Charlie Pardo

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Interview Text and Audio


The interview begins briefly with a description of Officer Charlie Pardo’s childhood and how his childhood life living in Puerto Rico differs from the childhood life his children are living in North Carolina today. He discusseed his background education, how he came to his position with the Chapel Hill Police Department, and about the experiences he has had with the Latino community in Chapel Hill, N.C. and Carrboro, N.C. He reminded the interviewer during the interview that Puerto Rico is a United States district, and therefore Pardo and his family were also United States citizens. Before the interview, the interviewer thought of the adjective “Latino” to describe a person from Latin America or with a Hispanic background, but in reality, Latinos are such a diverse category of people that physical appearance is not a good way to identify people. The interview focused on the integration process of Latinos in the Chapel Hill, N.C. and Carrboro, N.C. Community. Pardo agrees that the language barrier often deepens the segregation in our society, but that if Latinos work hard enough, they can find jobs just like the rest of us. He then discussed obstacles Latinos face in obtaining driver’s licenses due to their lack of social security numbers. Officer Pardo believes the issue concerning legal and illegal immigration is more of a federal governmental problem than a community problem and that certain laws make it hard for immigrants to integrate fully into American societies. Officer Pardo believes the problem of Latino segregation in our community is caused by the government who either does not enact enough laws to ensure the rights of Latinos in our community or who places laws which are too strict and prevents Latinos from gaining a higher social status in our community. We discussed ways in which Officer Pardo works to help this problem and ways in which our community can improve relationships between immigrants and native residents. Officer Pardo is a member of La Comunidad Juntos Hispanos which meets to discuss issues that are affecting the local Hispanic community and then devises a plan to better serve the needs of the community. Lastly, we discussed how personal relationships, such as taking a Latino to an American church can help close the barrier which separates the two communities.



Miranda: Okay. This is an interview with officer Pardo on February 28, 2012. My name is Miranda Wodarski and I am a sophomore at UNC Chapel Hill. I am conducting this oral history project with hopes to learn more about the legal rights of immigrants in Carrboro and Chapel Hill in order help link the American population with the immigrant community. It is Tuesday February 28 and is about 2:00 in the afternoon.
Good Morning Officer Pardo, How are you today?
Officer Pardo: Good Morning, I'm doing fine.
M: Great. Before I begin to ask you some questions I would like to give you some background information on some of my research and my goals for this project. As you know, Latinos are today’s fastest growing minority in North Carolina. Recently the town of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and surrounding areas have seen a steady growth in this segment of the population. This immigration influx however, alters the dynamics of a traditionally homogenous community. Much of this immigration is unwanted and therefore when immigrants do arrive to our community, community members become very hostile and unwelcoming towards the immigrants, creating a segregated community. I have recently learned from a recent national survey that nearly half, about 49 percent of Americans expressed a preference for a lower level of immigration, compared with 14 percent who would like to see immigration increased; the remaining 33 percent favored the present level of immigration. In another survey, 46 percent of Americans believed that “immigrants are having a bad influence on the way things are going” in the United States. However, nearly as many thought that immigrants were having a beneficial impact, while more than one in 10 respondents had no opinion. One of my goals of this project is to discover why nearly half of Americans believe immigrants are having a bad influence in our community. Another goal of mine is to discover ways to overcome these negative opinions Americans have towards immigrants and to help produce better relationships between immigrants and Americans in my community. I am aware that you were interviewed last April by Becca Messinger, another student at Chapel Hill. This interview is archived in the Southern Oral History Project Database in Wilson Library at UNC and is open for all students to access and to listen to. I listened to this interview in order to learn more about Becca’s project as well as more information about you and your profession. I am currently a member of an organization at UNC called Linking Immigrants to New Communities also known as LINC and I am on the “Know Your Rights” committee with Becca. Through this committee and through the process of this project, I hope learn more about the rights immigrants are entitled to in our community and to teach both Americans and Latinos about these rights in order for relationships to grow. By asking you some of these questions, I hope learn more about the current status of the relationships between Americans and immigrants in our community and ways in which we can help. Okay. So I am aware that you are a native Spanish speaker who was born in New York. You told Becca that your grandfather is a Spanish immigrant and that your mom is from Puerto Rico. After moving back to Puerto Rico with her you spent you childhood in a Spanish speaking community, correct?
OP: Yes, I did.
M: Okay. Could you briefly describe the differences in your lifestyles, living in Puerto Rico and then in America?
OP: Well, first of all Puerto Rico is part of America. Every, everybody born in Puerto Rico is a US citizen so I mean, I want to make that clear.
