The executive director of the Latin American Coalition in Charlotte, N.C., is neither Latina nor from North Carolina.
Jess George is from upstate New York. After her family moved to North Carolina in 1996, she went to college and got married. She has made the state her home — and immigrant rights her cause.
George says that resistance to demographic change is widespread: The recession has created a friendly climate for established prejudices and misconceptions. What's needed, she says, is to teach the community that change is an opportunity, because the state's future depends on the progress that newcomers and new generations of American citizens can make.
In her own words, George tells the story of challenges to integration in Charlotte.
"We tell the story of the 13 towers in five years. When I first moved to Charlotte, my husband and I were looking for jobs. For a few years I used to drive him to work every night, and I got to see how the landscape changed drastically. From the late '90s to the early 2000s, our city built 13 skyscrapers in five years, and we asked, "˜Why?'
"Charlotte was going through this boom time. We were building skyscrapers to attract businesses. When you attract businesses, you attract people and they have families; they need schools, roads, shopping centers, football arenas, basketball stadiums, movie theaters. They also have mansions and houses and lawns to be manicured, and they need all these things to make their lifestyles enjoyable and fit the idea of the American upper-middle class and middle class. They needed hotels for the new conventions and visitors. We needed restaurants and all these amenities to make Charlotte a world-class city.