Latinos in the South (UPDATED) | Arkansas Blog

Friday, August 4, 2006

Latinos in the South (UPDATED)

Posted By on Fri, Aug 4, 2006 at 9:01 AM

UPDATE (9:15 a.m.): New federal census statistics released this morning show Hispanics represent 4.7 percent of Arkansans, and the Hispanic population is growing much faster than the state's general population.

The New York Times today begins a series called "The Latino South" with a profile of Hispanic immigrants in Atkinson County, Ga.

Just about everything in the article holds true in Arkansas.

Lured in the 1990’s by abundant agricultural work and new manufacturing jobs, the newcomers landed in a town with one traffic light, no tortillas in the supermarket and residents who stared openly at foreigners in a county that saw its last wave of immigrants in the 1850’s.

Today, hundreds of Mexican immigrants, both illegal and legal, work in factories, fields and stores; study in public schools; and live in neighborhoods that were once mostly white or black. This year, as many longtime residents anguished over the metamorphosis of their town, Serafico Jaimes opened a Spanish-language video store right off Main Street and proudly hung a Mexican flag alongside his American flag in the storefront window.

“This is our town now, too,” Mr. Jaimes said. ...

The simmering tensions between Americans and new arrivals have played out here, too, far from the national spotlight. A visit to Atkinson County offers an intimate glimpse at how immigration is rapidly transforming day-to-day life in some small Southern towns. ...

The sudden shift is upending traditional Southern notions of race and class, leaving many whites and blacks grappling with unexpected feelings of dislocation, loss and anger as they adjust to their community’s evolving ethnic identity.

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