Um and like you said I was born in New York City. That is where my parents met and I did um my parents both mom and dad moved with me when I was a baby to Puerto Rico where I grew up because her family was there and also the tropical weather, did you want to live in New York City or in Tropical Paradise. So I'm really glad they did that. The differences are you still have Puerto Rico is very interesting because you have the Latino culture, the Hispanic culture but then in a lot of ways they’re very Americanized. Meaning that it is a territory of the United States there is a big American influence. Music, styles, fashion and even the slang that people use even though everybody speaks Spanish as their native language um we use a lot of English slang from you know things that people are videos and music and what not and television and so forth. Um so I don't know that there is a whole lot of differences in growing up in Puerto Rico than the language and yeah there is the, I guess the culture. But in a lot of ways it's similar to the United States. If that makes sense.
M: Yes it does.
OP: Okay.
M: It sounds like a great place; I want to go there someday. Who did you live with when you were growing up in Puerto Rico?
OP: Both my mom and dad.
M: Okay. Do you have any siblings?
OP: I do. I have a brother who now lives in Connecticut and he's actually works in the school system as a counselor. Um and then my parents got divorced when I was around ten years old and Dad moved here to North Carolina and I have three other siblings from his second marriage which we're very close. I have two sisters and brothers from his second marriage.
M: Okay, great. Did you only speak Spanish when you were living in Puerto Rico or did the Span American influence help you to speak English or influence you to speak more English?
OP: That's a great question. No I spoke only Spanish. However, um in schools in Puerto Rico um you know they, we studied English as a regular subject from you know first grade on. Um and I also went to a private school that had a strong um I guess English program you know it’s like school, some schools have a stronger program than others. The English program where I went to was pretty strong and um one thing that my Dad did being that that both my parents were bilingual are bilingual um was that he um subscribed to an English newspaper called San Juan Star. So then we lived in San Juan and that's why it was called San Juan Star. Um so that we would whenever I wanted to read the paper do any kind of research for school so I would have to read it in English. So I was very fortunate that my parents wanted to educate me in the English language from a young age. So I read it, I could understand it however, I had a very strong accent when I spoke it. Which when I moved here um I was kind of self-conscious about it at first and then um this is kind of a funny thing but I found out that the girls liked my accent so then I was talking to them all the time you know, all the time kind of making my accent thicker. But that's a little side joke. (Laughing) So...yeah.
M: Okay that's great. I... wish my parents would have done that in North Carolina. Last semester I volunteered at a dual-language elementary school and I worked with first graders where some of the American first graders were almost better at speaking Spanish than I was and I have taken for several years now and they have not they’ve just been adapting it because they’re in classes with other um Spanish speaker speaking students and have or are forced to speak Spanish when they’re writing reading or their teachers would only speak Spanish to them so I think that’s a great to learn Spanish; to incorporate at a very young way, young age. Okay could you briefly describe the community as far as um the people and activities you did growing up in Puerto Rico.
OP: Um hmm let me say I well like I said I went to a private school very I was very involved in sports, I played baseball it’s kind of like second nature if you’re born in Puerto Rico you’ve got to play baseball. It’s a kind of expected so I do that with my son and my daughters are involved with soccer so we are very involved in sports. Growing up um the beach was a big part of my life that was the hardest thing living at the beach because pretty much we grew up I grew up around I don't know maybe a mile or two from the beach um so um when I started college in Puerto Rico one of the hardest things was go to class to see your buddies you know the student union area and you know in their board shorts ready to go the beach you know let me see pyschology101 or the beach? (M: the beach) and I you know for an 18 year old it was a pretty tough decision and the beach always won the battle (M: of course) so that beach was a big part of my life. Um, my dad had a boat growing up and so he kept us in the water with him all the time doing a lot of snorkeling and scuba diving and fishing. And then you know, a natural transgression from being in the water all the time to surfing and um windsurf and you name it, we were doing it. So it was it was really cool to grow up and being so involved in sports and water sports and you know I think um it was way for my dad to keep us really close to him in a way and my mom too. My mom was really involved as well but we did a lot of stuff you with dad and um and a lot of our friends and you know it was just really neat and I try to do a lot of stuff with my kids now like trying to find activities that that we can do together, they can enjoy. And we can enjoy as a family. But family is really big in the Hispanic culture, it’s really important in Puerto Rico um we every Sunday we would visit our Grandma and you know a lot of people do that here as well but um its really when you think of family you think of ah aunts and uncles and cousins you know here when we think of family it seems more like most people think of the people that live in your house.
M: Right your mom, dad, siblings.
OP: Mom dad and the siblings but there when I think of family it’s just like my cousins my aunts my uncle my you know my grandparents and um and that was a big part of our life as well.
M: Very cool. Um when you said you went to the beach with your friends and you saw your classmates were these classmates um primarily Puerto Rican as well?
