Somewhere around 500 BC, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus mused, “The only constant is change.” History between then and now certainly confirms this to be true. Prince William County is a contemporary example.
A quick look at the county’s annual population estimates tells the story. In 1980, Prince William’s population was 144,703. It’s probably around 470,000 today. By 2040, Prince William will be approaching 600,000.
But the growth in our Hispanic population is most noticeable. The 1990 census showed that 4.5% of the county’s population was Hispanic. U.S. Census data as of July 1, 2018, estimates the Hispanic population at 24.2%. It would be safe to assume this percentage will continue to grow.
I interviewed Stephanie Williams, executive director of the Spanish language public access show “Panoramalatino,” to talk about the community she serves. “Panoramalatino” was created by Williams, a Prince William resident, after a preventable fire caused the deaths of a Hispanic family just before Christmas. “Panoramalatino” provides practical information such as fire prevention by subject matter experts to Hispanics in their native language.
Williams shared that language is important. Considering that Hispanic residents make up a quarter of our population, it is critical that they have access to information about their health, safety, public services, law enforcement, and other topics in a language they understand. That is the mission of “Panoramalatino.” It is a vital link between the Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park governments and this ever-growing segment of our community.
That struck me as government’s job, so but Williams doesn’t think it is doing a particularly good job.
“Certain department heads in PWC government do not appear to embrace diversity,” Williams said. She stressed that one must understand the culture and language before trying to translate government information into Spanish. Williams said some people don’t understand the need for qualified, professional translators. Some of the mistakes she has encountered in “amateur” attempts to translate have been amusing. Others not so much.
Williams is aware of the growing economic and political power of the county’s Hispanic community. Businesses would be well advised to seek professional help when marketing to and translating for this community.
As the election approaches, “Panoramalatino” will cover voting information. Evelyn BruMar, a local community activist, will be providing information about who can vote, when to vote, who can interpret for voters who can’t speak or read English, and the process. This information will be shared on shows scheduled for the next three Fridays and in future programs between now and November.
Williams is one of a mostly volunteer staff. She and her team remember the tragedy that took a family – and hope to save lives and inform the Hispanic community. “Panoramalatino” depends on sponsors and donations. Williams gave a shout-out to the first sponsor, Northern Virginia Elective Cooperative, which has continued to support “Panoramalatino.” She also mentioned Comcast, Novant UVA Health Systems, and the Prince William County Police Department as other important sponsors.
Mis disculpas to the Hispanic community for writing this column in English. I’m working on my Spanish.
Al Alborn is a political and social activist in Prince William County. His column appears every other week. You can learn more about Al at www.alborn.net.