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Hispanic growth being seen in Sikeston, nation

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

SIKESTON -- As the area's Hispanic population is increasing, so is the demand for accommodating their needs.

Although the Hispanic population isn't as large as states like Texas, California or Florida, there is a growing number of Hispanic residents moving into Missouri -- even in Sikeston.

"They're slowly heading north from those bigger, southern agricultural states," said Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Missy Marshall. "The increasing population of Hispanics has been a trend for years, but people haven't really noticed it."

In 2002, the number of Hispanics, or Latinos, living within five miles of Sikeston city limits increased to 1.54 percent. Sixty percent of the Hispanics are Mexican, Marshall said. The remaining are Puerto Rican or Cuban.

"While that's not a high number, it is higher than it has been any other year," Marshall noted. "Many of the Hispanic residents living in Sikeston are migrant workers, restaurateurs, manufacturers and agricultural workers."

According to 2000 U.S. census data, the Hispanic population in the United States has risen 60 percent since 1990. The Small Business Administration estimates there are about 2 million Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States, generating about $300 billion in sales every single year.

Several area institutions have policies to accommodate non-

English speaking residents.

For example, Emily Featherston, nursing director of Missouri Delta Medical Center, said the hospital uses AT&T Language Services Line, a phone interpretation and translation service in over 140 languages to communicate with those who do not speak English. The hospital also has Spanish-speaking staff members, she said.

And since July 1999 Mass has been held in Spanish once a month at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Sikeston to accommodate the religious needs of the area's Hispanic Catholics.

Milagros Calvetti, director of Hispanic ministries for the Cape Girardeau-Springfield Diocese in Springfield, said services for Hispanics are very much needed in the Sikeston area.

"We do know that the Hispanic population as far as presence is growing. They're actually staying and not migrating like they have in the past. There are many who are settling down," Calvetti noted.

Rosalinda Scott, an interpreter for Sikeston Department of Public Safety, has lived in Sikeston for 20 years.

"A lot of the Hispanics who are arrested do not understand what is being told to them. I explain to them what is happening and tell the officers what their response is," Scott said.

Born in San Antonio, Texas, Scott moved to Sikeston with her husband after they married. The couple eventually divorced, but Scott decided to stay in Sikeston.

A general perception is that most of the 35.5 million Hispanics in America are "foreigners." But statistics indicate that isn't so. The 2000 Current Population Survey reports that only two of five Hispanics (39.1 percent) are foreign born.

Marshall said she thinks it's a huge benefit for today's students to pick up a second language, such as Spanish, because the Hispanic population is only going to increase.

Dr. Dieter Jedan, chairperson of the Department of Foreign Languages and Anthropology at Southeast Missouri State University, agreed.

More students are choosing to use Spanish in their criminal justice, advertising or business careers, Jedan explained. He looks for that number to increase, he said. Even over the past three and four years, Hispanics have grown nationwide in the advertising and entertainment industries, he pointed out.

The number of Spanish majors at Southeast has grown from 30 to about 55 over the past five years, Jedan said. However, the shift from a major in Spanish education to Spanish business has increased also.

Currently 12 students are enrolled in the Spanish class offered at the Sikeston Area Higher Education Center. Jedan said the department hopes more classes will be offered at SAHEC in the future.

"Southeast Missouri does play a big role in employing the Hispanic population," Jedan said. "Many of the companies, especially smaller companies in the Sikeston area, do employ Spanish-speaking employees because they know they'll need Spanish interpreters to find a labor force in years to come."