(Phone rings, but is ignored)
OP: Yea.yea. The majority of folks that I associated with um were Puerto Rican kids from Puerto Rico, yea.
M: Okay. Okay, would to get the phone? I can pause it.
OP: No it's fine. We have an answering machine.
M: Are you sure?
OP: Yea.
M: Okay. I am aware that you are the Chapel Hill Police Department Hispanic Latino Community Liaison Officer and that this position was established to reach out to the growing Latino population in Chapel Hill. When did you begin working as the chapel Hill Police Department Hispanic Latino Community officer?
OP: Umm pretty much I think from day one without knowing. I came to the Chapel Hill Police Department in 1998 as a Patrol Officer you know everybody comes in as a Patrol Officer. And my goal at the time um after I graduated college was to come here for two years and then apply for a federal agency. That was uh my goal. Um but um I kind of fell in the area, fell in love with what I did, um working in this community, um you know met my wife and even even after we met we talked about it because she that my goal was to go work with the Feds. But that would entail moving around a lot and I think that um once you start creating a family, once you get married and we start talking kids and so forth you kind of you start looking at where you’re going to live where you’re going to raise your kids and stuff. And uh the Federal job and moving around a lot wherever they needed me because they would move you um you know based on language skills and so forth. Um kind of looking less attractive at the time. But to kind of stay on track with your question, um back in 98’ when I was working patrol I was pretty much was pretty much that I know of the only bilingual native speaker so to speak Spanish speaking officer in the county so I found myself as a very rookie Patrol officer. Not really young because I got into the field a little later. Um I was already in my very early 30's where now we have officers who are twenty two, twenty three years old, you know. Um so very early my career I found myself just involved in cases and situations that most rookie officers would not and I was arresting and getting sexual assaults and helping with a homicide case in Carrboro and you know just things that because they needed my language skills and I had to do the interviews and I had to talk to the community and I had to get them to trust me to talk to the police and that kind of stuff. So um I it really helped the fact that they knew that well this is a Hispanic Officer, not just an officer who speaks Spanish. You know, and they could relate to me a little better so I think I started in that role ah without knowing because once I had interacting with um folks in the Hispanic community, then uh word of mouth spread that hey there’s a Puerto Rican officer at Chapel Hill that you can go talk to and then they would come and ask for me by name and ask me questions and you know kind of the record questions and wanted to kind of build you know trust with me and so forth. So, the position officially I think about two years after that um maybe three is when you know the chief and I sat down and talked about it and he said you know I'd like to put you in a or actually I take that back. I applied to community services which is the unit I am currently in. And my sales pitch at that time to the chief was that we could create a Hispanic Liaison position. And he liked it cause you had to do kind of a proposal and you have to go through the interview board and everything I said you know that way I could not only do the job that the community service officers do cause we were a lot of different hats here it was just one of the roles that I played. But we could also you know incorporate more outreach because I was finding myself very involved and educating the community and doing meetings and you know in regards to law enforcement questions if they had crime prevention issues and so forth.
M: Okay that's a great answer. Last year you described your typical day as a Hispanic Latino Community Liaison officer um to Becca. And you told Becca that the first thing you do once you arrive to the office each day is to review reports from either the weekend or the night before. Has this changed in the past years? The past year?
OP: No. That’s typically how we start our day um including myself we just um go through the reports to see what happened when we weren’t here basically and um we get cases assigned to us to follow up on or you know we find cases that eh typically with me if there are any cases involving Hispanics or Latinos who don't speak English then I'll follow up on those to make things a lot easier for them and for our investigators and officers and so forth. Um if they speak English then you know pretty much any officer can follow up on or investigate as needed. but um if there’s a language barrier typically they'll assign them to me or if I have a history with that person umm they can relate better to me if it will be helpful then they’ll assign it to me and I’ll follow up with them.
M: Okay great. Could you give an example of a recent report that you have taken involving Latinos?
OP: Umm. Yeah there's actually a couple of ladies they came to see me yesterday and this is in kind of one of those really unfortunate cases. But it involved a lady who separated from her husband. I had helped her years with her teenage daughter at the time who was kinda misbehaving, kinda a um you know uh, leaving the house at night, and wanted to you know hang out with her friends and you know going to clubs when she was only 13, 14 years old and uh you know the clubs were actually letting her in and that kind of stuff so we dealt with those behavior issues. I was able to help her and now um you know that young lady is married and has a child and she is doing really great. But now the her mother came to see me she has a young daughter um who is uh showing some issues of you know misbehaving for a lack of better word and unfortunately she suspects there may have been some um sexual abuse that that may have been done to the little girl and that’s how she’s kind of um acting that’s how she is acting which she is. So, that’s a case where she came to me to talk me based on the relationship we’ve had from the past where I helped her with another case and were trying to figure out the best way to help the situation and you know uh obviously going through the legal system filing a report and going through the assess and finding the ah you know the help for the girl that she needs. And getting to the bottom of it we don’t know if there has been any kind of sexual um molestation or anything at this point yet until they do a forensic interview with professionals in that field.
