South Mississippi seeing rise in Hispanic residents

mhalford@sunherald.comJune 28, 2014 

The number of Hispanic people in South Mississippi is on the rise, according to data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau, and most of that increase seems to be coming from the younger generations.

Since 2010, all six of the lower Mississippi counties saw growth in the number of Hispanic people living there, and those figures came as no surprise to Andy Guerra, executive director of the Gulf Coast Latin American Association.

"You have many families that have settled here, and the family has increased. There are more children now," Guerra said. "Right after Hurricane Katrina, men came here to work, and there are many men who decided to stay and bring their families."

The census data showed that between 2010 and 2013 in Harrison County the Hispanic population increased by nearly 8 percent. In Hancock County, it was up 13.5 percent, and the boost was largest in Jackson County with a 15.5 percent jump. With the growing number of Hispanics on the Coast, area groups are stepping up to address the needs of the community. The Diocese of Biloxi has eight Catholic churches that offer a Mass in Spanish on the weekends, and there's a director of Hispanic ministry charged with overseeing that need.

But one of the most obvious changes has been in the public school systems, as the surge of Hispanic children makes their way to the classroom. "Since about 2010 and

2011, we've seen a huge increase," said Janice Wilson, assistant superintendent of Biloxi Public Schools. "We're seeing it now, and we know it's probably going to keep increasing."

Because Biloxi schools have so many Hispanic students, they've added translators to their staff to keep up.

"When we have conferences with parents, we can bring in a translator," Wilson said. "We want them to be able to know how their child performs."

Wilson said the district plans to do something new this year and go out into the community to reach the parents of Hispanic students there.

"It's going to be very informal so they won't be intimidated," Wilson said. "They're appreciative when they know a person will be there to translate. They're more comfortable if it's an adult-to-adult conversation instead of their child translating for them, and that's what we want."

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