SALEM, Ohio (WKBN) – The city of Salem is known to have a robust Guatemalan population. The most recent census shows about 3 percent of Salem’s population is Hispanic. But, the commissioner of the Salem City Health District says the Guatemalan population is actually much higher than that.
Salem’s Guatemalan population grabbed headlines in 2018 when many were the target of an ICE raid at Fresh Mark.
The community’s population is difficult to track due to a lingering sense of distrust of the government.
Commissioner Alanna Stainbrook explained that Guatemalans could make up more than a quarter of Salem’s total population.
Salem’s Guatemalan population is evident in the no less than two markets that carry products from Mexico and Central and South America, which have Spanish-speaking clerks and products almost exclusively labeled in Spanish.
“We have approximately 3,000 in the city. Well, I don’t want to say in the city, in Columbiana County, but the majority of them reside in the city of Salem,” Stainbrook said.
According to the 2020 Census, Salem’s population is just under 12,000 people.
“Census-takers were to contact our interpreter and… for a week he dedicated to go around with them to interpret and they didn’t get a hold of him,” Stainbrook said.
Before the ICE raid in 2018, Stainbrook says the Guatemalan population was closer to 5,000.
“They are now starting to come back, not the ones that were here, but new ones,” Stainbrook said.
The 2022-2025 Columbiana County Community Health Needs Assessment lists Salem’s Guatemalan population as “vulnerable” mostly due to language barriers. It says there are more than 25 known dialects spoken by Guatemalans, many of whom are of Mayan descent.
“Our interpreter works with us very, very well, actually. He’s amazing. He comes in with every Guatemalan that comes into our office. He comes in and interprets for them,” Stainbrook said.
The Health Needs Assessment says more data is required about the specific dialects spoken in Salem in order to better make sure Guatemalan immigrants are getting proper medical treatment.
That interpreter was out of the country in Columbia at the time of this story.