After an election where immigration became a hot-button topic, a University of South Carolina Upstate event highlighted the growing diversity of the Upstate and the impact of immigration on the area.
Wednesday's panel discussion, The Global South, examined the changing face of the Upstate. Panelists noted how the region has grown more diverse over the past few decades due to international businesses and a changing population.
“No region in the United States has undergone greater transformation than the American South,” said Ramon Galinanes Jr., the keynote speaker.
Galinanes is one of the founders of the Hispanic American Alliance of Spartanburg and is a professor and the coordinator of the Bonner Scholars program at Wofford College.
He said now more than ever, public policies that give immigrants a respected, dignified and recognized voice have to be fought for.
“I believe we’re living in times of strong nativism here and in the country as a whole, and that narrative is troubling,” he said. “The narrative that immigrants or ‘strangers’ are blamed for social problems or other issues is problematic.”
Along with a growing Hispanic immigrant population, the impact of other immigrant groups on the Upstate were examined.
Catherine Canino, a USC Upstate English professor, wrote about Greek immigration to Spartanburg in “Recovering the Piedmont Past II: Bridging the Centuries,” to be published next year.
She said Greeks largely made immigrant lifestyles acceptable in the South by openly welcoming residents to share their culture.
“It started with the Greeks,” she said. “The oasis in all of this was here in Spartanburg. Greeks came to Spartanburg and settled down and lived good lives, often of ‘white privilege.’”
One of the biggest factors in the growing diversity of the area and its business success is the BMW Manufacturing Co. plant in Greer.
Dirk Schlingmann, a mathematics professor at USC Upstate and president of the German-American Club of the Carolinas, said he has been in the area for more than 30 years.
He is a longtime Southerner, but is still close to his homeland of Germany, and sees himself as a citizen of both places.
“I love the South,” he said. “I consider myself a global citizen here in the South.”
Danielle Cassells was one of the students who attended the event. She said she wanted to learn more about how views of nationality will change in the future.
"I feel like nationality is becoming a very complex thing," she said.
Foreign contributions have had a major impact on the Upstate, said Alexander Akuli, director of the USC Upstate Center for International Studies.
He said about 80 percent of patents held in the U.S. are held by foreign-born residents.
The impacts of foreign-born and immigrant residents is likely to grow across the Upstate in coming years.
There are roughly 40,000 Hispanics in Greenville County and another 60,000 in Spartanburg County, and Arcadia Elementary School in Spartanburg District 6 is one of three schools statewide with a Hispanic majority student population.
The South is often seen as a culture of black and white, but changes in immigration have added a significant shade of brown to the population, Galinanes said.
“In just five years, Hispanic students will be more than 20 percent of the population at high schools across South Carolina,” Galilanes said. “Slowly but surely, with advancements in technology and growth in populations, is the ‘global South.’”
BY THE NUMBERS
60,000 - number of Hispanic residents in Spartanburg County
40,000 - number of Hispanic residents in Greenville County
200 - number of businesses across the Upstate with international ties
*Source: Ramon Galinanes - keynote speaker at The Global South: A Summit on the Changing Face of the Upstate