EDITORS NOTE: Some of the quotes have been translated from Spanish to English.
CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – While the population is around 2% of West Virginia, many Hispanics and Latinos living in the state share their culture and traditions while also embracing what West Virginia has to offer.
In doing so, they are also still forced to deal with the challenges of modern-day racism while trying to make this area their home. Some of them, who chose to immigrate to West Virginia from areas of Latin America, are sharing their stories of having two homes.
Sebastian Manzo moved all the way from his home in Puebla, Mexico to Charleston in 2015. Since then, he’s decided to raise his daughter here in a way where she appreciates both her Mexican heritage and her current reality living in the Mountain State.
“West Virginia has a lot to offer, and that’s where we’re trying to enjoy now and that’s what I’m trying to share and show to the best of my knowledge to my daughter for her to enjoy and know her state,” Manzo said.
Manzo said his daughter changed his life forever, and he is committed to making sure she learns the best of both cultures in her family history.
“Overall, we have two homes,” Manzo said. “Maybe work makes us be here, but we find ourselves stable and happy enough to make a living and make a home in West Virginia.”
Yet making West Virginia one of these homes was not always easy. When Sebastian Manzo immigrated to West Virginia years ago, he faced tough cultural adjustments like living thousands of miles from his family and speaking a new language.
“It is hard to communicate, even how to ask how the gas pump works or how to order in a restaurant, how to ask for food. There are really basic aspects of life that you encounter as an obstacle to communicate with people,” Manzo said.
Manzo said despite this, it’s mostly been a positive experience living in West Virginia.
“That is something that from the outside, you think it is just Hollywood and the movies, but you really see how it is simple folks living simple life, and that is something that is really nice, really peaceful,” Manzo said.
Eduardo Bautista Ángel shares a similar path to Manzo. He immigrated to West Virginia four years ago, and he too faced culture shock compared to his life prior in Jalisco, Mexico.
“Ahora llegas al otro lugar completamanete distinto, donde no conoces a nadie, donde no tienes amigos, no tienes carro, no tienes nada. Entonces, es muy difícil,” dijo Bautista Ángel. “Pero, pienso que poco a poco, con esfuerzo y todo eso, puedes ir logrando tus cosas, tus metas, tus objetivos, y todo eso.”
Translated: “Now, you arrive at another place that’s completely different where you don’t know anyone, where you don’t have friends, where you don’t have a car, you don’t have anything. So, it’s very difficult,” Bautista Ángel said. “But, I think that little by little with effort and all of that, you can achieve your things, your goals, your objectives, and all of that.”
Both Manzo and Bautista Ángel have adjusted to life in West Virginia, but what adds to some of the challenges that they and other immigrants face is something personal they have no control over: discrimination.
“Pienso que también hay personas buenas, pero podia ver personas que son racistas, personas que discriminan a los latinos. Entonces, tener un mes de herencia hispana, pienso que les hacer acordar a esas personas, quien no deben ser malos con los hispanos porque al final de cuentas, somos personas,” dijo Bautista Ángel.
Translated: “I think that there are also great people, but I could see people who are racist, people who discriminate against Latinos. So, to have a month of Hispanic heritage, I think that it reminds these people that they should not be cruel towards Hispanics because at the end of the day, we are people,” Bautista Ángel said.
Jackie Lozano from West Virginia ACLU advocates for immigrant rights in West Virginia because she herself has been through this experience.
“People are out here really living in the shadows, unable to defend themselves, unable to speak up for themselves,” Lozano said.
Lozano was undocumented for years, and now uses her role to bridge the gap between immigrants in West Virginia and native-born citizens. She said highlighting those similarities between the two cultures – like work ethic and family-centric values – helps remove misconceptions about immigrants.
Lozano said, “We were just born in a different place. Maybe we don’t speak the same language, but we have the same mentality. We have the same values. We are human. We bleed exactly the same. We all have families we want to protect and provide for,” Lozano said.
Embracing one’s culture and background is important to people like Manzo, Lozano and Bautista Ángel in fighting biases about immigration or about Latinos.
They all said it’s not just about one month of recognition, but celebrating Hispanic and Latino culture should be an everyday thing.
“No venimos a pedir nada. Venimos, nosotros, a trabajar y ganarnos las cosas con las propia cuenta. Entonces, pienso que tenemos un mes, una semana o algo les hacer acordar a las personas de que somos personas, igual que ellos aunque tengamos diferentes culturas, idioma, color de piel, todo eso,” dijo Bautista Ángel.
Translated: “We don’t come to ask for anything. We come to work and earn things on our own. So, I think we have one month, one week or something that makes them remember that we are people, just like them even though we have different cultures, language, skin color, all of that,” Bautista Ángel said.
West Virginia immigrants, including immigrants from Latin American countries, contribute to slowing of overall state population loss.