to change the misconceptions. We as a part of the media want to bridge the gap between Spanish-speakers and the rest of the community. We don't want there to be the same racial tension as we see with other groups. We want Americans to see that Hispanics are here not to steal jobs or anything else. They're here because America needs them.

PEDRO HOYOS-SALCEDA

Title: Associate Spanish professor, Augusta State University

NATIVE OF: Colombia

YEARS IN AUGUSTA: 13

Q: How would you measure the growth in Augusta since your arrival?

A: I think the growth has been more than 100 percent. We had three Spanish classes when I came to teach at Augusta State University. Now, we have 12. We had no bilingual Spanish newspapers in 1995. Now, we have two -- Hola and El Augustino . That shows something. There's a lot of business people involved in these papers, so there's plenty of growth.

Q: What are the main misconceptions about the Latino community?

A: Someone asked me once do I speak Mexican. Mexican Spanish is one of the 22 ramifications of the Spanish language. I know history gives people the tools to think Mexicans are the only Latinos.

Q: What are your views on the political representation Latinos have in Augusta?

A: We're not represented politically, but our leaders are trying to be role models in spite of that. I work as a free translator for businesses. I try to do community service. We do have some roles in the community.

Q: What should be done to raise the profile of the Latino community in Augusta?

A: Augustans have to read about Latino culture. Do some research about Latino behavior. Learn the language. If you understand the language, culture and the history, you're going to understand why they're here, what they're looking for and why they're important.