Sunday, March 22, 2009

Latina/os in the rural South

The headline in today's New York Times is "A Slippery Place in the U.S. Work Force," and the dateline is Morristown, Tennessee, population 24,965. Here's an excerpt:

Like many places across the United States, this factory town in eastern Tennessee has been transformed in the last decade by the arrival of Hispanic immigrants, many of whom are in this country illegally. Thousands of workers like Mr. López settled in Morristown, taking the lowest-paying elbow-grease jobs, some hazardous, in chicken plants and furniture factories.

Now, with the economy spiraling downward and a crackdown continuing on illegal immigrants, many of them are learning how uncertain their foothold is in the work force in the United States.
Morristown was the subject of "Morristown: In the Air and Sun," a marvelous documentary by Anne Lewis, which was largely about successful efforts to unionize a poultry processing plant in the town. The micropolitan area and its Latina/o newcomers were also the subject of a fall, 2006, series of articles in the Houston Chronicle. Why all the attention to Latina/o newcomers in this locale? Just look at these stats:
The 1960 census did not record a single immigrant in Hamblen County, of which Morristown is the seat. By 2007, Hispanic immigrants and their families made up almost 10 percent of the county population of 61,829, having nearly doubled their numbers since 2000, census data show.

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