New Destination Dreaming: Immigration, Race, and Legal Status in the Rural American South. By B. Marrow Helen. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011. xiii, 370 pages. $80.00 cloth, $24.95 paper.
Article first published online: 6 DEC 2013
© 2013 by the Center for Migration Studies of New York. All rights reserved.
International Migration Review
Volume 47, Issue 4, pages 1044–1045, December 2013
How to Cite
Smith, B. E. (2013), New Destination Dreaming: Immigration, Race, and Legal Status in the Rural American South. By B. Marrow Helen. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011. xiii, 370 pages. $80.00 cloth, $24.95 paper. International Migration Review, 47: 1044–1045. doi: 10.1111/imre.12057
- Issue published online: 6 DEC 2013
- Article first published online: 6 DEC 2013
This landmark study of Hispanic settlement in eastern North Carolina is the first comparative ethnography of rural “new destinations” in the contemporary U.S. South. Focused on two counties with contrasting economic profiles and racial demographics, Helen Marrow's sensitive and systematic investigation illuminates the complicated interpersonal dynamics and institutional processes of immigrant incorporation and exclusion. Drawing on 129 interviews and extensive field observation, Marrow situates “Hispanic newcomers” (most of whom are foreign-born) at the center of analysis; she successively examines the relative influence of rurality and region, labor markets, the dynamics of race/racism and citizenship/nativism, and key institutional settings on im/migrant settlement and prospects for inclusion.
Marrow's findings contest the rural South's mythic status as a space of violent, irredeemable racism. Many of her 88 Hispanic interviewees, especially direct migrants from abroad and those from lower-class, rural origins, describe North Carolina as tranquil and welcoming, although more urban, higher-status Hispanics tend to experience the area as “boring” and “close-minded” (48). Rurality is more influential than any presumably distinctive features of the South in shaping Hispanic newcomers’ perceptions of eastern North Carolina, she concludes.
Sharp contrasts between Marrow's two study counties emerge in immigrants’ encounters with local labor markets. Majority-black “Bedford” County offers relatively precarious jobs in the rural South's declining, traditional employment sectors – tobacco agriculture and manufacturing, especially textiles. Although Hispanic workers in Bedford County (where Hispanics represent only 3 percent of the total population) report relatively high earnings and generous benefits packages in manufacturing, irregular work and lack of mobility within firms produce chronic uncertainty and pessimism about the future. In “Wilcox” County, where whites predominate and Hispanics comprise 15 percent of the population, a boom in food processing (especially poultry) has produced opportunities for stable, albeit low-wage, employment and even upward mobility, both within firms and via other sectors of the local economy.
The implications that Marrow draws challenge some common arguments in the literature on immigrant incorporation. Documentation of grim working conditions and intense exploitation in animal-processing industries, combined with the more favorable earnings and reputation of manufacturing, has led scholars to assume that the latter offers a relatively desirable path to mobility, which Marrow contests. Moreover, in contrast to normative definitions of immigrant assimilation that construe its achievement in middle-class terms, Marrow suggests that Hispanic immigrants to rural North Carolina, particularly the unauthorized, are finding a “strategic hole” (241) of opportunity that facilitates their incorporation into a working-class version of the American dream. This is not to ignore the demeaning elements of poultry processing, but rather to situate the industry within the landscape of local and even national alternatives – part-time, temporary, and/or irregular employment in retail, services, and manufacturing – wherein poultry jobs appear relatively stable, fulltime, and thus, promising.
Marrow's most sobering findings involve racial dynamics. Although certain Hispanic interviewees affirm commonality with blacks based on racist treatment by whites, more frequently they report greater mistreatment and exclusion by blacks than whites. This is particularly true in majority-black Bedford County, part of the southern “black belt” that has long been characterized by deeply entrenched white supremacy, black poverty, and labor exploitation. Here, blacks and Hispanics encounter each other at the bottom of a declining labor market where white employers favor Hispanic newcomers over their traditional labor force of black workers. Even greater tensions erupt in neighborhoods, where white landlords increasingly evict blacks who lag in paying their rent and replace them with Hispanic tenants. Both examples point to the potent blend of race and class – and the central influence of white control of resources – in shaping inter-group relations. Resentment borne of potential social leapfrogging is also at stake: in schools, Hispanic students experience bullying by black students, and their efforts to excel stimulate hostility from black teachers and administrators. Only in the political arena, where relative population size and many Hispanics’ lack of voting rights guarantee black dominance, is the black–Hispanic tension in Bedford County less than that in Wilcox.
Marrow's findings support cautious optimism regarding immigrant incorporation in eastern North Carolina even as they underscore the brutal persistence of antiblack racism. She observes that whites favor Hispanics over blacks not only as employees and tenants but also as partners in, for example, dating – resulting in social distance from blacks that Hispanics, too, increasingly practice. Moreover, Hispanic respondents tend to attribute hostile treatment from both blacks and whites to their status as unauthorized, Spanish-speaking residents – which is susceptible to change, depending in part on federal policy – rather than to race. The emergent color line of the 21st century, Marrow depressingly concludes, is one of black and non-black.
In a volume replete with insight, Marrow's most innovative and policy-relevant findings involve immigrants’ experiences in diverse bureaucratic settings. In final chapters exploring public education, social services, law enforcement, and the courts, she observes that institutions with mandates of inclusion, combined with service-oriented professional norms, are the most successful at immigrant incorporation. For example, public K-12 education operates with an unequivocal mandate to serve all children and teachers’ professional norms stress service, fairness, and egalitarianism. Despite some negative reports from Bedford County, Hispanic parents repeatedly recount encouraging welcomes from teachers and school administrators to become involved in their children's education. By contrast, institutions with exclusionary criteria for their clientele and strongly regulatory missions – from the social welfare office to local police – tend to be viewed with fear, antipathy, or at best reluctant acquiescence. Law enforcement in particular is caught in a contradiction between its regulatory function, intensified as federal immigration enforcement is downloaded to state and local agencies, and its mission of preventing and solving crimes, which depends heavily on community trust. Marrow's analysis of diverse institutional contexts lays important groundwork for future research into this critical aspect of immigrant incorporation.
The literature on new destinations is finally moving from initial, descriptive reports to more theorized accounts, and New Destination Dreaming is a milestone in that process. Context matters, Marrow concludes. Rural North Carolina is not Los Angeles. Scholars of immigration to the U.S. – whether new destinations or traditional gateways – can learn much from Marrow's fine comparative analysis, which sets a high bar that future studies will be challenged to meet.