Saturday, May 5, 2007
Celebrating Cinco de Mayo
Many Northwest Arkansas residents are celebrating Cinco de Mayo, which has become the largest and most publicized unofficial holiday for the growing Hispanic community in this part of the state. Here it is more or less a celebration of the cultural contributions of our immigrant community than the Battle of Puebla in 1862, in which the Mexican forces defeated Maximillian and the occupying French Army that kept him in power.
The Hispanic Women’s Organization of Arkansas is hosting a two day event, which will continue today from 1-10 p. m., at the Jones Center for Families in Springdale. It is doubtful that Rogers Mayor Steve Womack will be leading any parades or speaking at any LULAC events honoring the cultural heritage of our new neighbors. Both Womack and Joe McCutcheon hardly pass up an opportunity to disparage immigrants who have chosen to live, work, and make their homes in Northwest Arkansas, but their shrill demagoguing reminds one of the Southern politicians' race baiting before passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
It’s uncertain how many Mexicans live in the Natural State. The U. S. Census Bureau estimates that about 131,000 Hispanics live in Arkansas. About 100,000 are immigrants and roughly two-thirds of those hail from Mexico and other Latin American countries, according to a new study by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. About 50,000 illegal aliens live in the state, according to the study. Benton County had the highest immigrant population of any county: 20, 296 or 11 percent; Washington County was second, with 18,414 immigrant residents.
It is also worth noting that immigrants contributed $19 million to the state’s economy in 2004. The study looked at the cost of immigrants to the state in terms of public education, health care and the Department of Correction, then balanced those figures with consumer spending, taxes and income. Perhaps that's one reason why First Security Bank hosted a Cinco de Mayo celebration in downtown Springdale yesterday afternoon.
Public officials and political candidates who hope to win favor by attacking minority groups and immigrants might get elected for a few more years, but history is against them. The changing demographics of future generations of citizens will change the political landscape of Northwest Arkansas, and, with it, the level of enlightenment and concern of those in state and local public office.