Dina Sanchez said her late Mexican-American father and mother, born in El Salvador, moved from Texas to Sussex County, Delaware, about 30 years ago to open one of the first Spanish-speaking churches there.

The move was a culture shock, she said.

The community of Sanchez in Texas near the Mexican border was diverse. But in the southernmost county of Delaware, they were among the first inhabitants of the Latinx.

Sanchez said her parents remembered the shop staff following them as they arrived, while they were shopping.

Today, there are thousands of Latinx residents in Sussex County and many Latin American-owned companies. The Sanchez Church was one of the first Spanish-speaking churches in the county. Today, there are more than ten in Georgetown alone, Sanchez estimates.

"There is more familiarity, more comfort, different cultures and traditions in the Latino community, which are very different from 30 years ago," she said.

According to a report by the Delaware Community Foundation, which examined the quality of life of Latinx in the southernmost county in the state, the number of Latinx members in Sussex County has grown approximately 20,000 times – 13 times that of 1990.

Charito Calvachi-Mateyko, co-chair of the Hispanic Commission in Delaware, said, "Georgetown would be a ghost town without Latinos."

This map shows the composition of the Latinx community in southern Delaware. (Courtesy of the Delaware Community Foundation.)

Measure the impact

Latinx residents pay millions in taxes every year, and nearly three-quarters are in employment. The autonomy and entrepreneurship of the Latinx community in the county have been increased. according to DCF report,

However, it also points to the lack of access to high-paying jobs, quality housing and health care.

The report provides recommendations on how to address the diverse needs of the population to ensure that the community continues to thrive.

"To address growth, sustainability and opportunities for all in Delaware, we need to address them everyone in Delaware. Over the past 30 years, the Sussex County Latin American community has grown by 1,200%. That's massive growth, "said Stuart Comstock-Gay, president and CEO of DCF.

"We have people who live, work and pay $ 50 million in taxes every year," he added. "They are part of our community and sometimes we do not even see them, so we can all thrive, so we need that community to thrive."

Calvachi-Mateyko said that at a time when there are fears of deportation and increased threats of racism, the report sends an important message.

"Latinos in general are creating wealth in this state," she said. "We need to be very aware of this and see the Latino community in a different way – especially those who prefer that there is no change in the way they see America."

Easier, but not easy for newer immigrants

Recent immigration waves have more opportunities than their predecessors, thanks to expanded immigration services, according to the report. Second and third generation Latinx residents indicate that their parents have paved the way for their success.

The residents, who moved here a few years ago, will gradually benefit from their hard work, according to the report.

There are twice as many Latin American-owned companies in Sussex as twelve years ago, and a 165% increase in income between 2013 and 2017.

"When [my parents] They moved to open a Spanish-speaking church, but they could not live in a church of two or three people, so they both worked in chicken factories and in a production company, "Sanchez said. "They moved here with nothing, without a vehicle. They had accommodation, but that was it. … At the same time, they worked full-time, made ends meet, and tried to build a church in Sussex County, "Sanchez said.

"The goals of the first generation were always that their children have the opportunities and the success that they did not have, and for me personally it was a mindset:" You'll be better, it's not a choice or option, "she said with a laugh "They'll have better education, they will not have the same kinds of jobs we have, we're working to make them live a different life."

While many members of the community thrive, Sussex County still faces many challenges for immigrants. Although most residents of Latinx Sussex have a job and pay $ 50 million a year in taxes, 80% still live in poverty.

"It broke my heart when a Latino was so proud that he is the boss, and I said, 'How much do you earn? & # 39; The American supervisor, an Anglo-Saxon American supervisor, would receive $ 15 for the same work, "said Calvachi-Mateyko.

"The reality is on a large scale. Latinos are used for cheap labor, "she added. "Although they make the wealth, that is about one in ten [top] Tenths of a percent. "

Key to success

Economic mobility and a person's quality of life are highly dependent on immigration status, education and English skills, the report says.

For example, Puerto Ricans who are US citizens are not faced with the same insecurity as some Latin Americans from other countries, according to some respondents interviewed for the report. Undocumented immigrants face daily the fear of deportation and have no access to various services that require proof of residence.

They are also more likely to accept jobs while being paid under the table. This makes them vulnerable to abuse and long hours at low pay.

"They will start at these entry points and do the hard work to the best of their ability, and sometimes they will be abused and work for many, many hours, or 87 hours, without a break," said someone interviewed in the report ,

The majority of Sussex County Latinx residents immigrated from Guatemala and Mexico to avoid various forms of violence.

"Guatemalan immigrants, who trust neither the local officials nor the police, often report that they had to stay in their home country after 8:00 pm. or 21 o'clock because it was uncertain: "When I came here, I felt a difference, safety," says the report.

Guatemalans and Mexicans, who make up the bulk of the Latin American population in Sussex County, account for more than half of the state's undocumented immigrants.

Guatemalans also have less access to education – 9% of Guatemalans in Sussex County have a bachelor's degree, compared to 55% for Puerto Ricans and 35% for Mexicans. In addition, many indigenous Guatemalans speak their own language, not Spanish. This creates more obstacles as most service providers are limited to English or Spanish.

A challenge outlined in the report is the relatively high rental rates compared to income. Census data indicate that housing costs in Sussex County range from $ 750 to $ 1,000 per month. While the median income is $ 65,900, individuals pay 30% of their income for housing. Respondents to the report indicated that the properties are of poor quality despite the rents.

"There are many places where two and three families live in one house, many inferior conditions and many slumlord activities. That is a big problem. The enforcement of codes is very low here, and the enforcement of county codes is only complaint-based. If the code officials or anyone in the county see anything, they do not necessarily have to act on it, "one person said.

Study participants also reported barriers to conventional US health services, such as affordability, lack of access through employment, immigration status, transient living conditions and fear of exposure.

Calvachi-Mateyko said the political climate has made immigrants more insecure than ever – and said children were bullied by their peers more than a few years ago. But she is encouraged and inspired by the support in Sussex County. She said Spanish-speaking churches bring together immigrants and those who settled down years ago care for new arrivals.

"This commitment is incredibly beautiful. They feel that they need to do that in order to heal, to move on and to have a community, "said Calvachi-Mateyko. "That creates a sense of belonging, a feeling that they can bring their children into this world. They give us an amazing example of how, despite everything, they can build a new life. "

The report provides several recommendations for providing services to the Latinx community in Sussex County, including additional English lessons, home-buying support, incubators, and programs that help immigrants in their new community.

"They try to navigate a system that they do not understand, how can we help them understand better what support they have for their children's health care, how to get their children into schools, and how to use them in schools can thrive? " Said Comstock-Gay.

Sanchez, who works for the community organization La Colectiva de Delaware, Agrees that one of the biggest challenges for the residents of Sussex Latinx is navigating the system to support them in their individual needs.

"One of the biggest obstacles we hear from the community is understanding the system and accessing resources," she said. "There are many resources in the community, but they do not know about it, and sometimes even people offering new services do not communicate what they have to offer, we really strive to bring those organizations and resources together to make the community better to serve. "