Sunday’s editorial offers a warm welcome to all of the region’s new Hispanic residents who showed up in the 2010 census.
If you could have put all of Myrtle Beach’s residents inside the city’s convention center in 2000, you would have noticed that about four out of five seats were filled with white residents. If you did the same thing today, that number would be closer to two out of three. While the city’s population grew 19 percent in the last decade, to more than 27,000, the city’s white population grew at a fraction of that pace, rising only 2 percent.
So who made up the difference? The city’s black population grew 30 percent, but it was the Hispanic population that skyrocketed, more than tripling in 10 years, so that now nearly 1 in 7 of the residents of Myrtle Beach are Hispanic. It’s a remarkable change for the city, but one that is hardly surprising. The area’s warm climate and relaxed nature attracts new residents, and while the region has been struggling recently with unemployment, the city’s hospitality industry still provides many jobs for newcomers.
The U.S. 501 corridor in Myrtle Beach has witnessed perhaps the greatest change in the city. In the 1930s, when Daniel Nance was building hotels and working toward the then-fledgling community’s incorporation, he would have been more than surprised to see a Hispanic person walking down the street. The 1930 census turned up just nine people of Mexican descent in the entire state. Census workers found that Horry County residents were almost entirely black or white, the sole exception being one Chinese person. Today, the census tract surrounding Nance Plaza, where U.S. 501 meets Kings Highway, is more than 20 percent Hispanic, as are the adjoining tracts.
Some will no doubt take these statistics as a chance to rail against foreigners and “others” who they see as taking their jobs and sullying their town. We see it as a positive change. Cultures and places will always benefit from new perspectives, new ideas, new blood and new energy. It’s unrealistic to think the city will never be different from what it was.
The changing face of Myrtle Beach does carry with it some challenges, however. There continues to be an achievement gap in schools between the success of white students and minorities. As the city becomes less homogenous, this gap will become more important than it already is. Those students in school now are the future work force of the city. There have already been a number of initiatives begun to address this gap in Horry County Schools, but their importance and necessity are now more clear than ever.
We also continue to protest the unnecessary closing of higher education doors in many of these students’ faces. As part of the illegal immigration legislation that went into effect in 2008, colleges must screen their students by citizenship. Shortly after the law was passed, local Rep. Thad Viers visited a high school class filled with some of these hard-working students who were now barred from furthering their education, and he pledged to reverse that provision. We are still waiting for his action.
Miriam Berrouet, the former president of Latinoamericanos en Accion, a Hispanic advocacy group that folded in 2008, pointed out the short-sightedness of the enrollment requirement. “Everybody who is denying them this avenue needs to think about what options this leaves them as adults.”
If we deny a growing segment of our neighbors the opportunity to learn and become more productive members of our society, what will that mean to our community’s future, and perhaps more pointedly, what does that say about us? As Berrouet said, “education is not giving anybody a green card.”
The problem also remains of how to incorporate our new neighbors into the community and the fabric of our society. Since the demise of Latinoamericanos en Accion, there has been little in the way of a unified voice for the growing Hispanic population in our area. A town hall meeting on Thursday night featuring most of the Strand’s state legislators drew no Hispanic constituents (and as is also often the case, drew no more than a handful of residents younger than 50). The lawmakers taking questions said multiple times they cannot work effectively for their districts if they do not hear from their districts.
Berrouet said many Hispanic residents are simply not registered to vote, a situation that will hopefully change before the next election. The fact that we were surprised by the astounding growth of the city’s Hispanic population is evidence that the group has yet to make its collective voice heard. There’s plenty of time before the next census, 10 years from now. In the meantime, don’t be a stranger, and welcome to the neighborhood.