M: Okay great. Do you think that this woman came to you based on your previous connections with her or do you think the fact that you speak Spanish also influenced her to come specifically to you?
OP: I think both. Um I think definite because you know there’s you know we’re kind of acquaintances now. She knows that I was able to help her in the past and obviously and yea the language barrier is an issue. Even though her daughter, her older daughter speaks perfect English and she can interpret for her. But um I think that you know she feels like she can be straight forward, honest with me and um you know I'll do whatever I can to try and help her out.
M: That's great that Latinos in our community have that opportunity to do that. Okay this brings me to my next question. Would you say you have personal contact with the Latin Latino community on a daily basis? And if not, how often do you think you have contact?
OP: I don't know that in a daily basis, but I would say definitely in a weekly basis. And it varies from day to day just like anything. I mean one day I can have two or three contacts with Latinos and, you know um but definitely on a weekly basis and then you know there could be a day that I don't have any contacts mostly probably because I'm not in the office um you know the this is our office it’s not um were not here every day sitting in this office we're out and about, you know visiting folks doing trainings and presentations and doing different things so you know there are times that people come by when we're not here. And they'll tell me and they'll call and say "I came by your office and you weren't there," and I’m like well you know did we have an appointment, “um no, okay,” you know, “wanna catch me there for sure you need to make an appointment.” Because I my job is not sitting here at the desk. you know um I'm out and about constantly I go to meetings in Cary, I go to meetings in Raleigh, I go you know I, there’s a lot of different tasks, forced meetings, meetings in Carrboro so you know sometimes we meet to plan to plan the next meeting, you know.
M: Oh yes (laughing)
OP: You know, we meet to meet to meet.
M: Yea.
OP: So you know.
M: Okay great. Um, do you live in Chapel Hill or Carrboro?
OP: No. I live in Raleigh.
M: Okay, I'm from Raleigh as well. Which part of Raleigh do you live in?
OP: I live in Northwest Raleigh area.
M: Okay.
OP: Off of Leesville Road area.
M: Okay I know exactly where that is. Leesville High School is in my district but I live um closer to NC State off Gorman Street.
OP: Okay, yeah.
M: So we are close.
OP: Very close.
M: Um...What is your neighborhood like in Raleigh? Um, as far as the integration between Latinos and American Americans. Are there other Latinos who live in your neighborhood or is it primarily um or is it a mix of ethnicities?
OP: I think it’s a mix. I mean I have met people in the neighborhood that are from Latin America well, um so I think I think its um yeah just like most neighborhoods now it’s got a good mix of folks, definitely.
M: Okay. Then I noticed this wasn't in the planned questions, but I noticed that your wife doesn't look to be Latino, is this correct?
OP: Yea, no she’s from here. She’s from here. Her parents were from came to North Carolina from New York originally. And she grew up since she was one in Texas and grew up in the Raleigh area. So she’s a Raleigh girl. But she is actually a Spanish teacher. So she does speak Spanish.
M: Yes, I saw that from Becca's interview. That's very interesting. Did you guys have any Spanish connections when meeting or was did you know you spoke that she spoke when you first met her?
OP: Yea. It was interesting but we met at a she went to Meredith College, and she was a waitress and a Spanish and math major. So she was waitressing at a Mexican restaurant in Cary to keep her Spanish cause she had studied abroad in Spain and so her Spanish was really good she said that's what made her Spanish stronger when she went abroad for a semester. Um when she came back she said, "if I don’t speak it, I’m going to lose it," so she basically took this job so she could be around Spanish speaking people and she said that the whole staff and the kitchen, none of them spoke English so she was able to speak Spanish to them constantly. And interesting enough, my uh roommate at the time was a guy from Venezuela that lived in and went to NC State; we lived together in Raleigh. And he was working in that restaurant as well; it was full of college students working there. And so I went to the restaurant eating and she was my waitress and we kind of made eye contact and you know started flirting I guess (laughing). And before you know we went out on a date and you know what a year and half later or 2 yea we got married. So, you know.
M: That’s great. That's good advice because I plan on studying abroad in Chile in the fall and I was wondering if I could, would be able to keep it up when I got back but I have other plans too, to do that as well. I plan to study abroad multiple times, so.
