February 13, 2011 | Go Dan River | Original Article

Danville hispanic population doubles over past 10 years

Lorena Rojas waited on customers, answered phone calls and watched after her “little one” Thursday at La Tierra Santa Mexican Store on Mount Cross Road — one of two Mexican grocery stores she now owns in the Southside region.

Though she operates a business in Danville, she lives in Ridgeway, so is not included in the 2010 Census that showed Danville’s Hispanic/Latino popular doubled from 612 to 1,245 in the past decade, or the similar increase in Pittsylvania County, which saw an increase in the number of Hispanics/Latinos from 759 to 1,332.

Her daughter, Jannett Gonzales said she really is not sure why more Hispanics have moved to the region — but said her family noticed the increase and it was the reason her mother decided to open La Tierra Santa.

Rojas is in her third year of ownership of the Danville store, and earlier this year opened a second one in Axton.

Gonzales said the family moved from North Carolina to Ridgeway about 13 years ago. After living in two different trailers, Rojas bought her first home in Ridgeway just two or three years ago.

Gonzales said her mother learned how to operate a store by spending five years working in one in Collinsville. When Rojas heard about a location for sale in Danville, she came to look it over and bought it.

“We like the location; Danville has a lot of Hispanics. They come here to shop from all over, Martinsville, North Carolina,” Gonzales said.

Gonzalez said one thing that draws Hispanics to Danville is Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which offers Spanish-language services every week; Hispanics from the Martinsville area and from North Carolina are members of the church, she said.

Gonzalez said her family has noticed a difference in the Hispanics who shop at the Danville and Axton stores.

“It’s different; they don’t all buy the same products like you think they would,” Gonzales said. “In Danville, most of them are from Durango, Mexico, and in Axton, they are from Nayarit and Jalisco. They buy different things.”

The agricultural connection

Migrant workers are still used by farmers in the region, according to Fred Wydner, the Agricultural Development Director for Pittsylvania County — but there has been a shift in demographics for migrant workers.

The traditional migrant worker came to the U.S. from Mexico with a special work permit that allowed them to do agricultural work for a specified amount of time — then they had to return to Mexico until the next growing season.

A group called the Virginia Agricultural Growing Association, based in Halifax, was formed to match these legal migrant workers with local farmers, Wydner said.

“Now, there’s been a shift to migrants that are seeking citizenship and want to work full time,” Wydner said. “They typically will work food service, construction, landscaping, dairy, cattle, still some tobacco — they have documents that are legal and have work privileges, and sometimes live in this country.”

Bobby Wilkerson, a former president of VAGA, said the migrant worker program was formed through Congress to help farmers get the help they needed for planting and harvesting crops.

“It was a legal program for tobacco and some other products in Southside,” Wilkerson said.

A recent VAGA advertisement for temporary workers said 72 workers are needed in this area now.

1,500 members

Amanda Esparza, the coordinator of the Hispanic Ministry at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, said the church has about 1,500 registered Hispanics as members.

“They come from Martinsville, Reidsville (N.C.), all over,” Esparza said. “They don’t all attend every Sunday, but they are registered.”

Esparza said there are several reasons why Danville has attracted a growing number of Hispanics.

“It has to do with Danville having a lower cost of living than bigger cities, such as Raleigh, N.C.,” Esparza said. “And, in the last two or three years, some factory work has become available. The people who used to work for Dan River Inc. have moved on, and the people here don’t want those types of jobs any more; Hispanics like those jobs.

Some members of the congregation are only seen part of the year — the migrant farm workers who usually arrive in April or May and are here until October or November, Esparza said.

But migrant worker numbers don’t help in trying to determine why the region’s Hispanic population has grown, she said.

“Years ago, there were hundreds and hundreds of migrant workers,” Esparza said. “There’s not as much tobacco, so we sometimes only see 100 or 200 now.”

More new businesses

Another family business new to Danville has opened too recently to account for any rise in the region’s Hispanic population — Taco Toro and Dos Toros Meat Market on Westover Drive, both of which opened about two months ago.

Guillermo Diaz takes care of the meat market while his sister, Ma. Imelda Lunas Deras, manages the restaurant next door.

Diaz and his sister both lived in High Point, N.C., where they also own another store and restaurant. Diaz moved to Danville while his sister still lives in High Point.

The store carries Mexican groceries and has a meat counter full of freshly butchered meats.

“Our meats are fresh and we have cheap prices,” Diaz said with a smile.

Diaz said they liked the location because there are more Hispanics in the region now, and they are slowly finding their way to his store and restaurant.

“We’re seeing more new customers every week,” Diaz said. “They come from all over, from here and North Carolina too.”