The authors look at how Latinos fit into an already fractured social landscape with tensions among townspeople, farmers, and others.
The sudden influx of significant numbers of Latinos to the rural Midwest stems from the recruitment of workers by food processing plants and small factories springing up in rural areas. Mostly they work at back-breaking jobs that local residents are not willing to take because of the low wages and few benefits. The region has become the scene of dramatic change involving major issues facing our country—the intertwining of ethnic differences, prejudice, and poverty; the social impact of a low-wage workforce resulting from corporate transformations; and public policy questions dealing with economic development, taxation, and welfare payments.
In this thorough multidisciplinary study, the authors explore both sides of this ethnic divide and provide the first volume to focus comprehensively on Latinos in the region by linking demographic and qualitative analysis to describe what brings Latinos to the area and how they are being accommodated in their new communities. The fact is that many Midwestern communities would be losing population and facing a dearth of workers if not for Latino newcomers. This finding adds another layer of social and economic complexity to the region's changing place in the global economy. The authors look at how Latinos fit into an already fractured social landscape with tensions among townspeople, farmers, and others. The authors also reveal the optimism that lies in the opposition of many Anglos to ethnic prejudice and racism.
- Chapter 1. Aquí in the Midwest [Here in the Midwest] (Ann V. Millard and Jorge Chapa)
- En Pocas Palabras [In a Few Words] I. Ten Myths about Latinos (Ann V. Millard, Jorge Chapa, and Eileen Diaz McConnell)
- Chapter 2. Latinos in the Rural Midwest: The Twentieth-Century Historical Context Leading to Contemporary Challenges (Eileen Diaz McConnell)
- En Pocas Palabras II. The Battle for Chapita Hills (Catalina Burillo and Ann V. Millard
- Chapter 3. Latinos and the Changing Demographic Fabric of the Rural Midwest (Jorge Chapa, Rogelio Saenz, Refugio I. Rochín, and Eileen Diaz McConnell)
- En Pocas Palabras III. Emergency Medicine and Latino Newcomers
- Chapter 4. Research Overview: The Rural Midwestern Context and Qualitative Methods (Ann V. Millard, Maríaelena D. Jefferds, Ken R. Crane, and Isidore Flores)
- En Pocas Palabras IV. Local Police, the INS, and "Churning Bad Public Opinion" (Ken R. Crane
- Chapter 5. "Not Racist like Our Parents": Anti-Latino Prejudice and Institutional Discrimination (Ann V. Millard, Jorge Chapa, and Eileen Diaz McConnell)
- Chapter 6. On the Line: Jobs in Food Processing and the Local Economy (Maríaelena D. Jefferds and Ann V. Millard)
- Chapter 7. Mexicans, Americans, and Neither: Students at Wheelerton High (Ken R. Crane)
- En Pocas Palabras V. The Virgin of Guadalupe: Admittance in Question (Maríaelena D. Jefferds and Ann V. Millard)
- Chapter 8. "To Be with My People": Latino Churches in the Rural Midwest (Ken R. Crane and Ann V. Millard)
- En Pocas Palabras VI. The "Mexican Situation" and the Mayor's Race (Ken R. Crane and Ann V. Millard)
- Chapter 9. E Pluribus Unum? Discussion, Conclusions, and Policy Implications (Ann V. Millard, Jorge Chapa, and Ken R. Crane)
- Appendix A. Methods Used in the Community Studies (Ann V. Millard, Maríaelena D. Jefferds, and Ken R. Crane)
- Appendix B. Interview Guide for Community Study in Fox and Mapleville, Michigan (Maríaelena D. Jefferds)
- Appendix C. Focus Group Questions, Fall County, Michigan (Maríaelena D. Jefferds)
- References Cited
Apple pie and enchiladas symbolize a new combination in the dynamic contemporary encounter of peoples and cultures in the rural Midwest. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Latinos poured into Midwestern villages and towns, living there year-round, working, going to school, attending church, and generally becoming members of local communities. Although some work in agriculture-related industries, the newcomers are permanent residents, not the migrant workers familiar in much of the rural Midwest. Latinos settle in the region to raise their income by working year-round instead of seasonally or, in some cases, for higher hourly wages and better benefits than they find elsewhere. Some of the newcomers also mention seeking a place to live where their children can attend school and the family can live in peace.
Some workers come directly from Mexico, informally recruited by factories through employees' social networks. Others come from the southwestern United States and, in some cases, visit the Midwest as migrant farmworkers before settling there to live year-round. Their employers range from small family-owned companies to huge multinational corporations.
Anglos and Latinos easily enjoy one another's culture when it comes to food--apple pie and enchiladas--giving an impression of smooth social integration, that all is well in the new social encounter. Our research, however, finds many problems, especially prejudice against Latinos, as it shapes their low-income niche in local economies and disrupts neighborhoods, schools, and churches. Our analysis explains the causes and consequences of the Latino influx and points out successes and failures of rural Midwestern communities in accommodating the newcomers.
This volume presents research by a bilingual team of sociologists and anthropologists comprised of Anglos and Latinos. Our demographic analysis quantifies the extent of the Latino influx and its relationship to rural population trends. Our ethnographic studies of clusters of rural communities in Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, and Ohio explore the human dimensions of the process of change, particularly regarding interactions of Anglos and Latinos in daily life and their division of labor in local economies.
Anytime the Village Hall or Chamber of Commerce wants to do something for the town, the growers [farmers] don't want to participate. Last year, we had an apple pie contest to help the hospital. None of the growers bid on the pies. They would've been really upset, though, if we had had a pecan pie contest [because pecans are not grown locally]. The Village Hall and Chamber of Commerce promote local crops and local businesses, but the growers don't support our efforts. But they'll be pissed off if the local government and others don't support their crops!
