Chatham County’s 250th anniversary celebration is set to kick off in early spring, and for its planners, it’s not just a birthday party — it’s an opportunity to celebrate and recognize the county’s growing diversity.
“What we’re trying to do in Chatham 250 is celebrate all of Chatham County, and Chatham County is a diverse place,” said Project Manager Hilary Pollan, adding, “There’s a lot of different ethnic and racial cultures in Chatham County ... and our hope with Chatham 250 is to celebrate all of those and to create a celebration where everyone feels like they belong.”
Chatham 250 planners especially seek to celebrate and engage the Hispanic community, said Pollan, who’s also the county’s community partners analyst. That’s why this year’s celebration won’t just offer Spanish-language translation and interpretation for its events and projects; it’ll also offer events specifically designed for the county’s Hispanic community, with the help of several Chatham Latino residents.
“The celebrations are about belonging,” Pollan said. “They’re about helping people feel like they belong in this county and belong in terms of their voice and being able to share what’s important to them and be listened to and heard and have it shape the way we make decisions.”
Lendy Carias, a Guatemalan immigrant, is one of three Chatham 250 co-chairpersons. Since last year, she and Pollan have been working to engage the county’s Hispanic community and to plan events catered specifically to the county’s Latino residents.
“One thing about the Chatham 250 is that we want the community to feel comfortable because, if there is no Hispanic person representing the community, they’re probably going to think, ‘Oh, we don’t want to go to the events,’ or ‘We don’t want to go to the celebration,’ because they won’t feel part of it,” Carias said. “So having a person who’s representing them, they’re gonna feel maybe more comfortable going there.”
Together, the pair have come up with plans for a fall soccer tournament, or “campeonato,” a drive-thru parade, or “caravana,” and several history projects to tell the community’s stories.
“A lot of Hispanic people like soccer, so we tried to do like — we call it ‘La Liga,’ where there’s going to be a lot of teams,” Carias said. “The community can be involved, and they can create their own futbol teams. And then we’re going to have two days of play.”
At the same time, Pollan added, Chatham 250's planners ask community members to be flexible, as they're still looking at how they can plan the campeonato in a way "that ensures the health and safety of residents throughout our celebrations" during a pandemic.
“My hope with the campeonato is that ... it kind of exists in that bilingual space for our Hispanic/Latinx community and other communities to come together to enjoy soccer," she said.
The Chatham 250 plans to close out celebrations with the caravana. The pandemic prevents them from throwing a big festival, Pollan said, so instead, they plan to invite people to decorate their cars, perhaps with their country flags, and drive through Siler City celebrating safely together.
Maria Soto of Communities In Schools of Chatham County has also been involved in the celebration’s steering committee, and the Chatham 250 planners have also partnered with the Hispanic Liaison to promote the yearlong celebration.
Other Chatham 250 events and projects for the entire community will also be accessible to the county’s Spanish-speaking community, Pollan said.
“We have budgeted for a significant amount of funds for translation,” she said, adding, “That’s a commitment we’ve made — authentic, equitable engagement. We want everybody who wants to participate to be able to participate.”
Most, if not all, Chatham 250 documents, online and otherwise, will be available in Spanish, and their branded events — both in-person and virtual — will have Spanish translators available. Organizers plan to circulate flyers in both languages, and the Founding Day celebration on April 10 will have bilingual speakers.
Founding Day is the day the Colonial Assembly ratified Chatham’s charter, establishing Chatham County.
“It’s a birthday party,” Pollan said. “So we’ll have party hats, goodie bags, cake, a piñata raffle, art projects. It’s a drive-thru event, and we’d love to see folks come out and kick off these anniversary celebrations.”
The celebration’s main “event” is the Chatham 250’s Passport experience. Pollan described the activity as a “self-guided tour meets scavenger hunt.” Participants will receive a map with a list of 15 to 20 activities under each of the five “celebration themes,” which include Creative Arts, Community and Diversity, Growth and Change, Agriculture and Natural Environment.
“The idea is that it gets you to experience different parts of Chatham County,” she said. “Like, we have ‘Eat at a restaurant you’ve never been to before,’ and so the way we’ve structured it is that it’s completely accessible for wherever you live, and whatever type of resources you have, and whatever language you speak.”
The county will distribute printed copies of the maps to all CCS students and at key areas around Chatham; people will also be able to download the maps from the Chatham 250’s website, which will also be available in Spanish.
Beyond just one-time events, the Chatham 250 will leave a lasting impact: creating a history archive dedicated to the past 50 years’ worth of stories from the county’s Hispanic community.
“There is no history recorded currently of Chatham County’s Hispanic and Latinx community,” Pollan said. “I mean, there’s little pieces, but there isn’t a dedicated collection, and our ability to sort of go back and recall history is really important when we think about memory, and when we think about reconciliation. If we don’t have anything archived, you can’t do that moving forward.”
As Pollan sees it, the Chatham 250 picks up from the county’s bicentennial celebrations in 1971 — when the county had no true Hispanic/Latinx presence. Those celebrations, she said, also only truly honored “certain parts” of Chatham and left many minority communities out.
“That’s not where we are, as a county, as a nation, anymore,” she said. “We want everybody who lives here to see themselves in these celebrations, and so, Chatham 250 is really focusing on the last 50 years. We looked back at the last 50 years (at) what has changed (and) what defines these 50 years, and the Hispanic migration to Chatham County is a huge part of that narrative.”
To achieve this, Pollan put together a Historical Content committee filled with interested county historians and residents — including Paul Cuadros, Jordan-Matthews’ men’s soccer coach and UNC journalism professor. He wrote about Hispanic migration to Chatham County in his book, “A Home on the Field,” which follows the creation of Los Jets, a predominantly Latino soccer team at Jordan-Matthews.
“I’m on the committee that’s looking at how things have changed in Chatham County, population-wise, and then specifically within that, how the Hispanics or Latinos have been a part of that,” Cuadros said. “So as part of that committee, I’ve been working on a Los Jets exhibit or artifacts for the history folks. So I’ve been gathering those things together, and we’ve been talking about that.”
Though it’s a well-known story in the county, Cuadros said he hopes that the exhibit — which had been featured in the North Carolina Museum of History — will provide context and offer a specific story beyond the overarching theme, the Hispanic migration into Chatham County, which started in the ‘90s. The committee also hopes to collect individual stories from others in the community.
“It’s really hard to gather this stuff, and when it comes to the Latino community, there’s a language barrier,” Cuadros said. “ ... This is an important endeavor to get this into the record and to ensure that history be a part of the overarching history, and nobody is left out.”
“One of my hopes for Chatham 250 is to begin to formalize a permanent location for that history,” added Pollan, “so that at the tricentennial, some young people will be able to go back and look at that history and be able to know their roots and the story of this county.”
Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.