OP: That’s awesome. Yea the trick to it according to my wife is to you know obviously use it you know, surround yourself preferable around people that don't speak English because if not, people will ask you in English, will talk English to you but she said that she thought she knew a lot of Spanish because she went to Spain and lived with a family in Spanish and that she felt lost but she said within a couple of week or two she said you know, it kinda clicked and that's what really helped her.
M: Okay, great. I am excited to go to Mexico this week to start practicing with some Mexicans. Okay. In your opinion, do you think that the Chapel Hill/Carrboro community displays a good example of Latino/American integration?
OP: I think so. I think that, this Chapel Hill and Carrboro community is very welcoming. I think people from what they tell me they migrate to the area because they, they feel safe. They're really good services. Um the schools I mean the Carrboro and Chapel Hill schools are amazing. I went to read to an elementary class at Frank Porter Graham the other day and it was a dual language class.
M: That's the school that I volunteered at last semester. I agree, I loved the opportunity that English students had the ability to learn Spanish so easily.
OP: And yea I asked the teacher and she said "are you a native speaker?" and I said "yes" and she said "well can you read to them in Spanish?" and I said "of course" so I read a book to them in Spanish and they were all so excited and then we read a book in English and so it was really neat and yea and I just for Spanish but I understand that a couple of the schools offer Chinese and I think Japanese and a couple other languages as well. So I think in that regard to Chapel Hill and Carrboro schools are ahead of the ball game. My kids go to a Montessori dual language school. A Spanish immersion school actually my son is there now, my two daughters have moved on. But yeah so I am trying to do this same thing. I am trying to raise my kids bilingual as well. And, it’s not easy and especially if it would be easier if I didn't speak English. But you know because English is their first language, their growing up here but you know the more I speak to them and the more I keep them in you know immersed in that school and it’s been really good for them. But right now all fluent and can speak and read and write in English and in
M: That's great. I plan to do that with my children too, whether I marry a Latino or not.
OP: Yeah, it's awesome. I mean it’s ‘definitely an advantage.
M: Right. Okay, I was I actually don't see as much integration in, on campus and in Carrboro and downtown Chapel Hill. Although, I did volunteer at Frank Porter and believe that that's a great immersion for, English students. It's also when I go to Carrboro to Weaver Street Market or out to eat, I often see a strong divide between the American and the Latino population. Um, for example, last semester I conducted an interview with the owner of “Don Jose Tienda” and it's a little tienda on Rosemary Street in Carrboro and although she spoke both English and Spanish, the other workers only spoke Spanish and also I noticed that the other shoppers were all Latinos and my friend and I were the only English speakers in the store other than the owner but she was speaking to us in Spanish and I also noticed that Don Jose only sells products from Spanish speaking countries and the owner told us that most of her products were from Central America or Mexico. And this is clearly evident when you walk inside. So I was curious to know why you think this is the case and why there is such a large divide between the Latino and American population in this store or in the Carrboro community.
OP: Well you know I that's a really good question. I think a lot of it has to do with the language barrier you know if folks don't speak the language you tend to kind of find your own people that can, that can, you know that have things in common with you and that can communicate with you and I think the best example would be you know I don't speak French, for example, or German so if I went to Germany I would and I was going to live there, I would defiantly wanna find other Americans or you know in my case somebody that spoke Spanish and had a Hispanic background because like in my case, I feel comfortable in both groups. You know I feel comfortable with English speaking Americans or Spanish speaking Americans or Hispanics or whatever. Um so, you know and actually I think its human nature to kind of find your own and find people that (pause) that have things in common with you. And the other factors other than the language barrier, the other factor is the education and socioeconomic status, and I think that you know for example, the Hispanic who live in my neighborhood are all professionals. Who are all people who have gone to college and that you know are bilingual but they are like me they have their Hispanic background. You know its part of who they are. But they can assimilate to the culture because they have a higher level of education and they're bilingual and so forth. So if you go to Duke University, for example when I went to East Carolina, that's where I graduated from, you know I came to Chapel Hill, you know like typical a college student to go to the bars and hang out and you know go dancing and so forth. And you know like I hang out with a mixed group of kids that were you know from that were from here, some were from here some were from Virginia, some were from Venezuela. We all had in common we went to the same school and we all hung out together. And we met a group of girls I remember at I think it was He's Not Here And they were from Duke and they were all Spanish. You know, so it was exciting to me and I found out oh you know a couple of girls were Puerto Rican, one was Mexican, one was Colombian, they were all hanging out together but you wouldn't have known by the way they look that it's a misconception that everybody thinks that you know that Hispanics are all dark haired, dark skinned, or whatever. And until I started speaking and I caught the accent of one of them, and I said "Hey, you know, are you Spanish? And she said, “Yeah,” and we started talking. Then I found that there was a big of you know Hispanics at Duke University and I’m sure at UNC that you know come study you know that are studying here, studying abroad or in this case studying in the States or you know like my children are born from you know Hispanic parents or have Hispanic parents or whatever and they you know still speak the language and so forth. So a lot of the people that we're seeing in the street and your everyday walk a life of things in Chapel Hill and Carrboro may be folks that are from uh you know lower socioeconomic class or people that just have just moved here. And are here and are trying to better themselves and they don’t speak the language and they’re you know working you know more the labor types job and so forth. So I think that in itself creates the divide. Like I said the socioeconomic and the language barrier. Does that make sense?
