The Latino population of Sussex County has grown rapidly over the past 20 years, from a few thousand to tens of thousands. Though these migrants come from many different countries, the largest percentage are from Guatemala. Fleeing the violence of civil war there, and attracted to jobs opening up in the poultry industry in southern Delaware, the first wave of Guatemalan immigrants arrived in Georgetown in the late 1980s, many as political refugees. Since the later 1990s, however, most of the Guatemalan immigrants coming to Delaware have been escaping desperate poverty and seeking opportunities for themselves and their families.
Working alongside April Veness, an associate professor of geography whose ethnographic research centers on how the Guatemalan immigrant community of southern Delaware is defining and creating home, the "Global at Home" students are participating in service-learning projects and homestay weekends to learn about the concerns and experiences of Latino residents and the impact of "Latinization" on the small towns there.
Their service-learning projects are sponsored by a variety of community partners, and the students have been placed in one of three agencies, where their duties include: creating multimedia "Stories of Home" with the Latino children from North Georgetown Elementary School who attend at an afterschool program at La Casita/First State Community Action Agency, collecting and translating information for clients at the Murphy Immigration Law firm, and working with adult Latino students from La Esperanza who are practicing their English language and computer skills with resources made available to them at the Georgetown Public Library.
Through "Global at Home," the students will also spend three weekends with the families, with their final weekend visit set for April 15-17. On May 7, UD will reciprocate the hospitality, inviting the families to spend the day in on campus in Newark.
Having completed two weekend trips already, the students note recurring themes amongst their host families -- language barriers for the parents, Americanization in the children and a persistent sense of living out of two worlds.
This was clearly illustrated for senior Katie LaFleur, an international relations major from Cherry Hill, N.J., when the family dined at Dominos.
"Here we are in this quintessentially American pizza place, huddled together deciding what to eat, and after we picked our toppings, the mother, who speaks no English, hands her son the money to order it all instead of doing it herself," she recalls. "It was a bit of a culture shock for me," adds LaFleur, who studied abroad in Spain but views her current experience as "more personal because I'm building a relationship with the family."
And that, says Veness, is the hope for the students, "to actively contribute to these households through friendship."