Immigration and the New Racial Diversity in Rural America


  • This article is a revised version of the presidential address presented at the annual meetings of the Rural Sociological Society, Boise, ID, on July 28, 2011. I acknowledge the computing assistance of Lisa Cimbaluk and Richard Turner as well as the helpful comments of David Brown, Charlie Hirschman, Ken Johnson, William Kandel, Mimmo Parisi, and Sharon Sassler on early drafts of this article.


This article highlights the new racial and ethnic diversity in rural America, which may be the most important but least anticipated population shift in recent demographic history. Ethnoracial change is central to virtually every aspect of rural America over the foreseeable future: agro-food systems, community life, labor force change, economic development, schools and schooling, demographic change, intergroup relations, and politics. The goal here is to plainly illustrate how America's racial and ethnic transformation has emerged as an important dimension of ongoing U.S. urbanization and urbanism, growing cultural and economic heterogeneity, and a putative “decline in community” in rural America. Rural communities provide a natural laboratory for better understanding the implications of uneven settlement and racial diversity, acculturation, and economic and political incorporation among Hispanic newcomers. This article raises the prospect of a new racial balkanization and outlines key impediments to full incorporation of Hispanics into rural and small town community life. Immigration and the new ethnoracial diversity will be at the leading edge of major changes in rural community life as the nation moves toward becoming a majority-minority society by 2042.