An Anglo townswoman in Fox, Michigan
This statement is related to one of many divisions among Anglos ("whites") that are typical of the villages and towns in the rural Midwest. As researchers, we were surprised at the strong Anglo sense of difference among "white" townspeople. We had anticipated that Latino newcomers would bring variation to homogeneous communities; however, they have simply become a new category in an already fractured social landscape.
In general, public opinion is concerned about the business district, but growers [farmers] only care about their farms. They are a tight-knit group, conservative. A lot of them will go drinking at the bar; they're not all alcoholics, but they do tend to drink a lot. That's mostly where we see them.
An Anglo townsperson in Mapleville, Michigan
Conflicts between townspeople and farmers have a long history, tied in part to farmers' bringing migrant workers to the region and polluting air and water with waste from food processing plants. The split between townspeople and farmers, and other divisions among Anglos, are acted out partly through contrasting Anglo reactions to Latino newcomers.
Anglos commonly refer to their division between "old-timers" and "newcomers." An Anglo man who has lived in Fox, Michigan, for seven years and holds an important position in the community says that he is not really accepted in the town because he does not have "the right name and history."
I've only been here in Mapleville for 23 years--I've raised four children here. So I'm not really from here. You have to live here for five generations for people to say you're from here.
An Anglo village official in Mapleville, Michigan
Generations of founding farm families have lived here, and they've intermarried over the generations. Most are related, so it can be difficult to become an insider. People won't perceive you as being from the area and belonging. This may be one reason that Mexicans generally have social circles separate from whites.
An Anglo in Mapleville, Michigan
Anglos remember an earlier time when marriage between Catholics and Protestants was unthinkable, and divisions among Anglos still follow the lines of religion, ethnicity (e.g., Belgians versus Scots), and social class, in addition to occupation and length of time in the local community. Anglos portray their divisions as weaker than in the past, but controversies still prompt the fading divisions to reemerge.
Anglo Perspectives on Latino Newcomers
Anglos tend to view Latino newcomers as undergoing the hardships of past immigrants to the United States, as though an inexorable historical force works to improve the fortunes of the children of immigrants (and as though the Latino newcomers are all immigrants). Anglos are vaguely aware of the newcomers' poverty and poor living and working conditions, but tend to see them as transitory. From the perspective of most Anglos, the newcomers bring problems with them, rather than encounter them locally through systematic exploitation by local business people and "corporate culture." Anglos' misleading stereotypes about Latinos, moreover, tend to block joint efforts by Anglos and Latinos to solve community problems. The schisms in Anglo communities also create major impediments to addressing changes associated with the newcomers. Perhaps the only grounds for optimism lie in the opposition of many Anglos to ethnic prejudice and racism, their view of themselves as fair-minded people, and the conviction of many Latinos that they are headed for a better future.
Mi Casa Number 2 was a Mexican restaurant attempting crossover appeal to Anglos with a sports bar, until it was closed in the early 2000s. The "Mexican restaurant" character of the place included "Mexican" trappings, menu, and staff. Sombreros, pottery, weavings, paper flowers, posters of the Tejano singer Selena, and piñatas decorated the walls. A second, large room in the restaurant was the epitome of the sports bar, a type of dining and drinking establishment that became popular in the Midwest in the 1990s--a casual, noisy place serving food at reasonable prices and providing a gathering place with big-screen TVs, tuned to sports channels, sometimes showing expensive pay-per-view contests. The two rooms in the restaurant suggested a rare and sophisticated attempt to appeal broadly to both Latinos and the general Anglo, Midwestern sports enthusiast public.
As Mexican food became popular in the Midwest, Anglos opened their own Mexican restaurants, ranging from Taco Bell to more distinctive and expensive restaurant-bars. This expansion of Anglo entrepreneurship suggests cultural integration, and it does seem to be a step in that direction; however, Latinos appear in most Anglo-owned restaurants only as dishwashers, not patrons.
Restaurants account for a small but highly visible part of small-town commerce. At first sight, Latinos and Anglos seem to have intertwined relationships, as suggested by Anglo appreciation of Mexican food and Anglo ownership of Mexican restaurants. As they eat enchiladas in a Mexican restaurant in the typical small town in this study, Anglos see themselves as open-minded about Latinos and their culture. In examining the ownership and workforce at the restaurants, though, we found a rigid separation of Anglos from Latinos.
A Mexican-owned restaurant is typically small, owned and staffed by a family, low budget, and low profit. In a few cases, over the course of many years, such enterprises have grown enough to hire staff from outside the family. Latino newcomers feel comfortable in these eateries; the staff speak Spanish fluently, and the food is familiar and relatively cheap. Anglos usually feel out of place and sometimes have difficulty ordering food in English. An Anglo-owned restaurant is generally either a fast-food eatery, open to all ethnic groups and classes, or a restaurant patronized almost entirely by Anglo old-timers, who tend to make newcomers feel unwelcome, regardless of ethnic identity.
We had expected greater integration of Latinos and Anglos in the workforce of Midwestern villages and towns than we found in our research. The two groups are quite separate in all sectors of the workforce, including factories, commerce, and services. in this volume, we trace the lines of demarcation between Anglos and Latinos in the workforce, at school, and at church. We show that Latino newcomers face considerable hardship in many cases, and that Anglos are too distracted by their own internal, factional disputes to engage constructively with Latinos in adjusting the social and economic conditions of their small towns for the common good. Anglos generally pay little attention to Latino newcomers, who are often left to the practices and prejudices of an Anglo minority that exploits them and another, larger group of Anglos that rebuffs them. Poor treatment of Latinos on the job, in school, at church, and generally in daily life occurs in a climate of inattention on the part of the Anglo majority, coupled with the greed and ill will of some.
