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York County is no exception in a world thats becoming an increasing culturally complicated place, one Winthrop University professor says.
Richard Chacon and six others discussed race equality problems at the city of Rock Hills No Room for Racism event Tuesday night.
The panels focus was on the experience of local Latin Americans a group Chacon said is often pigeon-holed despite a wealth of diversity among the regions 20 countries. Chacon and his wife are from Costa Rica.
Were trying to get away from the stereotype that Latin Americans are only good for working in the Holiday Inn to come in and clean your room, he said.
While housekeeping is a perfectly honorable job, Chacon said, Latin Americans do more than that.
Many Americans are influenced by negative images seen on national news shows and TV series depicting Latin Americans as dictators and drug runners, Chacon said. He has been to 12 countries in the region including Bolivia, Peru and Mexico.
Its not all bad, he said. Ive met some of the best human beings on the earth there. Yes, theres corruption but guess what; theres also corruption in the United States.
He brings his research findings back from Latin America to teach Winthrop students in his cultural anthropology classes.
In the colleges introduction to anthropology class, Chacon said, he hears a whole sweep of misconceptions about the non-Western world.
Through his lectures and at Tuesdays event, Chacons goal is to show people that if you want to succeed in York County, youve got to acknowledge cultural differences.
Its OK to be taken aback by another worldview, Chacon said. You dont have to agree with them, but be respectful. You dont have to give up a cherished belief to understand a different worldview.
If people attempt to avoid Latin Americans or treat other immigrants as equals, he said, youre refuge is going to get smaller and smaller.
Education is a two-way street though, he said. Its important that everyone learn English, but that doesnt mean Spanish should be outlawed.
Latin Americans living in York County embrace many aspects of the larger American culture, Chacon said, but also maintain their familys cultural heritage.
What were saying is, Were here to make contributions, and please understand us, he said.
Most immigrants are asking for that in a confrontational way, Chacon said. Lets all work together to make it better.
The racial discrimination Latin Americans face across the nation, Chacon said, is not quite the same inequality African-Americans have historically battled with and are still experiencing.
No one forces immigrants to live in America, he said, but African-Americans had no choice to come during the slave trade, which did not end until the late 1800s.
Rock Hill has a No Room for Racism sign on Dave Lyle Boulevard a mantra by the city that all people are equal in the town erected to commemorate the efforts of African-Americans during lunch counter sit-ins and the Jail, No Bail strategy of the Friendship Nine.
The citys No Room for Racism Committee, whose mission is to foster relationships among persons of diverse social, cultural and racial backgrounds, hosted Tuesdays event. Rock Hill also has a Martin Luther King Jr. committee that meets once a month.
Past city-sponsored equality celebrations have included events featuring people from the Catawba Indian nation and immigrants from countries such as China, Greece, Thailand and Vietnam.
Part of Chacons goal to demonstrate diversity within Latin American culture was to point out significant achievements by Latin Americans living in the United States.
César Pelli, an architect from Argentina, designed the Bank of America corporate office in Charlotte. The first naturalized American citizen to become an astronaut in NASAs spaceflight program is Franklin Chang Díaz from Costa Rica. Before retiring in 2005, Chang Díaz manned the International Space Station and joined seven space missions.
Racial equality and attitudes of inclusion are important, Chacon said, especially in public schools.
Who knows the talent thats sitting in those classrooms in York County? he said.
If teachers, parents or high school counselors steer children away from certain career choices because of racial stereotypes, he said, the opportunity for progression is stifled.
If we do that, were robbing the next generations of their future and were cheating ourselves.