A gathering of the North Charleston community to inform them of the latest changes in South Carolina's immigration policy. Photo courtesy of Lydia Cotton

By Lydia Cotton

As a liason to South Carolina’s North Charleston Hispanic community, I assess the needs of the community and do my best to provide resources to meet those needs. One of the dominant questions is about access. Being lost in translation is a consistent issue that comes up in Hispanic homes in my area. Often, I ask these families why communication is such a problem. The answer usually is, “Miss Lydia, they [agencies, government, organizations, churches, businesses] do not understand what I’m saying. They don’t understand my situation.” These are communities that function in Spanish and are doing their best to learn English. The waiting list for English classes is sometimes long and they are not always accessible to those that need them most.

My life changed dramatically after surviving a cancerous brain tumor in 2003. Since then I strive to live a safer, healthier, and happier life. I’m a volunteer who connects people to the services they need. I was born in Puerto Rico and though I’m a US citizen, I fully understand how these immigrant Hispanic families can feel out of place. Some of them live in fear, not trusting government agencies or police enforcement. They are parents, workers, students, South Carolinians who face additional challenges because of their accents.

Hispanic volunteers with the local fire department. Photo courtesy of Lydia Cotton

A few weeks ago, I met an older couple María and Jesús. She is a legal resident and he is undocumented. They had been living in their car for months. I took them to the biggest shelter in North Charleston for help. The intake staff were English speaking only and not very helpful. There was no room. There was no explanation on what they could do, how they could better their situation. María and Jesús were anxious to find stability, so they could contribute to their communities as they did before experiencing homelessness.

Through my community contacts and through a local church we found a family who was able to provide temporary housing. I provided them with information on how to find a job and the last I heard they now have a permanent place to live. They are back on track with their lives and an active part of the North Charleston community.

We need a better system of communication from service providers. There’s no real public education getting to the people about the services available to them so they can be fully integrated into our community. Spanish language radio, for example, airs a lot of music and jokes, but not a lot of substance.

Most of the New Americans coming to North Charleston are from Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Peru, Colombia and have varying degrees of education. The majority of them come from rural areas. All communictaion to these communities should be in the most accessible language possible in English and Spanish. I’m asking for all of us to be more mindful about how we communicate with the communities that are most affected by the immigration policies that are in place.

The rich diversity, economic opportunity, and cultural interaction that these newcomers bring to our state are great assets to the well being of everyone. We can only move forward together if we understand each other. Next time you feel someone is lost in translation, please be patient and find a way to transmit the message simply. One day you may find yourself in the same situation.

Celebrating Three Kings Day. Photo courtesy of Lydia Cotton


Lydia Cotton, a liaison to South Carolina's North Charleston Hispanic community, is part of the South Carolina Immigration Coalition


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