The rest of this chapter introduces the main points in our analysis as follows. Although many Latinos and Anglos cross the cultural divide sufficiently to enjoy both "American" and "Mexican" food--apple pie and enchiladas--in other ways the two ethnic groups tend to be segregated and polarized. Many Anglos assume, however, that welfare benefits are the goal of Latino newcomers. This assumption flows out of Anglo stereotypes about "Mexicans," and the welfare issue is inflammatory among both Anglos and Latinos. Latino newcomers, however, move to the Midwest for jobs, not to go on welfare; many apply for welfare because their jobs pay poorly and provide few benefits. Few Anglos see the employers of the newcomers as exploiters of the welfare system; however, low-wage jobs enhance employers' profits and are designed with employee welfare dependence in mind.
Few Anglos, moreover, realize that the movement of workers from Mexico and Texas to the Midwest has a long history, extending through much of the twentieth century (see Chapter 2). Currently, the Midwestern Latino population is growing much more rapidly than the general population, and few Anglos realize that their towns would lose population if not for Latino newcomers (see Chapter 3).
To characterize the impact of the sudden Latino influx on small town life, we used ethnographic methods, semistructured interviews, and focus groups with rural Anglos and Latinos in several Midwestern states (see Chapter 4 and Appendixes A-C). The communities encountered by Latino newcomers vary in the extent of racism and difficulties that townspeople create for Latinos in daily life, at work, school, and church (see Chapters 6 through 8). Although our research clearly finds that most Latino newcomers are heavily exploited, Anglos tend not to see this dynamic and instead stereotype Latinos as bringing poverty with them (see Chapters 4 and 5). Among a few rural Midwestern communities, the issues raised by the influx of newcomers have been addressed successfully, but their innovations have not spread to other communities (see Chapter 9). One purpose of this book is to characterize the issues created by the influx to make the positive innovations available to rural Midwesterners in general.
Latinos' Quest for Jobs and a Better Life
Alicia and her family first came to Michigan from south Texas in the late 1970s to work in the fields during the summer. Alicia had moved to Texas from Mexico with her parents as a child; her husband, Rubén, had arrived from Mexico as an adult, and they were working as migrant farmworkers when they met and married in the early 1980s. In 19go, Alicia and her family lived in a two-room shack and shared a toilet with 30 other people in a farm labor "camp" of 150 residents. Alicia did not complain about her living quarters, but she confided that the sheer misery of working long days harvesting in the fields sometimes made her weep as she reached the end of a row. From time to time, other women also commented that the misery of working in the fields drove them to tears.
Alicia and her husband, Rubén, had driven to Michigan in their pickup truck, with their children and all their earthly belongings. Packing for the road trip, they slid a 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood into the back of the truck to rest on the wheel wells and cover their belongings; their children rode on the plywood, under the truck cap. On the road, they traveled in a caravan of trucks owned by various family members, enabling them to provide assistance when one of their vehicles broke down on the road.
Midwestern townspeople sometimes describe farmworkers as doing well by earning large quantities of money at harvesttime. Migrant workers tend to travel in relatively new pickup trucks that are kept immaculately clean. When they shop, farmworkers wear much the same clothing as the general public. Thus, they appear to be as prosperous as anyone else. The reality, however, is that their truck and its contents are generally their only property and that they may earn nothing in the month or two before the harvest, resulting in annual household incomes well below the poverty line. Although well attired while shopping, they have very few presentable clothes.
At the farm in Michigan, Alicia and Rubén worked quarter-mile-long rows of cucumbers, a particularly back-breaking crop. The hardest labor was during the three-week harvest peak, when they worked from dawn to well after sundown-picking, hauling, and overseeing the sorting of the harvest to ensure they got credit for their hard work. In the winter months, Alicia and Rubdn lived and worked at a large truck farm in the Homestead area of Florida, inland from Palm Beach, where they labored six days a week through most of the period from October through May.
As migrant workers, they were surviving, but they sought a better life. They wanted to move away from Florida, as they were worried about their children getting into trouble with other kids in Homestead. Eventually, Alicia and most of her extended family settled down in northern Indiana after working seasonally, off and on, in the fields, at farm produce packing sheds, and in small factories in western Michigan and northern Indiana. She and Rubén obtained factory jobs in the late 1990s, settled permanently, and moved into the middle class.
They now work different shifts in a small automotive parts plant. They bought a modest four-bedroom house, two new cars, which they park in their two-car garage, and a large, above-ground swimming pool. Their house is immaculate, without a weed in their lawn. Alicia and Rubén coordinate their shifts at work to take care of the children and take them to football games, soccer practice, and the church youth group.
Their oldest child, Gabina, dropped out of school, pregnant, last year. She married at age 17, now has a baby, and lives in a trailer park, home to many low-income Latino newcomers and, unfortunately, contaminated with toxic waste. (Although the authorities have tried at times to get the waste cleaned up, they have not yet succeeded in pinning that responsibility on either the current or past owners.)
"I cried for three days when Gabina dropped out of school," Alicia said. "My greatest ambition is that the children finish high school and possibly get even more education."
Her oldest son, though, is not particularly concerned about studying. "My parents didn't finish high school. Still, they're doing OK," he commented.
Alicia and her husband are living the American dream, in a modest way, although their prosperity is somewhat precarious--it depends on their working two jobs, which depend on their health and the prosperity of the automotive industry.
Millard, field notes
Alicia and Rubén typify Latino newcomers to the rural Midwest in that they came for work and arrived with their family. Their pathway to settlement, beginning with migrant farmwork, is followed by some but not all Latino newcomers. As in their case, jobs are the main reason that Latinos settle in the rural Midwest. Most newcomers have jobs lined up before they arrive; they are recruited informally by Anglo employers, who advertise jobs by word of mouth among employees. The jobs with the best pay and benefits, like those of Alicia and Rubén, are in light industrial plants, mostly auto parts factories. The least desirable and lowest-paying jobs are in food processing, where Latinos wash, chop, can, freeze, slaughter, and pack food under arduous conditions requiring physical strength and endurance.
