Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Resistance is futile

It is an old story, almost a cliché at this point: the small town girl or boy wants to escape and see the city lights. What those stories don’t mention is that as these bright-eyed boys and girls leave their rural homes, rural populations start to skew towards the more golden of years. As the average age creeps up, birthrates shrink back, and small towns start to experience population loss.

That’s the story in many rural towns in the mid-West. And as a recent New York Times article points out, it’s the story in Ulysses, Kansas. Now this isn’t just shrinkage, the article explains that plummeting populations across the Great Plains have caused businesses, schools, and even churches to close. Entire shopping malls are abandoned; houses are empty.

But these voids are being filled—even if not by the children of the current residents. These areas are experiencing an immigration boom as more and more foreign-born Hispanics and Latinos move to the area. In Ulysses, the population of 6000 is now about half Hispanic. And while there is the expected resentment and frustration, the community acknowledges that the influx is vital for their survival.

The immigrants fill those abandoned shopping malls and empty houses, the elefante in the room is how the community will accept them. Will the new populations divide each other? Segregate? Assimilate? Integrate? The article suggests the latter: when the last white-owned restaurant closed shop earlier this year, a new owner emerged to fill the niche. In the same spot, Luz Gonzalez serves her self-described “American food.” Her restaurant, The Down-Town Restaurant, serves up fare such as: cheeseburgers, chicken-fried steak, and even potato salad. Even if it’s the neighbor’s recipe.

This article, although old, does a good job explaining the influx, even before the 2010 census results. The prognosis described there seems met by the Times article. So as far as class is concerned, how does this change rural identity? One part of the article explains how many immigrants move to these small towns because they hope for a way of life similar to their homeland. So it won’t be as if they are coming in as blank slates. And while one community seems willing to embrace the future, our ideas of rural culture will have to change too.

For one, we’re going to have to lose the notion of the white-farmer (different from our notion of the farm-worker). But other stereotypes of rural persons that aren’t skin deep will have to change too. For one, Christianity is one such stereotype threatened by the influx; consider that many of these immigrants are likely Catholic. Additionally, their politics are likely to be extremely different—recall that rural communities often vote Republican. How will that change given the GOP’s immigration policies?

No matter what, the definition is going to change—either through extinction or integration.


princesspeach said...

JWHS, are the viewpoints in your last paragraph specific to Kansas? I ask because in California, where there is great diversity, there probably isn’t a notion of all white farmers. Here is an article from 11 years ago regarding the great diversity in California farmers. http://ucanr.org/repository/cao/landingpage.cfm?article=ca.v054n01p8&fulltext=yes. Similarly, in my hometown, 95% of the peach farming is done my Indian-Americans. http://www.sikhpioneers.org/SikhFarmers.html. Therefore, I would say in many places there is a notion of non-white farmers. Perhaps this is where Ulysses will be in the future.

JWHS said...

Just more of the stereotype, we've discussed in class how we often think of "farmers" as white middle-aged men. I don't know because I don't live there, but I think this stereotype is more prevalent in the Great Plains/Midwest area.

Hopefully integration is the end result.

Scarecrow said...

Will rural Latinos vote differently than their urban counterparts? Much has been made of Latinos' influence in national politics. Part of what makes this group so attractive is that they generally share immigration as a top priority. As a result, Latinos generally provide a strong bloc vote.
Perhaps immigration reform will become more likely if rural Representatives know their constituents include a large number of Latinos who want to see movement on the issue.