At the Table: The Bridge Builder

Guillermina Gonzalez and Voices Without Borders are helping Delaware’s Latinos. Despite what you might think, it’s not all about the immigration debate.





Guillermina Gonzalez says the biggest difference between immigrants coming to the United States in the early 20th century and the current immigration of Latin Americans is one word: quantity.
Photograph by Thom Thompson www.thomthompson.com

Guillermina Gonzalez came to the United States from Mexico in 2001 while working an expatriate assignment for Exxon-Mobil. The program grooms executives by exposing them to the U.S. market. Gonzalez was to return to Mexico City after three years, but she met and married a DuPonter working in West Virginia.

Her husband was transferred to the DuPont Experimental Station in Wilmington a year later. Gonzalez thus became a Delawarean. She started a marketing agency that, in part, conducted focus groups for those interested in tapping into the Hispanic community. She also completed her master’s degree in business administration and began work on a second master’s in liberal studies.

Gonzalez went on to co-host the “Latin Beat,” a Sunday radio show on WDEL, and she has written for local publications geared toward Delaware’s Hispanic population. Earlier this year, Gonzalez became the executive director of Voices Without Borders, Inc., a faith-based, grass roots, non-profit founded in 2000 and based in Wilmington.

“I began realizing it was a tremendous opportunity to give back to the community that I come from, not only Delaware at-large, but the Hispanic community,” says Gonzalez, who joined Delaware Today in mid-July for lunch at Harry’s Seafood Grill in Wilmington.

DT: Tell us a little about your organization.

GG: Voices Without Borders seeks to improve the status of Hispanics statewide, meaning we become the voice of those who do not have a voice within the Hispanic community. In order to do that, we try to seek an institution out and call for a social or institutional change on behalf of Hispanics. We also aspire to be that point of contact for those interested in tapping into the Hispanic community.

We’ve been part of the comprehensive immigration reform. But those in the organization understand that things that are affecting Hispanics are not always the immigration debate. There are many other things that are affecting Hispanics statewide. There are education disparities. Economic development is another issue. You see Hispanic businesses flourishing all over the place, and not being assisted the way they should.

We are very much into creating alliances and coalitions with many different organizations. Just to mention some: ACORN, AARP and the Latin American Community Center. We are probably the only organization that really advocates for Hispanics. We have the capacity to call things the way they are just because of the formation of the organization. The Catholic church provides much of the funding that keeps us alive. That allows us to tell things the way they are. That’s an advantage for those who don’t have a voice.

I’m sure you are aware that the Hispanics are the group that has the highest dropout rate at high school levels. I’m talking about 14 percent coming from the Hispanic region. We need to change those kinds of things. We need to push Hispanics to the social-economic forefront of the state. That takes time, and that takes relationships, and that takes being able to build cases and present those cases to the pertinent institutions.

We’re looking for what social and institutional change to bring on behalf of Hispanics, but by the same token helping to bring about change for the community at-large. Because Hispanics are part of that community, it’s to the benefit of the entire state.

DT: How many undocumented Hispanics live in Delaware?

GG: We suspect that there are between 15,000 to 25,000 undocumented individuals living in the state, of Hispanic origin. That’s almost twice the size of the official count of Hispanics living in the state. It’s putting a lot of pressure statewide on organizations and institutions and the government. You can easily find in Delaware individuals coming from all over Latin America. The numbers come from the 2000 census and do not reflect the reality of the Hispanic community for the time being because it’s been seven years. Things have changed dramatically.

DT: Your organization serves all Hispanics, whether they are documented or not?

GG: We don’t ask. If somebody needs us, we are here for them. We do not encourage people to break the law in the country. We are very respectful about this country’s laws. We encourage people to speak English. We encourage people to be part of the community. But if they need our help, we don’t ask. We’re a faith-based organization. We do respect every single individual because they are individuals. Period.

DT: Why are so many Hispanics coming to little Delaware?

GG: The immigration debate goes back always to an economic debate. The reason that those individuals come to a country like this one are economic reasons. They’re seeking to improve their status. They don’t have the means. They need to move and provide for their loved ones. Which, by the way, is not much different from Italian immigration, for example. It’s the same thing. But unfortunately, the memory of some of these individuals who are living in this country is kind of short. They tend to forget that they did the same thing.

