EASTON — During an educational presentation on immigration at the Talbot Democratic headquarters, Matthew Peters, executive director of the Chesapeake Multicultural Resource Center, invited guests to share stories with one another of their cultural backgrounds.
Each of the nearly 50 people in attendance at the Tuesday, June 11, presentation turned to their neighbor in the room to recount childhood memories, family lineages, and explain their personal values.
What Peters set out to reveal with this exercise, he said, is that regardless of where people are from and what is important to them, there are always cultural factors to consider when people are trying to understand one other.
“We sparked these conversations because it’s tough to start talking about culture and to understand the impact of [our] individual cultures,” Peters said. “Cultural competence is about identifying your culture and your family values, and not asking you to change them.”
The “immigrant story” in Talbot County, Peters explained, started in 2001, growing from roughly 80 Hispanic students to more than 800 in 2018 — now making up 36 percent of the county’s population.
“A very unique story has been unfolding under our eyes in [Talbot County],” he said. “We have a demographic change going on here, so we want to add knowledge to why these demographic changes occur.”
Peters also spent time explaining the meaning of certain immigration terms, such as the word migrant versus immigrant, or refugee versus asylee, and Hispanic versus Latino.
He opened the floor for people to offer their perceived and learned definitions of the terms and then proceeded to enlighten the group about the implications of misusing specific phrases.
“It comes to who gets to define your culture,” Peters said, before suggesting that the terminology sometimes varies in meaning based on the context.
Peters broke down the demographic changes in Talbot County further, using a pie chart to show the countries from which people are coming and the factors that influenced and continue to influence their migration.
He said, of the thousands of immigrants his organization has worked with, 55 percent of them are Guatemalan, 15 percent of them Mexican, 11 percent of them Honduran — and the remaining are small percentages from countries such as El Salvador and Haiti.
“Most of the Hispanics I work with everyday in this community are from Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico,” he said. “[Some of these countries] do have kind of a shared history, especially going through to the 20th century, and one that’s marred with a lot of civil war.”
Peters continued, sharing stories of immigrants he’s been able to help, explaining the immigration process, and urging Talbot County residents to continue to seek cultural education in order to better understand the experiences of many immigrants around the world.
“We provide interpreting services, translation services, youth programming, direct immigration services, and health navigation,” Peters said. “We’re here to work with people who live in this community and just have a different story or different cultural background.”
For more information on the Chesapeake Multicultural Resources Center, visit www.chesmrc.org.