© 2024 Connecticut Public

FCC Public Inspection Files:
WPKT · WRLI-FM · WEDW-FM · Public Files Contact
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

As immigrant population grows in CT, a Wallingford organization empowers the community

From left, Melisa Juárez, client services and program manager, Jeffrey R. Necio, Chairman, Lizandra Mejías-Salinas, Assistant Executive Director, Adriana Rodriguez, Executive Director.
Maricarmen Cajahuaringa
Connecticut Public
A meeting of members of the Spanish Community of Wallingford (SCOW), includes (from left) Melisa Juárez, client services and program manager, Jeffrey R. Necio, chairman, Lizandra Mejías-Salinas, assistant executive director, and Adriana Rodriguez, executive Director.

In recent years, Wallingford has witnessed a notable surge in its Hispanic community, reflecting broader demographic shifts across the state and the nation.

With an estimated 11% of the town population now identifying as Hispanic or Latino, a local community group says the vibrant tapestry of cultures, languages and traditions is enriching the social landscape of this mid-sized Connecticut town.

Lisandra Mejia Salinas, the assistant executive director of the Spanish Community of Wallingford (SCOW), sheds light on the organization's history, its evolving services, and the vibrant Hispanic community it serves.

“Our state is growing with Latinos, and with that comes a responsibility to cover those needs as well,” Mejia-Salinas said.

Established 52 years ago, the organization emerged from the grassroots efforts of local Hispanic residents in response to the unmet needs of Wallingford's Hispanic and Latino population.

In response to the difficulties in accessing vital resources such as health care, education, and employment, a small group of Latino community members formed an organization, initially working from a garage. Despite ongoing challenges, the community's situation has seen limited improvement. However, the Spanish Community of Wallingford (SCOW) emerged as a crucial entity, providing essential services like interpretation, translation, and referrals to support the integration and success of community members.

“I would love to see more advocacy to represent the community and to advocate for interpretation,” Mejia-Salinas said.

One of the organization's key focuses is advocacy for increased representation and multilingual accessibility, particularly in legal and medical services. With a growing immigrant population, Mejia-Salinas said there is a pressing need for more Spanish-speaking professionals and interpreters across various sectors.

Mejia-Salinas said the organization has recently witnessed an influx of immigrants from Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela, contributing to the community's diversity and vitality. But, she said her organization is also helping people learning English from different backgrounds.

“We have currently Morocco, a few people from China, we have people from Italy, we've gotten a few Ukrainians ... and we have a few African families come in for services as well and for ESL classes,” Mejia-Salinas said. “So 80% being the Hispanic Latino community that we serve and 20% the non-Hispanic.”

The group’s impact extends beyond Wallingford, she said, welcoming individuals from neighboring towns and cities who seek its services and support. The organization is committed to inclusivity and empowerment, transcending geographical boundaries, and embodying the spirit of community and solidarity with immigrants of all backgrounds.

“We get the question a lot too. Do I have to be Hispanic, or do I need to know Spanish in order to participate in your programs? And in your services? And the answer is no, everybody who walks through our doors gets the same access, the same treatment,” Mejia-Salinas said.

The organization has become crucial in educating and engaging the community and its youth, according to Mejia-Salinas, in civic participation and awareness. Through programs like Adelante America, young people are equipped with leadership skills and civic knowledge, preparing them to become active and informed citizens.

“During election time, we will also teach them a little bit about what a ballot looks like, what is an election, why it is important to vote,” Mejia-Salinas said. “So that is something that on a yearly basis is covered because it's never too early to learn about your rights and your responsibilities.”

As the Hispanic community continues to grow and thrive in Wallingford, Mejia-Salinas said support, empowerment, and advocacy are essential to enrich the lives of countless individuals and families who are the state's future.

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.

Stand up for civility

This news story is funded in large part by Connecticut Public’s Members — listeners, viewers, and readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

We hope their support inspires you to donate so that we can continue telling stories that inform, educate, and inspire you and your neighbors. As a community-supported public media service, Connecticut Public has relied on donor support for more than 50 years.

Your donation today will allow us to continue this work on your behalf. Give today at any amount and join the 50,000 members who are building a better—and more civil—Connecticut to live, work, and play.

Related Content