They come to Delaware, in particular, because of the mushroom industry, which is pretty much in the Kennett Square area. And in Sussex County, the chicken plants. In Georgetown, more than 60 percent of residents come from Hispanic heritage. Those are the numbers that I have. Nevertheless, the critical mass of Hispanics are living in New Castle County—around 70 percent of the entire Hispanic population in the state. Hispanics figure very much into the retail sector, restaurants, hotels and the landscaping business.

DT: What do you say to those who say Hispanics take jobs away from others?

GG: Have you looked at the job rates in this country? It hasn’t changed in years. I just encourage people to be informed. That is not the case. It remains at 4 percent and it’s been there for years. The immigration debate is not related to job opportunities. I’m talking about microeconomic levels. The numbers do not lie.

Part of the reason we have decent prices all over the country is because in some industries, cheap labor is the one providing that capacity. If you want to have cheap products, then you need to have cheap labor. Are you willing to pay more for products? Then stop immigration. Not illegal, but legal immigration. We don’t like to call them illegal because no human being is illegal. They’re undocumented. And for some Hispanics, they didn’t cross the border. The border crossed them. They were living in this country. We have to remember that that part of the country belonged to Mexico. Some of the people of Hispanic heritage were living in this part of the country before the first American settler set foot here. They were living here. That’s history. That happened actually.

DT: So folks come here for a better life, the American dream. What is the difference between the Irish immigrants coming to America 100 years ago, for instance, and the current influx of Latin Americans?

GG: Samuel Huntington, who wrote “The Clash of Civilizations” and other books, said that the difference between those immigrations coming to the U.S. and the immigration coming from Latin America is one word: quantity.

The numbers and the proximity they have. In this case, they are not assimilated the same way they were in the past. It’s too soon to say. At the end of the day, when you look at a third generation of Hispanic Americans, they blend perfectly well into the American dream and they become U.S. citizens. Some of them don’t even speak Spanish.

It’s a political debate. It’s a very nice political issue to talk to. Some individuals have their political platform only on that debate. It happens to be a big, convenient political issue to talk to.

D

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February 2016

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Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
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View map »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
The Station Gallery
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View map »


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More information

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Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

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Features activities and crafts that help visitors learn about local and national political roles in environmental conservation. Visitors can learn about the battle that politicians fought for a...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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The Philly Home Show will inspire your inner HGTV star at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from Feb. 12–14 and 19–21. The show will feature highly interactive...

Cost: $13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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What was behind the legendary story of King Midas and his golden touch? That is the question to be answered—not with chests full of gold, but with a spectacular array of ancient artifacts,...

Cost: Adults $20; seniors $18; students (with ID) $15; children (ages 6–17) $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Guests can explore three floors of exhibitions in the Visitor Center, stroll along the river through dozens of historic structures from the Industrial Revolution, and explore the gardens and...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
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Penn Museum opens the world premiere exhibition The Golden Age of King Midas—featuring ancient treasures on loan from the Republic of Turkey—with a spectacular daylong public...

Cost: $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society and CAMP Rehoboth will co-present "Tab Hunter Confidential" and "Portrait of a Serial Monogamist" as part of its annual Another Take...

Cost: $8

Where:
Metropolitan Community Church
19369 Plantation Rd.
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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"La Sylphide" shares the beautiful and romantic story of our hero, James—a young Scottish farmer who, on the eve of hid wedding, abandons his betrothed, Effie, after being...

Cost: $25

Where:
Salesanium School
1801 North Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Academy of International Ballet
Telephone: 1-866-908-5666
Contact Name: Denis Gronostayskiy
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Venture back with us for an evening where we re-imagine the Victorian Industrial Age as seen through our steam-powered, futuristic goggles.  Our biggest fundraiser of the year and all proceeds...

Cost: $100-$110

Where:
Smyrna Opera House
7 West South Street
Smyrna, DE  19977
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A spoiled orphan girl is sent to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire moors and discovers renewed life, for herself and her sickly cousin, in bringing her dead aunt’s secret garden back to...

Cost: $15–$18

Where:
The Secret Garden
47 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Everett Theatre
Telephone: 302-540-8561
Contact Name: Chris Everett
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Location: St. Mark’s High School, 2501 Pike Creek Road, Wilmington Time: Registration: 11:30 a.m. Race: 12:30 p.m. Fee: $25 (until Thursday, Feb. 11), $35 after and day of event...

Where:
, DE

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Location: Beebe Healthcare’s Medical Center, 424 Savannah Road, Lewes Date: Saturday, Feb. 13 (and the second Saturday of each month) Time: 9 a.m. Fee: Free For more...

Where:
, DE

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Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

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Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

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