The success of Alicia and Rubén, their extended family members, and friends who have settled down to work in light industry is powerful testimony to the continuation of the American dream. It is moving to see the transformation in their lives from poor, migrant farmworkers to middle-class factory workers living comfortably and trying to provide their children with a better life. Their success story, however, holds for only a small segment of Latino newcomers. Most belong to the working poor, live in dilapidated housing, and work hard in heavy labor under dangerous conditions.
This has been the worst year of my life!
Sofía, a Latina, discussing work in food processing in Mapleville, Michigan
Factory jobs are often assumed to provide excellent compensation to unskilled workers; however, employment in manufacturing is highly stratified, ranging from ill-paid work without medical or retirement benefits to wellpaid jobs with comprehensive benefit packages. Above, Sofia was recounting her experiences in a plant as discussed further in Chapter G. She found the working conditions inhumane, the worst she had ever seen, even compared to her former work in Mexico and her many years of harvesting crops in the United States.
Latino Migration to the Rural Midwest
While Latinos have resided in parts of the rural Midwest for more than a century, the 1990s brought a great increase in the number of Latinos and in the number of rural areas with noticeable Latino populations (see Chapters a and 3). During that decade, the total population of the Midwest increased by about 8 percent and Midwestern Latinos by 80 percent. Rural counties outran metropolitan counties in the growth rate and numbers of Latinos. In the year a000, nonetheless, Latinos residing in the rural Midwest accounted for less than z percent of the total rural population. The Latino influx reached only some communities rather than spreading evenly through the countryside. Much of the Latino population growth occurred in the last years of the 1990s, and the major component was a rapid increase in immigrants from Mexico. The demographic context for our study is Midwestern rural areas that have recently experienced a significant increase of Latinos, particularly Mexican immigrants, regardless of any preexisting Latino population.
Industry and Migration
Cities in the Midwest are well known for their long history of highly productive industrial development. The incursion of industry into the rural areas has grown rapidly in the last few decades, with the relocation of plants close to raw materials in some cases and away from pressures to unionize or to control pollution in others. Many employers see Latino immigrants as particularly desirable employees. Employers typically commented, "Nobody works like a Mexican."
While Flint, Detroit, and other cities in Michigan have lost automobile manufacturing jobs, small automobile parts plants have been built in rural southern Michigan and northern Indiana to employ hundreds of workers, partly replacing the lost industrial capacity of the large cities. The concept of the "de-industrialization" of the Midwest thus applies more to cities than to rural areas. Moreover, the tendency of companies to move factories to Mexico is being moderated in part by bringing Mexican workers to the rural Midwest to work for wages and benefits below union scale.
Generally, the rural Midwest has two paths leading Latinos to settle there. Some Latinos arrive first as migrant farmworkers, returning annually for many years and eventually settling in the region, often to work in food processing. This was the pattern of settlement of Alicia, Rubén, and their relatives, except that they moved to better-paying jobs in light industry. Others, with no previous Midwestern experience, move directly to a Midwestern town to work in a specific plant, whether in light industry or food processing. Newcomers of the first type are often Mexican Americans, whereas those of the second type, in many cases, arrive directly from Mexico.
Comparison with Rural California
Rural areas of the Midwest resemble those in California regarding their mixtures of Latino populations of different national origins and legal statuses. In both regions, some employers recruit workers by ethnicity, nationality, and gender to enforce policies of low wages and benefits (on California, see Menchaca 1995; Ruiz 1987, 1998; Wells 1996; Zavella 1987; see also Chapa 1988, 1995). Rural California has received a major influx of immigrants from Mexico, some of whom moved to the Midwest in the 1980s and 1990s. Many were citizens or had worked in the United States for more than a decade (Kerr 2000; Gonzales and Gonzales 2000; Healy 1995; Valdés 1991, 2000a,b; Vargas 1993). As in rural California (Allensworth and Rochin 1999), however, some Midwestern communities rely on a workforce recently arrived from Mexico (Gouveia and Stull 1995; see also Martin et al. 1996; Massey 1998).
The Midwest differs from California regarding the types of work available. California's mild climate and long expanse of farmland from north to south give it a long growing season, with more than one crop annually in many regions. The result is that farmworkers can follow the crops year-round and have nearly 12 months of employment without leaving the state. The Midwest, however, has a relatively short growing season, tends to process food through drying, freezing, or canning, and has many more beef cattle, meatpacking plants, and factories devoted to light industry. Various geographic areas offer different types of employment that draw Latinos; for example, in Fall County, Michigan, the main Latino employers are fruit and vegetable processors, whereas in Nebraska they are meat processors (butchering and meatpacking) (Gouveia and Stull 1995). All these employers pay low wages compared with those paid to ordinary factory workers. Light industrial plants tend to cluster in areas close to the factories they serve (see also Martin et al. 1996). The higher wages in light industry allow two-earner families to reach the solid middle class, a major contrast with the typical Latino newcomer's situation.
Social Services and Government Policies
To stretch their low wages, many Latino factory workers rely on government services to help support their households, a phenomenon resented by many local Anglos. In a Nebraska meatpacking community, however, only 27 percent of households used such programs, including immunizations, Medicaid, and food stamps (Gouveia and Stull 1997; see also Healy 1995). In California, Anglo resentment of Latino use of government resources was one of the factors leading to Proposition 187, passed in the mid-1990s as a backlash against Mexican immigrants, whom it prohibited from using a long list of government services (Rochin, quoted in Healy 1995; see also Allensworth and Rochin 1998a, 1998b; Rochin 1995; Salgado de Snyder et al. 1996; Foley 1997; Menchaca 1995; and Valdés 2000a,b on the roots of pejorative Anglo views of "Mexicans").
