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  • Amos J Wright
    ... From: H-Net Review Project Distribution List [mailto:H-REVIEW@H-NET.MSU.EDU] On Behalf Of H-Net Staff Sent: Thursday, February 25, 2010 11:01 AM To:
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      From: H-Net Review Project Distribution List [mailto:H-REVIEW@...] On Behalf Of H-Net Staff
      Sent: Thursday, February 25, 2010 11:01 AM
      To: H-REVIEW@...
      Subject: H-Net Review Publication: 'New Immigrants in a New South'

      Mary E. Odem, Elaine Cantrell Lacy, eds. Latino Immigrants and the
      Transformation of the U.S. South. Athens University of Georgia
      Press, 2009. xxvii + 175 pp. $59.95 (library), ISBN
      978-0-8203-2968-0; $24.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8203-3212-3.

      Reviewed by Tore Olsson (University of Georgia)
      Published on H-Southern-Industry (February, 2010)
      Commissioned by Tom Downey

      New Immigrants in a New South

      In the past two decades, the Latino population of the American South
      has grown faster than in any other region of the United States. From
      a relatively insignificant urban minority in the South of 1990, by
      2005 Latin American immigrants were settled in nearly every county of
      the former Confederacy, and scholars across a number of disciplines
      are now beginning to acknowledge the vast social, cultural, and
      economic transformations this demographic influx has brought. In the
      past few years, a number of essay collections and articles (though
      notably few monographs) have appeared that examine the recent
      globalization of the southern population and economy, often looking
      at local dynamics of global phenomena. Mary Odem and Elaine Lacy's
      edited volume _Latino Immigrants and the Transformation of the U.S.
      South_, the product of a 2004 interdisciplinary conference at Emory
      University, is a valuable addition to this growing body of
      literature. Composed of nine essays by historians, geographers,
      anthropologists, and public policy scholars working both within the
      United States and Mexico, the book is loosely organized around four
      major themes, which will also serve to structure this review:
      immigrant culture, identity, and transnational community formation;
      Latino labor and the economic impacts of immigration; the
      transformation of racial dynamics with the shattering of a binary
      understanding of black and white; and the evolving response of
      native-born southerners to their newest neighbors.

      In contrast to popular conceptions of immigration as the
      unidirectional movement of poor people to rich nations, wherein
      migrants' "traditional" identities inevitably give way to a linear
      process of Americanization, the volume's essays reveal recent
      migration from Latin America to the U.S. South to be decidedly
      circular, a complex process that has forged hybrid identities,
      nationalities, and senses of belonging. Especially in the case of
      Mexican migrants, who make up the large majority of the region's
      Latino population and for whom migration abroad is often temporary
      and multi-sited, cultural adaptation and community formation in their
      newest homes have been structured by a "sojourner mentality," as Lacy
      demonstrates in her chapter on Mexicans in South Carolina. Though
      only a minority of Lacy's interviewees planned to settle permanently
      within the United States, they were nevertheless active in building
      settler enclaves, wherein restaurants and _tienda_s offering familiar
      foods, music and other cultural forms eased the transition to life
      and work in South Carolina. But if Lacy celebrates the successful
      forging of a flexible "cultural citizenship" that transcends national
      borders, Rosío Córdova Plaza, in her essay on migrants from the
      Mexican state of Veracruz, is far more pessimistic about the
      structural challenges workers face in their seasonal and cyclical
      labor migration. Because of the U.S. government's unwillingness to
      legally recognize the transnational labor circuits that fuel
      countless industries in the South and elsewhere, undocumented
      immigrants are forced to inhabit a world of instability, fear, and
      constant vulnerability. The lack of legal status too often means that
      workers are at the mercy of exploitative employers or become targets
      of petty crime, unable or unwilling to seek the aid of local law
      enforcement or workers' rights groups. More often than not,
      immigrants' undocumented status benefits those eager and willing to
      exploit them.

      Questions of work and economic opportunity are central to each of the
      volume's essays, as the recent influx of Latinos to the South has
      been a labor migration above all else. Often actively recruited by
      expanding, low-wage industries such as construction, agribusiness,
      and food processing, Latino workers first arrived to the South in the
      1980s, either from the American Southwest or from sending regions in
      Mexico and Central America. Migration was initially anchored in local
      enclave industries that aggressively sought immigrant labor, whether
      in carpet production in Dalton, Georgia, or poultry processing in
      Scott County, Mississippi. While employers' rhetoric that immigrant
      recruitment filled gaps in worker availability was sometimes true, as
      white and black workers across the South increasingly left food
      processing and agricultural jobs, in many cases the preferential
      hiring of immigrants, especially undocumented ones, was an active
      strategy to replace workers considered too demanding with ones
      believed to be more submissive. As Angela Stuesse demonstrates in her
      essay on Mississippi poultry workers, racial divisions between white,
      black, and Latino workers are often exploited by managers, though
      labor organizers are slowly beginning to reach across cultural
      borders to forge a labor movement that transcends race and
      nationality. However, such attempts often collide with lingering
      resentments among both white and black workers that Latinos "steal"
      jobs or depress wages, both common claims among anti-immigrant groups
      in recent years. But in analyzing this myth within North Carolina,
      economists James Johnson and John Kasarda argue that if recent
      immigrants do present a minor drain on state spending through their
      use of health and education services, they make up for it many times
      over with job creation and spending power. Rather than extractive
      "freeloaders," as nativist opponents continue to assert, immigrant
      workers have been essential, though often unacknowledged, agents in
      recent Sunbelt economic growth.

