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Lowcountry Black and Latine Coalition Launches #HolaCharleston Campaign to Address Language Access in Tri-County Communities

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As previously reported on this website, the Lowcountry Black and Latine Coalition launched the #HolaCharleston campaign to demand that elected officials in the Tri-County area translate all public communications into the Spanish language. The coalition today shared the following additional information about their campaign:

“Most municipalities do not publish information in Spanish and if they do, there’s absolutely no consistency,” said coalition member Erica Veal. “Charleston County government tweeted graphics about warming shelters over the winter and I was surprised to see one of the graphics was in Spanish. Then a few days later they tweeted about another freeze warning, but only used the English graphic. Currently, they’re posting important information about hurricane preparedness and none of it has been in Spanish. That needs to change.”

According to “Las Voces del Lowcountry: A Chronology of Latinx History in Charleston,” the Latin American community has deep roots in the Lowcountry, reaching back to the colonial and Antebellum eras.

“Latine community members have contributed so much to the growth, development and quality of life in the Charleston area, yet at best they are treated as an afterthought by local government,” said coalition member Shaquille Fontenot.

According to Census.gov, Spanish-speaking residents comprise at least 3.2% of the City of Charleston, 11.4% of the City of North Charleston; 5.3% of Charleston County, 5.8% of Dorchester County, and 7% of Berkeley County. The community is most definitely undercounted and their population size is only increasing.

Coalition member Feidin Santana described an incident when a woman came into his business crying after failing her driving test for the third time.

“She was frustrated because the test was in English and she failed because she didn’t understand the instructions, not because she didn’t know how to drive,” Santana said. “Situations like that are why this campaign is so necessary and has the potential to be so powerful.”

According to “The State of Racial Disparities in Charleston County, South Carolina, 2000-2015,” Black and Latin American residents suffer from the same marginalization and neglect as African Americans and other oppressed communities in Charleston on the part of local government. There are large concentrations of Spanish-speaking residents in communities like John’s Island, North Charleston and Ladson, South Carolina, and they often live side by side with area Black residents. In Charleston County there are more Black and Latine residents living in poverty than white residents. The Black and Latine Coalition believes it is the responsibility of the local government to meet the needs of all its residents. One way to do that for Spanish-speakers is by translating all public communications like public service announcements, social media, websites, court notices, emergency management/disaster responses, theoretical and practical examinations, and all other information disseminated to the public, via the local government, into the Spanish language.

“We spend one quarter to one third of our city and county budgets on law enforcement,” said coalition member Joshua Parks. “Those are our tax dollars and we should have a say in how that money is spent. Reallocating funds from police toward translation and interpretation services for Spanish-speakers, increasing the minimum wage, providing access to healthy foods and health care, investing in youth programming, for everyone, will make our communities safer and more just than investing in more cameras to monitor residents. We already live in a police state and increased patrols and surveillance will lead to more minor arrests, mass incarceration and criminalization that will disproportionately affect the Black, Brown and Indigenous residents this coalition is working to empower.”

The goal of #HolaCharleston is to empower Spanish-speaking residents who make up the third largest demographic in the Tri-County area. Access to important materials in the Spanish language could help grant opportunities for employment, vocational training, grant resources, business compliance resources, school resources and more.

“We are asking for the public to support this campaign by reaching out to elected officials via email and by phone and signing our petition,” Veal said. “To make it as easy as possible to support this campaign, we compiled a list of elected officials’ email addresses and phone numbers for the cities of Charleston and North Charleston, as well as Charleston, Dorchester and Berkeley Counties and we’ll be following up this effort with more calls to action in the coming weeks.”

According to Fontenot, “#HolaCharleston is an ongoing campaign and we will continue to promote it until the local government complies with our demands. We encourage all oppressed nationalities to stand in solidarity with the Tri-Country Latin American community by supporting this campaign.”

The Lowcountry Black and Latine Coalition meets in-person every third Wednesday of the month at 7 pm at Change Up Cuts Barbershop and Beauty Center located at 5900 Rivers Avenue Unit D-4, North Charleston, SC 29406.

For more information on how to support the coalition and the #HolaCharleston campaign, visit HolaCharleston.com, email LCBlackLatine@gmail.com and follow the coalition on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

About the Lowcountry Black and Latine Coalition

The Lowcountry Black and Latine Coalition is a coalition of Black and Spanish speaking-led community members, business leaders, and organizational allies dedicated to developing resources, tools, and collaborative relationships to address systemic inequality in Black and Brown Lowcountry communities.

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