As we began this study, we anticipated that we would meet many families among Latino newcomers, but we did not realize the great extent to which children would provide crucial services to their parents and other adults. For example, many community and state organizations do not provide interpreters, a service often provided by children. It is not unusual for children six or eight years of age to interpret for their mothers as they apply for food stamps or seek medical treatment. Organizations that tend to provide interpreters include huge chain stores (such as Wal-Mart), community health clinics (funded by the federal government to offer health care to low-income people on a sliding scale), and, in a limited way, state welfare departments, especially in their outreach to Spanish-speaking migrant farmworkers. Organizations not typically providing interpreters are ordinary stores, schools, state unemployment offices, and hospitals, including emergency rooms. All of these organizations, in not providing interpreters, ensure that Spanish monolingual clients will receive fewer services than do Anglos. Inability to communicate tends to eliminate all but the most desperate clients.
We also did not anticipate that Latinos would take the initiative to establish their own religious congregations, in many cases recruiting pastors from other parts of the U.S. and Latin America. Latino churches provide many crucial social services, including emergency food and clothing. Important to many newcomer families, bilingual church staff provide crucial referrals to health and social service agencies; that is, they connect newcomers to ongoing assistance in the form of food stamps, children's Medicaid, and other benefits. Some pastors also informally represent their congregations to the local mayor and other town officials. These activities undoubtedly contribute to the vitality of many of the newly founded Spanish-speaking congregations in the Midwest.
Community Variation in Racism, Employment History, and Economy
Rural Midwestern communities vary dramatically in the nature of Latino-Anglo relations, and many towns waver back and forth over time. To provide an overview, we describe some of the dimensions of the variation among communities that we found through ethnographic fieldwork.
Racist and Nonrocist People and Communities
In this study, racism emerged as an important aspect of Latino experience in the Midwest. In conversations, Latinos freely referred to "racist" people and communities, described as those who violently attack Latinos because of their ethnicity. (Racista [racist] is the term used in these discussions, and it is part of the ordinary Spanish vocabulary of newcomers, not a term introduced by our research team.) All the Latinos with whom we raised the issue of discrimination had, at one time or another, been the target of anti-"Mexican" taunts, police harassment, or graffiti suggesting they "go back to Mexico."
Latinos described the "racist community" as a place where Latinos should not go and are not welcome to settle. Perhaps as many as 10 percent of rural communities in Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois are in this category, according to those we interviewed. Some communities are associated with organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan; however, others do not have any obvious identity or reputation among Anglos to suggest that they are racist. Latinos avoid spending time in such communities, and they neither live nor work in them. In taking up issues of racism in this book, we do not explore any specific communities considered racist by the Latinos we interviewed, but it is important to understand that they are part of the Midwestern backdrop for Latino newcomers.
In our studies of communities where Latinos settled, we found that racism against them was not a fixed characteristic of a village or town. Progress against discrimination often fit the sequence of two steps forward, one step backward. Extreme racist incidents occurred from time to time in various places, but they were often followed by a positive local response.
This seesawing back and forth between outbursts of racism and periods of improved relations was evident in interview data and newspaper accounts. In discussing the experience of Latinos with racism, we are dealing with situations in which we cannot know much about what really happened, but we analyze Latino and Anglo renditions of their experiences and how they strategized in response. In this study, we did not find that discrimination was gradually abating; rather we found a pendulum of change at work, making it difficult to trace progress against discrimination with any confidence.
Among Latinos, we found some optimism about social relations between Anglos and Latinos.
Saben convivir. [They enjoy getting along well with others.]
Rubén, a Latino, describing Anglos in his town
Rubén made this comment as he discussed Latino-Anglo relations in his town. He was describing Anglos as people who make good neighbors, and he was responding to comments about problems with racism in the region. Rubén, introduced earlier in this chapter, worked with his wife in an auto parts plant, and they lived in a lower-middle-class neighborhood of Latinos and Anglos in a northern Indiana town.
The nuances of Rubén's comment are difficult to capture in English. "Saben convivir" implies enjoyment in being with people who are different. Convivir is often used to describe people who are different but who get along well, whether in a conversation, a neighborhood, a job, or a community. Convivir also carries the implication of an ideal way of living, a mature and morally sound way of life. In the Midwest, we find a series of instances in which Anglos "saben convivir," as well as contrasting examples of rural insularity and inertia among Anglos in dealing with social and economic problems.
In Rubén's neighborhood, Anglos and Latinos are drawn together through their pride in their modest new homes, which are all maintained beautifully, regardless of ethnicity, and their interconnections through relying on one another for child care, support for their children's soccer team, and neighborly advice on various homeowners' issues. Although their communication is limited because the Latino parents tend to speak little English, the two ethnic groups have much in common in their upward mobility into the middle class and little pulling them apart; hence, the absence of tension between Anglos and Latinos in the neighborhood.
An instance of a food processing plant in western Illinois also provides an example of ameliorated conditions. The town has a meatpacking plant, a type of factory notorious for low-wage, physically demanding, dangerous jobs (Gouveia and Stull 1995; Hackenberg and Kukulka 1995; Stull, Broadway, and Griffith 1995). In this case, though, a few faculty, staff, and students from a small college in a nearby town have succeeded in putting some enlightened policies into place. They have assisted Latino newcomers to learn English, adjust to the schools, and otherwise have greater comfort and acceptance as they settle than they would find in many other meatpacking towns (Kuthy and Delany-Barman" 2000). The college as a whole is not any more accepting of Latinos than other Midwestern higher educational institutions, but a few faculty, staff, and students, including some Spanish teachers, scholars from Mexico, and former migrant workers, have succeeded in modifying the local context to make it more tolerant of cultural and other differences and to inform local people of the history of Latino immigration. The influence of a few people at a small college can thus improve the well-being of Latino newcomers entirely independently of the Latinos' employers.