M: Yes, and I agree completely you on that. I'm curious to know why you think our community doesn't work hard to fix this problem or do you it it's not a problem?
OP: I think it is a problem and I think that the problem is not so much a community problem as it is a federal issue. I think it starts from the federal government. And without me getting into my personal opinions about stuff, if you have a family that comes here from South or Central America and they have a child now and their child now is you know, born in North Carolina and they’re attending local schools. You know once they get to, once they graduate high school, they can’t go to college because they’re you know, they don't have social security number or whatever the case may be and that's an issue. Um so I think that whole integration and the issue is it's bigger than just our community. If that makes sense, if I'm explaining myself.
M: Yes. I, I believe you and I agree with that as well. Okay. I'm also aware that you were awarded the recipient of the El Centro Latino Award for your outstanding service and support of the Latino community in 2007. And it was noted that the award was given to you to "recognize individuals who help the community." And fellow officer’s Fellow officers and El Centro Latino leaders say Hispanics needing assistance regularly seek your help. This organization says they chose to give you this award based on your involvement with the Hispanic population, your participation in the Orange County Latino Issues Committee and your ability to connect the Latino community to the broader community. So I am aware that you do a lot of things to help this integration problem. And I was curious to know if you still work for La Comunidad Juntos Hispanos also known as the Orange County Hispanic Affairs Committee?
OP: Yea, it's not, I don't work for the organization, and I’m part of the task force. So it’s a committee that meets once a month and it you know there's several different organizations that attend and people representers from the schools and uh law enforcement and social services and so forth. And we just discuss issues that are affecting the local Hispanic community and how to better serve the needs of the community. Um and that was a big part of how I got involved um you know ten years ago. With helping the uh the recent immigrants understand you know our driving laws, how to get a license, you know, the educated people and with the DWI issues and everything like that, that uh that I said how to get a license. And at the time you could obtain a drivers license using a what was called a ITIN number an individual tax and identification number. So you know we were able to educate folks in how to get that license and how to keep it because uh you know I would tell them and I would always be very honest and when I'm speaking to groups in Spanish you know I don't, I don't make promises I can’t keep. I don’t sugar coat stuff I just tell them these are the facts. You know, it’s easy to get this license, it’s what you need to do but it’s really easy to lose and so we would do our workshops like that and so forth and the reason we don't do many of those anymore is because the Latino community now knows that if they don't have if they don’t have, things have changed since then, and now you don’t have a social security number you can't get a driver’s license. So that's really hampered um those ways to help them because uh if they can’t get a social security, that’s it. you know it used to be they uh wanted to know how to get that ITIN number so they can get their license, but that’s where I was saying the problem is bigger than our community, and you know people used to come here up until recently and say "you know Charlie my license is about to expire, how can I renew it? And I said, “well do you have a social security number?” and they say, “No, I can't get one.” So I say, “We can't renew it.” I mean it’s a simple answer, so they don’t need a workshop on that.
M: Right.
OP: You know they just know it is what it is and it’s outside of our, you know, we can’t do anything about it. and then you know they said you know we have to drive and I tell them I understand that but you also know you are putting yourself at risk because if you get caught driving without a license you can get cited and you can get arrested. So that’s where, you I provide that information but I also I keep being very real with the facts, and I can't make them promises that all the officers are not going to arrest because the officer that that is involved in that traffic stop ultimately has discretion of what they're gonna do. And yes, we wanna help folks in our community when we understand there’s a need, but also our job is to enforce the laws. And also for you know for every thousand people that are out there trying to better themselves and do the right thing and get their kids to school and go to work there is also the criminal element. And where you know I also let them know that they're folks out 9there that are trying to bad things. Whether they’re Hispanic or you know Anglos or African American or wherever they’re from. We have to make sure that we keep everybody, you know equally safe.
M: Okay. Other than the Federal obstacles that you face with trying to help Latinos, what are some other ways in which you work to connect the Latino community to the broader community or try to help do this?
