New Destination Dreaming: Immigration, Race, and Legal Status in the Rural American South

New Destination Dreaming: Immigration, Race, and Legal Status in the Rural American South

New Destination Dreaming: Immigration, Race, and Legal Status in the Rural American South

New Destination Dreaming: Immigration, Race, and Legal Status in the Rural American South


New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles have long been shaped by immigration. These gateway cities have traditionally been assumed to be the major flashpoints in American debates over immigration policy- but the reality on the ground is proving different. Since the 1980s, new immigrants have increasingly settled in rural and suburban areas, particularly within the South. Couple this demographic change with an increase in unauthorized immigrants, and the rural South, once perhaps the most culturally and racially "settled" part of the country, now offers a window into the changing dynamics of immigration and, more generally, the changing face of America.

New Destination Dreaming explores how the rural context impacts the immigrant experience, how rapid Hispanic immigration influences southern race relations, and how institutions like schools and law enforcement agencies deal with unauthorized residents. Though the South is assumed to be an economically depressed region, low-wage food processing jobs are offering Hispanic newcomers the opportunity to carve out a living and join the rural working class, though this is not without its problems. Inattention from politicians to this growing population and rising black-brown tensions are both factors in contemporary rural southern life.

Ultimately, Marrow presents a cautiously optimistic view of Hispanic newcomers' opportunities for upward mobility in the rural South, while underscoring the threat of anti-immigrant sentiment and restrictive policymaking that has gripped the region in recent years. Lack of citizenship and legal status still threatens many Hispanic newcomers' opportunities. This book uncovers what more we can do to ensure that America's newest residents become productive and integrated members of rural southern society rather than a newly excluded underclass.


I was born in 1977 in a small town called Tarboro, North Carolina. Situated across a bend of the Tar River in the rural, eastern region of the Tarheel state, Tarboro is a typical small, lowland southern town. On the one hand, natives take pride in it as a place where “everybody knows everybody.” Youths grow up under strong community surveillance and in constant interaction with one another—they must, since there is only one each of most major social institutions in town. the level of social capital is also high, and old-timers still tell stories about the town’s most beloved characters (including one rumored to have served as the inspiration for Ernest T. Bass on The Andy Griffith Show). As in many southern towns, Tarboro residents display a strong and deeply rooted sense of localism, which sociologist and southern regional scholar John Shelton Reed (1986) not only defines as people’s “attachment to their place and people” but also documents as statistically stronger among southerners than among other Americans. the people of Tarboro frequently claim that strong community bonds, safety, affordability, and quality of life outweigh the negative facets of living in a small town—most notably boredom, lack of economic opportunity, and gossipdriven social control.

On the other hand, the surrounding county population is made up almost exclusively of non-Hispanic whites and blacks, the latter clearly poorer than and visibly segregated from the former. As in many southern towns, this “hard” segregation manifests in topographical divides marked off by river crossings and railroad tracks, further buttressed by other forms of “soft” segregation (Fischer and Tienda 2006). For instance, when I attended the local high school in the early 1990s, I never heard an explanation for why two homecoming queens were . . .

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