Habersham County’s latest population breakdowns show that the Hispanic population is 38% in Cornelia. However, Haberham 200, the latest story published in 2019 about Habersham County makes no mention of the county’s Hispanic residents. The lack of recognition of the county’s cultural diversity is something Emily Pahuamba and Audrey Davenport hope to change during Hispanic Heritage Month in September.
High school student Pahuamba is president of the Habersham Central High School Hispanic Organization Promoting Education (HoPE) student organization. Davenport is executive director of the Habersham County Historical Society. Both want to help the Hispanic population of Habersham County be seen and appreciated. Unfortunately, the contributions of the Hispanic community often remain under the radar and not clearly recognized.
Pahuama is proud of its Mexican-American heritage and would like the people of Habersham to get to know the county’s Hispanic population. “I would like to help educate people about who we are so they know we’re not a threat,” says Pahuamba.
When Davenport went on staff at the Habersham County Historical Society, she was surprised to find that there were no references to Hispanics in the county’s current written history. As she leads the Historical Society toward its 50th anniversary this spring, Davenport wants to recognize what Hispanics have accomplished in the county. “We have an opportunity, a window, for Hispanics to be seen, so they won’t be in the background anymore,” she says.
Silvia Corwin sits on the planning committee for the main focus of Hispanic Heritage Month – a street festival on September 24. Corwin, originally from Lima, Peru, first came to the United States to study. She remained thereafter, working with community members as a Magnate Advocate Teacher at Baldwin and Cornelia Elementary Schools. Corwin is thrilled that her culture is seen and enjoyed by others through celebration.
Corwin points out that not only does the Hispanic community make up more than a third of Cornelia’s population, but it represents several Hispanic countries. “We have people from Mexico as well as Venezuela, Guatemala, Panama, Peru, Colombia and other Latin American countries,” she says. “The festival will give a performance for the first time to all these groups.”
These different cultures will be represented in particular by the food that will be served during the celebration.
“We’ll have different types of food from different Hispanic countries,” Corwin says. “Not all Hispanic food is Mexican, and we’re excited to introduce these foods to the community.” The festival will also feature local Hispanic crafts and music.
The event will take place at the Skate Park in conjunction with Cornelia’s Big Red Apple Festival on September 24th. The Skate Park is located next to the Historical Society office on Chattahoochee Street, behind the Cornelia Library. Chattahoochee Street will be primarily closed to vehicular traffic to clear the way for pedestrian traffic. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
More than a quarter century of Hispanic history
Suany Latty has lived in northeast Georgia for 30 years, originally from Panama.
“In 1996, the first class with Hispanic students had 6 graduates,” recalls Latty. She points out that later degrees with the so-called second generations have involved many more Hispanic students.
“These graduates received more scholarships and found more high-level jobs. Many of them have started their own businesses and bought houses.
The majority of this group which calls itself “The New Americans” did not stay in this field after graduating. Instead, they looked for bigger opportunities outside of the county. Yet, points out Latty, “these graduates have always been an asset to the community.”
Stewart Swanson’s family founded the Habersham County Historical Society and he remains active in the work of the organization. He is also passionate about creating inclusion for all groups within the Habersham community. Swanson spent six years working in Latin America, building cellular networks. He was amazed at his personal experiences there. “We’ve always been well received,” he says, “and the people there have worked well with us.” The result of Swanson’s work there was significant. “They had the chance to progress in society,” he says. “They became more efficient and were more able to communicate with others.”
Swanson’s dream is that internationals who come to this region are received as openly as he is and are allowed to add to the culture here too.
Davenport’s goal is to begin recording the history of members of these ethnic groups who have lived in the area for over 30 years. She worked with Story Corps to begin capturing these personal stories and histories digitally. Story Corps will be bringing their Airstream trailer to the location to begin recording them. The digital recordings will also be placed in the Library of Congress.
The historical society
The Historical Society houses two historical collections. The Standard Telephone Company Museum preserves the history of telephone service which came to Cornelia and Clarkesville in 1904. The museum houses artifacts that trace the advancements made in the communications industry through the telephone.
The Regional African American Museum of Northeast Georgia, Inc., preserves the history of the “cultural heritage of the communities that participated in the Cornelia Regional [Colored] School (CRCS); an “equalization” school built and maintained by the school boards of Banks, Habersham, Rabun, and White counties from 1955 to 1966. The school was built to avoid the integration of high schools in Banks, Rabun, and White counties. Students from these counties were bused to Cornelia Regional [Colored] School, entering high school.
Both museums are open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or by appointment. Museum guide Olga Vyrjikovskaia says only about 100 people visit the museums each year. Debby Satterfield, who sits on the society’s board of directors, hopes the festival will also introduce people to the historical society. “We strive to make our city and county aware of the work of the Historical Society,” she says.
“We’ve had five decades of running the Historical Society,” Swanson says. “But the composition of the community and the population has changed. People don’t have as much extra time to volunteer, so we’re struggling to find volunteers to help save our story.
Although the organization needs more funding as well as more volunteers, progress has been made. The University of Georgia is digitizing the history of the Standard Telephone Company, preserving that history for the future. Davenport notes that African American materials also need work to be preserved. She also hopes to offer programming and speakers to support the work of the Society.