Immigration Impacting Lauderdale County

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San Marcos restaurant in Meridian celebrated the grand opening of its new location on Highway 11 Monday.

Previously located in the College Park shopping center, San Marcos aimed for a more authentic atmosphere and a larger dining area.

"Thank you to everybody in Meridian that has been supporting us for almost 10 years," said owner Chino Suarez. "It has been great. The response has been real, real nice. I would give my heart to everybody, because it has been great."

San Marcos is the oldest Mexican restaurant in Meridian. It has been going strong for over 10 years now.

In the meantime, the Hispanic population is growing in Lauderdale County.

When comparing statistics from the 1990 and 2000 U.S. Census, Lauderdale County's Hispanic and Latino population increased from 501 to 888, a 77 percent increase over 10 years.

This accounts for roughly one percent of the Lauderdale County population, but Marion Surles, director of Hispanic Ministries at Central United Methodist Church, says those figures may be a little higher.

"We had a Census worker here to try to convince them to try to fill out the forms, but so many of them were afraid about how the information might be used that they wouldn't fill them out," said Surles. "So I feel like those numbers are real low."

Surles said she believes there could be almost twice as many Hispanics or Latinos living in Lauderdale County than the census reports.

She said many of them came to the area for temporary work, but they liked it here so much they stayed and employers in Meridian and Lauderdale County find the group to be extremely hard-working and honest.

"When we first started the ministry, I was calling employers to find jobs for the people. Now the employers call me begging me to send them workers," Surles said.

The Hispanic Ministries at Central began over nine years ago as basic English classes. Now they help newcomers adjust to the American culture and way of life. Things we take for granted are big new opportunities for most of these immigrants.

"Having a car is a big new thing for them and they don't know about having to have a tag, insurance, getting a safety sticker, or wearing a seat belt, or all the rules of the road," said Surles.

You may help the newcomers adjust by getting to know one or two of them. Make friends and hear the story of their struggles and why they came to America.