Economic Differences and Latino Standards of Living
A crucial dimension of variation among rural Midwestern communities is the local economy. Latino newcomers are recruited to specific jobs, and those jobs determine their standards of living. As noted above, food processing jobs generally provide the lowest pay and benefits; as a result, communities with food processing plants tend to face some of the most difficult problems associated with Latino poverty (see Figure 1.1).
Food Processing: Low Wages and Poor Benefits
In Johnstown, Ohio, northeast of Columbus, we visited Buckeye Egg Farm, an employer of Latinos who commuted from the city.
The farm is a huge industrial complex of long, low, windowless, gray cement buildings, grouped in sets of six to ten, regimented at right angles. The farm's 125 barns, each as large as two football fields, harbor altogether 15.5 million chickens (Poultry Times 2002), six birds to a cage, stacked four high (Ludlow 1998). The employees, many of whom are recent arrivals from Mexico, are forced to keep their mouths shut all the time at work because the air is thick with flies inside the buildings. Huge fans pierce the building walls and expel air with a sickening stench. The putrid odor is a bitter issue among townspeople living in a radius of three miles; some display protest signs in their front yards. Local restaurants proudly refuse to serve eggs from the farm. The town has a new, upper-middle-class development half a mile from the closest part of the egg farm. Under certain wind conditions, the stench smothers the new homes and they disappear under a blanket of insects.
Millard and Chapa, field notes
This mega-size egg farm, one of several in the Columbus region, had the worst working conditions in our research. It was raided for having "unauthorized workers" (RMN 2001) in its workforce of about 600 people (Bischoff and Dempsey 2002). The farm owner, Anton Pohlmann, came from Germany, where he had been convicted twice for cruelty to animals; he reestablished his business as the Croton Egg Farm in Ohio in 1982, near a small village (Columbus Dispatch 2002). Later, he bought other farms and expanded operations under the names of AgriGeneral and then Buckeye Egg Farm. By the late 1990s, Ohio was the leading U.S. egg producer, with Buckeye producing 4 percent of the national total, that is, 2.6 billion eggs annually (WKYC 2002).
After a 1983 chicken manure spill that killed 150,000 fish in a nearby creek, the company's repeated violations of water and air pollution laws and sanitation laws led to fines totaling more than $1 million (Cincinnati Enquirer 2001). In the late 1990s, the company had a succession of four presidents in 28 months (Columbus Dispatch 1998), apparently in an effort to claim that changes in policy were being made. One of the presidents, Doucas "Duke" Groanites, had operated DeCoster Egg Farms in Maine, which had been assessed federal fines of $3.6 million for unsafe, unhealthy working and living conditions of migrant workers (Columbus Dispatch 1998).
Following actions by the state against Buckeye for illegal treatment of workers and infestations of flies, beetles, and other insects in the areas surrounding the farms, neighboring residents won a judgment of over $19 million for negligence (Cincinnati Enquirer 2001; MSNBC 2002). In the summer of 2002, Judge Gregory Frost of the Licking County Common Pleas Court ordered the company to close all of its 40 barns in two counties (72 more barns in a third county were not affected) (Times Leader 2002). These problems are an example of the kinds of changes the rural Midwest has undergone with the consolidation of farming into megafarms, which have legal and lobbying forces that far outweigh those of local communities. As the problems unfolded, Buckeye Egg Farm's owner resorted to the judicial system, seemingly to slow down actions against the company, and he continually threatened to go bankrupt or close the farm and move away. At last report, he had put his farm in Licking County, Ohio, up for sale and returned to Germany (Business First 2002). In our study, the egg farm exemplifies an unfortunate Midwestern transition to megafarms and an associated widespread pattern of employing Latinos wherever working conditions are the most difficult and wages the lowest.' The egg farm example also links poor farming practices (crowding animals under abhorrent conditions), pollution, and worker exploitation, all controversial issues through much of the Midwest.
Light Industry: Better Pay and Benefits
In contrast to communities where Latinos worked mainly in food processing, those where Latinos had jobs mainly in light industry were building lower-middle-class suburban communities. Working in such jobs, as did Alicia and Rubén, a couple may achieve an annual household income of about $44,000/year (reported in the year 2000) and medical benefits. Having two parents working different shifts results in a stressful family life with a fractured daily routine, but Alicia, Rubén, and similar couples tended to be optimistic about the future. Latinos in these circumstances were achieving the American dream--joining the middle class--as were their Anglo neighbors, through both parents working full-time on different shifts at a factory. Their suburban communities integrated Latinos with Anglos in residential neighborhoods with an air of contentment.
Most Latino workers in light industry are Spanish speakers who know a few phrases in English. Some whom we interviewed were born in Texas; some came from Mexico and became U.S. residents through the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986; others had arrived in the United States more recently. Their teenage children, fluent in English and Spanish, felt they did not fit in with either "Mexicans" or Anglos, and their alienation seemed to hold them back from pursuing the aspirations of their parents.
Absence of Upper-Middle-Class Latinos
In this study, we did not deal with Latinos in the upper middle class and the professions, because there were practically none in rural Midwestern communities. We did meet a Latino psychiatrist who had immigrated from South America and was living temporarily in rural western Michigan. We also learned of a Latino physician living in the country in Indiana and commuting to a nearby city for work. Otherwise, there were no Latinos in our study with more than a lower-middle-class standard of living, achieved on the basis of a dual-income household. Upward class mobility is part of the history of Latinos who have settled in the rural Midwest, but it has come largely through a few of their children gaining a college education and taking professional jobs in the cities as teachers, social workers, and the like.