OP: I think just basically connecting them to services that are available and you know the Caldo group, the Caliente Asuntos, Latinos Orange, or Orange County Hispanic Affairs Committee. Um well it has been a great networking opportunity because there are services that are there for ah people that have you know preschool age children that need child care. I mean that’s a lot of the stay home moms that are trying to work and they have you know a kid or child or two and you know they can find somewhere they can help them take care of that child, services for those children un that would go a long way. And finding you know uh a medical assistance you know the clinics and just a lot the little different things like that, just connecting them to services that are available. You know assisting of victims of domestic violence like you know the phone call I had when you were walking in. That involves that has been uh a victim of very serious domestic violence and now she’s trying to obtain to a federal program a U-visa, which is basically a, and you’ve probably have heard of the U-Visa, so it’s a temporary visa that would allow her to at least stay in the country legally and work legally until hopefully she can apply for, for a full visa. And that that is a federal program that helps not just victims of domestic violence but victims of any kind of serious crime. So that in the case of domestic victims they don't have to stay in that bad relationship or very dangerous relationship based on the fact that they need the income from that person. To help them survive or live. So little things like that anything that that we can do help and a lot of times just help, help them understand their rights. You know that they are, that they’re victim of a crime regardless if they’re undocumented or not, we don’t even ask that question. You know we don’t, I mean honestly we don’t care. If you live in this community or work in this community or come to this community and you’re a victim of a crime, we are gonna help in any which way that we can.
M: That's great. That’s what the committee I’m on works to do as well. The "Know Your Rights" Committee of the Linking immigrants to new communities so we are trying to help you and other community members do this as well. Um, Do you, how do you think Latinos could improve their social status in our community most successfully? Um do you think immigrants have the desire to improve their social status or do you think they are complacent with this the segregation of the language barrier and the socio-economic barrier?
OP: I don't know, I think that varies from family to family and person to person. I get I do hear a lot of families that say you know they moved here to provide a better life for their children and as much concern for themselves as for their kids. And they want their children to be able to get an education and you know we all want for our kids. And be able to live a better life and they live and their doing everything in their power to provide that for them, so you know, like I said, I mean I can’t answer for all the families out there but I'm sure that the majority of them are working hard and are willing to do whatever it takes work wise, I was talking to a gentlemen the other day that you know works at Bojangle’s from like 4 in the morning till like two in the afternoon and then at five o clock he goes to McDonalds and works from five o’clock to midnight. And I was like wow when do you sleep? And he said, I don't. You know and it’s sad but that’s a hard working man, I mean and my heart goes out to him, he's trying to do whatever he can to provide for his family. Um and how can you fault anybody from doing that, you know? They’re just trying to do the right thing.
M: Yes, I’ve met some very dedicated Latinos as well. I also volunteer at an ESL class and I’ve been to several different ESL classes and it always amazes me how many adults show up so anxious to learn English from college students who are helping our community. It's just a great inspiration that they actually do want to learn the language that is spoken primarily here, but I also think it's equally important for American college students to take Spanish and to also be able to communicate with these immigrants in their own language too. And that I feel like that can help close the divide as well; Not only for the Latinos to learn our language but for us to learn theirs. I think that will help the integration problem as well.
OP: Well I think that like you and I were talking about earlier, it’s so important for us to learn another a second language, whatever it is and teach our children you know there was, when I was growing up there were there was a joke that people said, "What do you call a person who speaks two languages?" and you know we said, bilingual. "What do you call somebody who speaks three languages?" And people would look at you and say, "Trilingual, I guess!" Say, "What do you call somebody who speaks one language?" and they would say, "American."(M laughing) And if you think about it, it’s funny, but it’s true because people said well English is, you know the world's language. And in a way it is. But the world is at an advantage and we're falling at a disadvantage when you have people in the Middle East that who speak our language, but we can't understand them. You know whether even if they have an accent or whatever they can communicate and can understand what we're saying. But we can’t understand what they’re saying, so it’s really important for Americans to just kind of get off that you know everybody has to speak our language if they want to deal with us or do business with us or whatever because we are seeing, you know and were seeing in the last couple of years here the way the economics are in the world and everything that we're not that super powerful nation that we were and if we want to remain powerful we have to empower ourselves and you know, you know I tell my kids all the time, even though they’re little I say you know son daddy has a good job because daddy you know speak a second language. And you know that there’s other things that daddy can do, you know I went to college and so forth. But I enjoy my job and I tell them you know I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of being able to help making a difference in somebody's life. you know there's a lot of people that have really happening jobs there that are making good money and probably live in a much bigger house than mine, but I get a lot of personal satisfaction uh everyday saying you know, that I probably made a difference in somebody’s life today sometimes without even knowing. So, you know and I tell them it’s really important so you can help people out there, and you know but I go to a meeting and I talk to parents about getting a TV and their kids are involved in gangs and they have no clue and they don't know. And I'm able to speak in their language and tell them these are the things you need to look for and you know and people come over at the end of the meeting and they give you a hug because I didn’t know that my kid was involved in this in this and what not and you know it feels good to be able to help. It feels you made a difference.
