By Scott Shenk

Published: February 8, 2009
A recent survey of 140 Latino immigrants in the Charlottesville region showed the overwhelming majority came here for work.
What doesn’t show up in the statistics, however, is how many are losing their jobs because of the struggling economy.
Amy Frazier-Yoder, a University of Virginia lecturer and graduate student who helped conduct the survey, was taken aback by how many were struggling to find work.
“At Trophy Chase [apartment complex], we talked to some guys who said they used to work 60 hours a week,” she said. “Now they’re only working 30 hours.”
The men, who mostly worked construction, said they didn’t know how they were going to make it.
According to the survey, orchestrated by the American Red Cross, 53 percent of those questioned emigrated for employment.
Frazier-Yoder said many of the people she spoke with either had their hours cut or had lost their jobs.
She and other UVa students, as well as some Albemarle County high school students, conducted the surveys between September and November. To find survey subjects, they went to adult soccer matches at area elementary schools, Trophy Chase, Southwood Mobile Home Park and a laundry. They did not ask the immigrants about their legal status.
Frazier-Yoder figures the immigrants are struggling even more now as the economy continues to tank.
“I think it’s a whole lot harder for [them] to make ends meet,” she said.
The economic woes not only make it difficult for the low-wage immigrants to afford life in the Charlottesville area, it also prevents them from sending money home or saving for a return to their country.
Peter Loach, executive director of Creciendo Juntos, a local nonprofit resource for Latinos, said the economic problems are affecting a wide swath of the immigrant community.
“Their focus is working and supporting their families [here and in their home countries],” he said. The immigrants come to the U.S. for “very much an economic reason.”
According to the survey, 73 percent of the immigrants planned to return permanently to their country of origin.
As part of a disaster-preparedness initiative, the American Red Cross originally orchestrated the survey in several other Virginia localities, including Fredericksburg and the Richmond area.
Frazier-Yoder said Loach contacted her to help conduct the survey here.
A former journalist now studying Latin-American literature at UVa, Frazier-Yoder said something else surprised her about the survey: The way the Latino population is handling its own tough times.
Though many are struggling financially, 44 percent of those interviewed said their experience in the past year has been OK. Another 41 percent said the past year has been positive. Only 5 percent said it had been very difficult.
“I don’t know what to make of it,” she said. “I was impressed by their optimism and resilience.”
UVa graduate and research assistant Sarah Brazelton echoed that sentiment.
Many of them told her they “felt blessed to be in America.”
“They were really nice,” she said. “They come from a warm culture.”
Frazier-Yoder will present the local survey results at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Albemarle County Office Building on Fifth Street Extended. Peter Von der Lippe, based at the Red Cross’ Richmond office, will present the statewide findings. The meeting is free and open to the public.