BY PAUL A. BARRA
COLUMBIA – Ten community leaders from Southern Mexico are visiting South Carolina for two weeks to learn how to better the lot of their constituents back home. They began their visit with Mass at St. John Neumann on Sept. 29.
“They want to observe how local governments do strategic planning,” said Glenda L. Bunce, who is hosting the tour. “This gives them the chance to learn how governmental decisions are made in the United States, and it gives people in South Carolina a chance to learn more about their lives and culture.”
Bunce is the coordinator of the diocesan Office of Immigration Services, a service of Catholic Charities. She is a lawyer and formerly a director of projects with the Robert J. Walker Institute of International Studies at the University of South Carolina. Her final duty at USC before she moved to Catholic Charities, she said, was to write the federal grant that funded the Mexican visit.
She asked for and was granted a short leave from her position with the Diocese of Charleston to squire the Mexican officials, academics and business leaders around — and to translate for them — because she thinks the program can reap benefits.
“None of them speak English, but they’re very excited about their visit,” she said. “I think it’s important for them and us. With the Hispanic population increasing the way it is in South Carolina, we have good reason to learn more about Mexican citizens and why they come to our state.”
The program is being organized by USC’s Latin America Studies Program and includes a reciprocal visit by South Carolinians south of the border so they can better understand the culture of the Mexican citizens who come to the state and why they left their homeland.
Carolina community leaders will visit Vera Cruz and Oaxaca states in February.
The exchange program received the $166,000 grant Bunce applied for from the Department of State. Governmental bodies, chambers of commerce and universities will host panel discussions and receptions and tours for the visitors in Aiken, Beaufort, Charleston, Hilton Head Island and Sumter before the visit ends on Oct. 12, according to Peggy Binette of USC.
The trip got off to a vibrant start at the opening mass, in Spanish, at St. John Neumann and the international fiesta that followed in the parish hall.
Noé Rey López, mayor of Totutla in Vera Cruz, knew all the hymns sung by the large congregation at Mass; he also enjoyed celebrant Father Filemon Juya’s homily, the retaking of marriage vows by a couple on their 10th anniversary and the blessing of the community’s catechists.
“The priest demonstrated a high level of communication with the people,” Mayor Lopez said.