Latinos and Anglos: Terminology
The matter of what to call the populations in this book was not easily resolved, and the use of different terms by the various stakeholders could fill a book itself. Furthermore, during presentations on this study, we found that we needed to clarify our terminology for every audience, ranging from fellow researchers to agency staff and laypeople, Latino and Anglo alike. We take this as a mark of the complexity of the situation and its variations across the United States and throughout the New World.
The Latinos in this study nearly all belonged to a transnational population living in the United States and Mexico, generally united by a common history and social identity (see Table 1.1). In our study, the main Latino groups were Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants, and they tended to refer to themselves as "Mexicano," paralleling the Anglo designation of "Mexican." (Some Midwestern Anglos also referred to the group as "Spanish.") For the purpose of this research, we use the term "Latinos" to include the various Mexican American and Mexican people comprising nearly all of those in the influx into the rural Midwest.
We use the term "Anglos" to designate U.S. citizens of European descent who are not Latinos, and we take this term from common usage in the southwestern United States. "Anglos" thus designates those who are "non-Latino," more commonly referred to as "white." (In this usage, "Anglo" does not refer to England specifically; we do not know the derivation of the southwestern term.) The Latinos in this study called them "Americanos" (Americans), a term never used by any participant in this study to refer to any Latino, regardless of nationality. ."Anglos" did not generally have a term for their own group but if pushed, would probably have said "white." They included typical mainstream rural residents of the Midwest, mostly descendants of German, Belgian, Dutch, British, Scandinavian, and Slavic immigrants. The terms "Mexican" and "American" are confusing because of their conflation of ethnicity, nationality, and legal status; thus, we find it clearer to use the terms "Latino" and "Anglo." The twists and turns of history and ethnic relations have become oversimplified in rural Midwestern public perception, and this book provides a more complex analysis by examining the history and the economic and social dimensions of the new rural Midwestern Latino population.
People, Places, and Authors
Throughout this book, we use pseudonyms for people and their towns when conveying information provided to us confidentially, and in some cases we have created a composite person or town to guard people's privacy. We do accurately identify people, however, in a few instances, when we use publicly available information such as newspaper articles. We intersperse chapters with short passages that we call "En Pocas Palabras" ("In a Few Words") to provide readers with different modes of engagement with the materials. These pieces exemplify general rural Midwestern patterns that we found over the course of our study, and they are concrete examples rather than self-contained analyses.
As noted in the preface, this book is the product of a research team begun by Rochin and Saenz and later headed by Chapa and Millard. All of the ethnographic researchers had previous research experience in the rural Midwest, and most were fluent in Spanish as well as English. We could not have carried out this study without researchers fluent in Spanish. Easy access to Latino and Anglo community members, plus the inclusion of both Latino and Anglo members in the research team, led us to question many assumptions about rural Midwestern people and their communities. In the ethnographic chapters, the first author is the researcher who collected most of the data and wrote the first draft of the chapter, and she or he occasionally writes in the first person in referring to experiences in the field.
Dynamics of Change in Ethnicity and Class in the Rural Midwest
This study finds that Latinos are doing extraordinarily well in some circumstances, but generally Latino newcomers are struggling at the bottom of the income scale, holding the most dangerous jobs and living in the worst housing in rural communities. Their reason for settling in the rural Midwest is to work in food processing plants or light industry; however, the communities that employ them are often reluctant to meet their needs as human beings-decent working conditions, housing, health care, social services, and educational opportunities for their children.
As a result, shortages of housing, lack of Spanish-speaking staff at vital points of contact for Latino newcomers, and outright discrimination are common in the rural Midwest. These new problems tend to be caught up in conflicts and lack of communication among factions in the Anglo community, resulting in a lack of local will to find solutions to enhance the future of the rural Midwest.
Ironically, many of the communities in this study would be losing population and facing a dearth of unskilled workers if Latinos had not settled there in significant numbers. Throughout the rural Midwest, the people who are currently supporting the growth of light industry and food processing by taking factory jobs are Latinos. Despite the many problems arising in ethnic relations, local government budgets, and the like, Anglos and Latinos in many communities are devising means of living together, cooperating, and appreciating one another. With this volume, we suggest that, despite their tendency toward internal conflict, rural communities can develop the capacity to appreciate not only apple pie and enchiladas but also the Anglo and Latino people who go with them.
Ten myths about Latinos, widely held and strongly believed by Anglos, shape interactions in daily life in Midwestern small towns (Table 1.2). These stereotypes are widespread among Anglos in many parts of the United States, though not subscribed to by all. In the rural Midwest, they enter into most decisions that affect Latinos, as we found in our study.
Table 1.2. Ten Myths Held by Many Rural Midwestern Anglos about Latino Newcomers
- Latino newcomers to midwestern towns have just arrived from Mexico and are "illegal."
- Migration from Mexico to the Midwest started in recent years.
- Latino newcomers do not speak English and do not want to learn it.
- They are the poorest of the poor; their living conditions at home are worse than those in the Midwest.
- They want to stay separate from Anglos.
- They love hard physical labor.
- They love moving from place to place, producing high rates of turnover at factories.
- They come to live on welfare and are a drain on the economy.
- They do not experience racism because midwesterners are not racist, and certainly not against "Mexicans."
- They are grateful for whatever they get and uncritical of their conditions and treatment.
1. Latino newcomers to Midwestern towns have just arrived from Mexico and are "illegal."
Some Latinos come directly from Mexico to the Midwest, but many were born in the United States or have spent many years in south Texas, Florida, and other states while working on farms and in other physically taxing labor.