      Any discussion of immigration to the U.S. South would likewise be
      incomplete without attention to race. While the region's historical
      white racism is by no means exceptional, the South does remain
      nationally distinctive in its relatively high proportion of African
      American residents, and the interaction between southern blacks and
      recent immigrants has been a central problem upon which scholars have
      focused. While many black leaders have symbolically reached out to
      the Latino community, the daily interactions of African Americans and
      recent immigrants have been far more strained, as Stuesse points out
      in the case of Mississippi, and Raymond Mohl for Alabama. Both groups
      often rely upon stereotypes of the other, as immigrants are slow to
      acknowledge blacks' long and difficult history within the South and
      fall back on the anti-black racism common to many parts of Latin
      America, while blacks blame individual Latinos for lowered wages and
      decreasing opportunities. Though the 2006 protests for immigrant
      rights symbolically drew on the legacy and rhetoric of the civil
      rights movement, any potential alliance between southern blacks and
      Latinos remains tenuous. Yet to assume that recent immigration has
      simply added a third element in a now-tripolar racial configuration
      is wrong, and in her essay geographer Jamie Winders reminds us that
      Latinos are only one of many immigrant groups seeking visibility
      within southern society. In Nashville, where a large refugee
      population from eastern Europe and the Middle East has complicated
      monolithic representations of immigrants and race, the city
      government's strategy of grouping Latinos and refugees together as an
      "international" community has concealed the many differences between
      legally sanctioned refugees and undocumented Latino workers.

      While some observers might assume that the South would be inherently
      hostile to arriving immigrants, either because of the region's racial
      history or lack of earlier immigration, nearly all of the essays in
      Lacy and Odem's volume demonstrate that during the 1980s and 90s,
      southern society was more often welcoming and open to those who
      arrived. Indeed, many immigrants who left the xenophobic atmospheres
      of late-twentieth-century California and Texas found southern states
      such as Georgia and Arkansas far more hospitable, where local
      residents were more curious than hostile towards their newest
      neighbors. But in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11,
      and the economic downturn of the years that followed, along with the
      increasing visibility of a quickly-growing Latino community, nativism
      exploded throughout the South as it had in the Southwest.
      Anti-immigrant hostility took many forms, from restrictions on
      immigrants' use of public space, as Odem demonstrates for the case of
      Atlanta, to the "English-only" campaigns that Odem and Lacy describe
      in the book's final essay. A generation since the beginnings of
      large-scale Latin American migration to the South, immigrants today
      face a decidedly more hostile and antagonistic society than they did
      in earlier years.

      While Odem and Lacy have successfully brought together nine
      insightful essays from a broad range of multinational and
      multidisciplinary scholars, the book remains a limited introduction,
      due somewhat, in all fairness, to the inherent limitations of an
      essay collection. The essays, often shorter than fifteen pages each
      before notes, are sometimes unable to move beyond broad
      generalizations within the small space they are allotted. And even
      though it was edited by two historians, the collection does not go
      far enough in linking recent demographic and economic change with the
      region's longer history. The booming industries that recruited so
      many immigrants, such as poultry processing and large-scale
      agribusiness, were not creations of the 1980s but of mid-century
      change, as the postwar South joined the West in forging a new
      low-wage, suburban- and consumer-oriented Sunbelt economy. Too often,
      the demographic changes illustrated by the volume's contributors
      appear to be playing out upon a static backdrop that does not
      acknowledge the massive (trans)national economic transformations that
      remade the United States after 1945. Likewise, in their introduction,
      Lacy and Odem do not sufficiently prove the usefulness of keeping
      "the South" as a geographical container for understanding recent
      immigration history. Rather than a world apart, the South of the
      1980s and beyond was firmly embedded within the Sunbelt economy, and
      to exclude Texas and Florida from examinations of recent immigration,
      as many scholars have done and continue to do, might be to construct
      artificial boundaries where none actually existed. The nagging
      questions of southern exceptionalism and how one defines "the South"
      emerge throughout the volume, and deserve more serious contemplation.
      Nevertheless, Odem and Lacy's volume is a valuable contribution to a
      young and developing field. As scholars continue to interpret the
      transformations that recent immigration has wrought, they will
      undoubtedly return again and again to the questions that this handy
      volume has posed.

      Citation: Tore Olsson. Review of Odem, Mary E.; Lacy, Elaine
      Cantrell, eds., _Latino Immigrants and the Transformation of the U.S.
      South_. H-Southern-Industry, H-Net Reviews. February, 2010.
      URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=26059

      This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
      Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
      License.
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