On The Ground: Searching for gold in Wimauma

To read this story in Spanish, please follow this link.
There are projects that stir my passion for journalism, challenge my abilities, and cause me to fall in love all over again with my chosen profession of writing and editing. On the Ground is one such project. When Diane Egner, Managing Editor of 83 Degrees Media, approached me with her plans to move forward with this project, I was captivated from the start.
The notion of displaying a town’s potential and its strengths, of sharing its history and the stories of its people, of speaking of the personal and communal achievements and investments within its borders, is attractive. However, this storytelling project will be an even bigger challenge given that the town is consistently plagued by negative headlines, and those stories tend to be the ones that dominate the local news.
Yet none of this intimidates me from taking on the challenge. It is for a reason that through my veins runs the blood of a people who search for gold where apparently there is none; where not even the promising glimmer of a seam of riches can be seen; where the surface is barren. My motivation and determination stems from the fact that I’m the granddaughter of Antonio Dominguez, who in the ’60s named the mines of Chihuahua, Mexico. In that place, that didn’t even win a second glance from others, my grandfather chipped stone until he found the precious mineral. Without a doubt, he knew how to identify the promise the land held. Like my grandfather, I’m inclined to search for goodness where there seemingly is none. Working on the surface is not my specialty. I am well aware that deserts hide treasures and possess their own charm. 

I fell in love with the On the Ground storytelling project because it makes social sense. It is a commitment to change the narrative of a notorious town, which has yet to awaken and show its goodness, to demonstrate its economic contributions and efforts to become better. 

On the Ground also captivated my heart because of its demographics. Wimauma, located in south Hillsborough County, is home primarily to Hispanics. U.S. Census data from 2010 states Hispanics in Wimauma make up 73.4 percent of the total population.
As a Mexican woman myself, I am certain that we Latinos are a daring people, hard-working, committed, generous, and above all, grateful. 

When the Latino voice is heard with greater strength in every corner of the United States, Wimauma should not be left behind. On the Ground is a project that acknowledges a population who is daily weaving stories into the evolution of Florida. The proof is in the people. 

To familiarize myself with the neighborhood, my first step was to visit Wimauma and approach community leaders. 

Lourdes Villanueva, area director of Farmworker Advocacy for Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA), is a prime example of someone who grew up in an unfavorable environment -- picking strawberries and oranges and tomatoes during her childhood and adolescence -- yet later on in life, after getting married and having children, completed her university studies and has become a community leader who often travels between Plant City and Wimauma to carry out her work.
Marcela Estevez, who left her post as a Mexican diplomat to work and make a positive impact in the community of Wimauma, is another example of the precious gold found in Wimauma.
Juana Juarez, 44, has lived in Wimauma 42 years and works ceaselessly to improve the quality of education in her town.
Listening to the expertise of Dr. Allen A. Witt, president of Hillsborough Community College SouthShore Campus, on Wimauma and the surrounding area, is instrumental and enlightening to understanding the challenges ahead.
Getting to know Wimauma close-up has been an inviting experience, as has been discovering its people’s drive and contributions far beyond its territorial borders. I have enjoyed getting to know the spinal structure of a town that continues to be primarily agricultural, but that has also nourished leaders such as Adrian Sarmiento, whose story we will later tell in this same space. My vision of Wimauma is all in all a tribute to diversity, a cultural fusion that involves Caucasians, Mexicans, Central Americans, African-Americans and Latin Americans.
As editor of the project, I commit to bring you relevant information, inspiring stories, and the reality that people in Wimauma are experiencing.
For now, I feel honored to be the vehicle through which the rest of the state, the country and the world will get an up close and personal look at Wimauma. My sole and clear purpose is to promote social, economic and health initiatives that will generate vitality and prosperity in the community. Wimauma deserves an opportunity to demonstrate a benevolent and triumphant countenance.

Follow along in coming weeks and months as 83 Degrees shares the stories of Wimauma in both English and Spanish. If you know of a Wimauma story that should be part of the narrative, please send an email to [email protected] Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

To read more stories from the 83 Degrees Media On The Ground storytelling project, follow these links for English and for Spanish.

The 83 Degrees Media On The Ground storytelling project is supported by Allegany Franciscan Ministries.

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Read more articles by Imelda Dutton.

Imelda Dutton, a native of the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, is a bilingual journalist with extensive expertise in Spanish communications. For more than two decades, she reported on Latin American issues for Mexican and American media, including El Universal de Mexico. She has also written for and edited Spanish and English publications, including Visión Latina, formerly a weekly publication of The Ledger and The New York Times, and Ágora, a bilingual quarterly military magazine published by U.S. Northern Command. For the past decade she has been a strategic communications consultant for international companies, such as Booz Allen Hamilton and Jacobs Technology; and in 2014, she founded CrossoverComm Inc., her own content development and communications agency. Dutton is currently the Tampa Bay area correspondent for El Sentinel newspaper and enjoys looking for ways to promote diversity and cultural awareness among Americans.