M: That's so great, that's one of my life goals as well and I think learning Spanish and having this much experience is going to help me do that as well. So that brings me to my next questions, if, I was curious to know if you think it's easy for Latinos in our community to find a job if they cannot speak English.
OP: I don’t think it's easy, but I know that they are very determined to do whatever it takes and you know if you, if you go to a lot of the fast food restaurants nowadays, the majority of the staff you know are Latinos or Hispanics. Obviously the construction industry, you know the landscaping, you know uh so they will the new immigrants that are coming to the area you know they maybe be undocumented and I think that's the majority of the people we're talking about. Its people that, that obviously don't have the ability to you know get a higher education and then so they can do some kind of other job. They have to do a lot of the labor type work and they will they will find, I mean there's folks in Carrboro you can see the day labors that are standing in the corner trying to find a job. You know people come and pick them up for the day to go do whatever kind of work. So even in the construction industry, whenever a building is going up somewhere, you see a lot of Hispanic Latinos that are working for these big companies. So somehow they are finding a way to get hired. I don't know how or what they do or you know but yea. But now to get those you know to get the high paying jobs that require higher education and so forth it’s probably a little harder if you don’t have, if you're not documented and you have to pay out of state tuition or you know you can’t get a driver's license, I mean it’s basic things, you know, if a job requires drivers licenses and you can't get one, you don't have one, what are you going to do?
M: Do you ever suggest to any of your clients or you’re friends who are having problems finding a job, do you ever recommend that they learn English? Or do you recommend other ways of finding jobs such as searching or standing on the side of the road looking for a job?
OP: You know I’ve never had to make that recommendation but when I do talk to folks and they said well I’m you know trying to find a job I know that El Centro Hispano has a book that of jobs available and employers go there and you know you, and let them know when they’re hiring and put out information and so forth that we all always do talk about the fact that learning English, learning the language, its vital, it’s very important, however you and I know, that as adults it’s really hard to learn a language, it’s not as easy. We have police officers that go Spanish for law enforcement classes on a regular basis and they still can't speak Spanish. So you know they may be able to ask you for your license and that’s and that’s what I tell them, cause they say, "Hey how can I become bilingual? How can I learn a language?" I said “well you’re going to have to, you know study intensively and maybe study abroad for a while and do stuff like that.” But one of these week long classes even some of the immersion classes that the North Carolina Justice Academy had used to have I don’t know if they still have them. But I've taught in some of those classes where it would be it would like a month like, you know a couple of weeks to a month long class and it would be it would be immersion it would be at the Justice Academy, even in those classes you still only learn their learn you know words and phrases because once you leave that environment, that academic environment, you’re not practicing with somebody if you’re not immersed in you’re going to lose. And you know it’s just so for people to say oh they need to learn English, I mean it, put yourself in their shoes if you had to go Russia all of sudden and you had to speak Russian. You think you could take that up in a month or two? Or a year? I don't know. You'd probably pick words and phrases and I think an initially what happens is to you start understanding more than you can speak and I've seen that that’s the case with a lot of Hispanics also that the they understand English better than they communicate more than they can speak it.
M: Okay. That's great advice. I guess to conclude our interview; I'll ask one more question. I was curious to know what advice you would give to Americans in our community who want to help integrate the Latino community with their own as far as I know, I volunteer at Frank Porter Graham and I’ve helped in ESL classes but other than the obvious, is there any other suggestions you might make?
OP: I think a good place to get to meet people and know people is church. I’ve been to not St. Francis but the St. Thomas Moore and you know I’ve spoken in the past to the congregation, I've had six hundred people there in church on a Sunday and you know especially in the Spanish mass and the Hispanic mass the Spanish speaking mass. And you know people just, that's a place typically that a church of people feels feel real comfortable and you know just getting to know people maybe inviting them to your English service if you’re both Catholic or whatever and you know just getting to know somebody. Just taking the time to getting to know somebody, not just judging a book by it's a cover. There's just a lot of really good, really nice people out there and you know, I try to get to know people on a one-on-one basis and just take it from there. I guess that's you know that's the best thing I can and maybe going to some of the you I know the festivals and getting to learn a little about the culture and you know learning the language and anytime you’re learning a language it'd fun to meet people that speak that language and you know communicate with them and you know try to learn more about them.
M: Great, I agree. I believe the integration process is a two way thing between Latinos and Americans in our community and you have helped to answer a lot of questions that I had about this divide so thank you very much for your time and I will keep you updated on the research that I find for the rest of my project.
OP: Great, well good luck with your project and thank you.
M: Thank you.