For example, in meatpacking plants in Nebraska, Gouveia and Stull (1997) found that 41 percent of people came from California. Of all Latinos in the United States, according to the Current Population Survey in 2000, 61 percent had been born in this country and 74 percent of those born abroad had become naturalized citizens (Therrien and Ramirez 2001; see also Rosenbaum 1997 on Latinos in Michigan).
The Midwestern use of the term "Mexican" to apply to all Latinos reinforces the stereotype that all Latinos are immigrants, all of whom come from Mexico. The notion that they have no government authorization to work in the United States is closely tied to the assumption about their nationality. These notions form a basis for Anglo exploitation and denial of rights to Latinos.
2. Migration from Mexico to the Midwest started in recent years.
To the contrary, at the end of World War I, Midwestern beet sugar plants and other industries recruited workers in large numbers from Mexico (Valdés 1991:8, 2000a,b; see also Garcia 1996 and Vargas 1993 on Latino migration to the Midwest). The sugar beet migration to the Midwest occurred from 1917 to 1929, with a brief hiatus during this period, and was followed by an anti-Mexican immigrant era throughout the 1930s, when immigrants were actually deported to Mexico, in many cases illegally. The Bracero Program followed, recruiting workers from Mexico for agricultural work throughout the United States (1943-1964), then another era began in which unskilled workers from Mexico could not obtain official permission to enter the country. Most recently, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 offered legal residency to some of those workers living and working in the United States without official permission. During part of the 1990s, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service was commanded not to deport Latinos who lacked authorization as long as they held jobs. Mexican migration to the Midwest thus has continued for over a century, has usually occurred as a result of vigorous recruitment by employers, and has often contributed to economic growth in the region.
3. Latino newcomers do not speak English and do not want to learn it.
Most Anglos think that all Latinos speak only Spanish; some, however, speak no Spanish and many are bilingual. The view that Spanish monolinguals do not want to learn English is part of the ideology of some organizations, such as U.S. English, Inc., that have great credibility among the Anglo public. On the other hand, research shows that with more exposure to the United States, immigrants from Mexico improve English skills (Espinosa and Massey 1993) implying their willingness to learn the language.
Cole notes that the accusation that "aliens refuse to assimilate" has been made about "every new group of immigrants to arrive on U.S. shores" (1998:14). We have found consistently that Latino immigrants all want to learn English; however, they usually lack an effective way to do so. Latino immigrants all see learning English as a way to obtain better jobs and to deal more effectively with various situations in daily life.
4. They are the poorest of the poor; their living conditions at home are worse than those in the Midwest.
Those who arrive in the Midwest are not the poorest of the poor; the poorest cannot afford to travel (see Massey 1998 and Massey and Espinosa 1997 on those from Mexico). The newcomers tend to be members of the working poor if they are from south Texas, and some from Mexico are from betteroff families who can afford to send them north. In some cases, their parents' homes in Mexico are considerably nicer and safer than the run-down Midwestern trailer parks catering to Latino newcomers. Latinos come to the rural Midwest with some resources and a strategy for survival; they usually have jobs waiting and a place to stay with relatives. To get to the Midwest, most Mexican Americans have to obtain a car that runs well enough to travel 4,000 miles and enough money to provide for some days without pay. Workers who come directly from Mexico usually pay their passage to travel directly to the town where they will work.
5. They want to stay separate from Anglos.
Anglo organizations do not invite Latinos to join (see Vargas 1993 on discrimination against Latino religious and social participation in community organizations by Midwestern Anglos). The exceptions are the few churches that have established separate Latino congregations. The language of Latino congregations is usually Spanish, making language a symbol and rationale for separation. Some Anglos have commented that they would not refuse Latinos membership in their organizations; however, they recruit new members through their social networks, which always exclude Latinos. Latinos thus have few ways of entering the Anglo social universe.
6. They love hard physical labor.
The Latinos in this study work hard and take pride in supporting themselves; however, they do not regard hard physical labor as ideal. Historically, they are known as very hard workers (Vargas 1993). The current high turnover in meat-packing plants (Gouveia and Stull 1997; Gouveia, Sanchez, and Saenz 2001) suggests that they move out of the most physically difficult and dangerous jobs when they can. They regard their jobs as backbreaking ("Se acaba uno" [You get worn out]), and they want their children to have less arduous jobs.
7. They love moving from place to place, producing high rates of turnover in factories.
Although Latino newcomers speak of the benefits of getting to know new places and people, many miss faraway family and home communities, whether in the United States or Mexico. They prefer not to live on the move; when they have an opportunity to work in one place year-round for decent wages, most tend to settle down, as seen in this study.
8. They come to live on welfare and are a drain on the economy.
In this study, we did not find people moving to the Midwest to live on welfare. Many Latino newcomers do not apply for all the services for which they are eligible. Recent analyses show that undocumented immigrants from Mexico pay more in taxes than they gain in benefits at the federal level, but the reverse is true for local government budgets (see Chapter 3; on southern California, see Chavez 1992:143, who reports that over half of the workers from Mexico and Central America interviewed in 1986 had taxes withheld, did not file federal tax forms, and thus forfeited refunds). Historically, immigrants from Mexico were the last to receive aid during the Great Depression (Vargas 1993).
9. They do not experience racism because Midwesterners are not racist, and certainly not against "Mexicans."
In this study, we found that many rural Midwesterners are people of goodwill, but some are not. We did not find one Latino who had not experienced racism in the Midwest, whether it was having "beans" yelled at them on the street (seen as silly by study participants) or being told, "Go back to Mexico" (See Charvat Burke and Goudy 1999; Vargas 1993.)
10. They are grateful for whatever they get and uncritical of their conditions and treatment.
The statements from Latinos in this study show that many have sophisticated, sociologically sound criticisms of the way the local society and economy work in their new communities. They are quite critical of power structures in the Midwest, south Texas, Florida, and Mexico.