Monday, June 11, 2018

A story about cross-ethnicity solidarity in rural America

Most of the news out of rural America that implicates racial or ethnic difference suggests bigotry among rural and small-town whites.  That makes this New York Times story an exception, with its headline proclaiming:  "ICE Came for a Tennessee Town's Immigrants.  The Town Fought Back."  Morristown, Tennessee, population 29,663, is the dateline. This small city in northeast Tennessee has attracted workers from Mexico and Central America for three decades, with many settling there over the years, raising families now present across generations.  As context for her story, journalist Miriam Jordan plays up the politics of Tennessee, where 61% of voters supported Trump in 2016.  An excerpt follows:
So the day Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided the Southeastern Provision plant outside the city and sent dozens of workers to out-of-state detention centers was the day people in Morristown began to ask questions many hadn’t thought through before — to the federal government, to the police, to their church leaders, to each other.
Jordan tells the story partly through excerpts from interviews with folks in the Morristown area.  Needless to say, Morristown's residents are not all supportive of the immigrants, but I note that many of those who are parents and those who teach and interact with immigrant children are among the most supportive of the immigrant families.  They tend to see the immigrants as connected to, part of the fabric of the community. 

The details Jordan  provides of the raid and the detentions are chilling.  Indeed, the actions of ICE agents and the response of the community remind me of accounts of the 2008 immigration raid in Postville, Iowa, which is the subject of this film

Also, an Anne Lewis film about Morristown, "Morristown:  In the Air and Sun," was released by Appalshop in 2007.  That documentary, too, tells the story of cross-racial coalition building among workers in Morristown, a coalition that led to the unionization of a Koch Industries owned poultry processing plant there. 

I wrote in 2009 in the Harvard Latino Law Review about the integration (or lack thereof) of immigrants into the rural South here, with some particular attention to Morristown.

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