Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hispanics Transforming Tennessee

"Blending cultures is an uncomfortable idea for many people here. It's just too new, for one thing. But the number of Hispanic children in the Hamblen County school system is growing dramatically with every passing year, and school is where the blending usually starts.

``We're going to be the group that changes the mentality in our town,'' school district Director Dale Lynch vowed.

In the early 1990s, Hamblen County schools enrolled maybe 35 students a year whose primary language was Spanish. The numbers exploded in the past five years.

This year, 11 percent of the children enrolled districtwide are Hispanic, and about three-quarters of them need help learning English.

Sitting on a table in Lynch's office is the book Help! They Don't Speak English Starter Kit. But he could also use a manual on dealing with parents angry about the extra cost of educating non-English-speaking students.

``We didn't see rebellion from parents until it became an issue with the county commissioners,'' Lynch said.

$6,800 per child

The school district budget is funded by the county, and former Commissioner Tom Lowe stirred up a tempest last year when he began lobbying for the federal government to pay the county's share of educating non-English-speaking students.

Officials said it costs about $6,800 a year to educate a child in the district and that they do not separate into a separate budget category the additional cost of teaching non-English-speaking students. Clearly they're reluctant to display an amount of money that would trigger more hard feelings in the community.

Beginning in December, the district plans to provide half-day intensive language training at an ``International Center'' for about 120 students a day, those with the least-developed English skills."

The above is an excerpt from one of a series of stories on the rise in Hispanic residents in Hamblen County from Houston Chronicle reporter Kim Cobb.

More of that article here, with additional stories here on immigrants and farming In Hamblen County, and other reports here, here and here.

I spoke and emailed with Kim numerous times over the last few months as she worked on putting the series together. It is by far some of the most in-depth examination of legal and illegal immigrants in East Tennessee. She noted the one irony in this cultural change which I have seen as well -- jobs disappeared in the 1990s into Latin America and then in the late 1990s, Latin America began to relocate here - for better pay, better health care, better lives.

There are sadly many misperceptions about immigrant communities, but the fact remains the same - the change has already happened. Some residents are simply angry that change has occurred. Most are adapting to a larger Hispanic community, finding ways to assist them in almost every level of business and culture.

I just wonder why it took a reporter from Texas to find the will to develop and report the issues.

One part of the series discussses the major federal case which East Tennessee media has barely bothered to report - the Garcia Labor indictment.

But the federal government nabbed a big fish in July, obtaining indictments of the owner of a Morristown-based agency supplying temporary workers to factories and farms throughout the region on charges that he operated a "large-scale illegal-alien-employment and money-laundering scheme."

Prosecutors charged that Garcia Labor Co. Inc. knowingly hired about 1,000 illegal immigrants for an air cargo company in nearby Ohio and brought some of them from Mexico to take the jobs.

Max Garcia and two other company executives pleaded guilty this month, agreed to forfeit $12 million in company earnings and face up to 10 years in prison.

Now there is an obvious question: Did Garcia have a personnel pipeline running between Mexico and Morristown, too?"


  1. Having grown up in hispanic communities in AZ, I can only say they are the most 'family-based' people I have ever had the pleasure of being around. If I could bring all of south Tucson here to east TN, I'd do it. And we'd all be the better for it.

  2. Anonymous10:39 AM

    They'll be welcomed if they will work cheap and not back talk management.

  3. Anonymous10:39 AM

    sandegaye's comments generalizes hispanic people. all hispanics are not the same. they don't all have big families. they're not all family-based people.

    (south) tucson has just as many problems as other cities - crime, unemployment, etc.

  4. Anonymous3:55 PM

    The numbers do not reflect acceptable levels of reasonable immigration.

    The exponential growth is nothing short of an invasion. The community is not prepared or required to make those who have come here illegally feel like they are at home.

    Illegal is illegal--whether it is "fine folks" who have jumped the border or drug dealers who have jumped the border to make money selling and dealing in illegal drugs.

  5. one of the stories Kim wrote can be read here:
    and i linked to it in the post above too---

    it contains these comments from Pubic Defender Ethel Law Rhodes:
    "Public defender Ethel Law Rhodes meets with her immigrant clients on Thursdays for what county officials call Hispanic Court Day. A translator is available to help explain the proceedings to suspects who speak little or no English.

    Rhodes warns her clients they may face deportation once their state case is resolved.

    But if ICE has run out of leased jail space in Maryville, about 70 miles away, immigrants who were never deported may be released in the United States while awaiting a deportation hearing.

    "I have to explain that the immigration charge is different from the state charge," Rhodes said. "Then I have to say, 'Even though they (ICE) tell you they're going to take you to Mexico, they may only take you as far as Maryville and set you out. So you better have enough money on you to make a phone call so someone can come pick you up.'

    In addition to being vexed by a shortage of detention space, the immigration agency has only eight agents covering Knoxville, Chattanooga and the rest of East Tennessee, a total area approaching 10,000 square miles."
    So, Anonymous, the facts are that current policies do not address a swiftly growing illegal population -- the policies are utter failures.

    And do you have a specific number in mind that you would call "reasonable"?

    And is it a border issue when the border is 1000 miles away?

  6. Anonymous5:57 PM

    This is an open comment to all you hispanic lovers out there.
    Mark my words, in 20 years you English speakers will have to learn Spanish if you want an entry level job. Forget professional level job because those will only be available to Mexican born folks.
    I escaped Miami and this above type mentality. It was really hell living there! Can you English speakers imagine going to Walmart and not finding one single US born English speaker? How about not even finding any English speakers.
    You will see it probably before 20 years have passed.

  7. So will American citizens have worse lives if they know more than one language?

    And yes, when I was in Miami in 1989 I never heard much English outside of the hotel - as long as I was talking to someone behind a desk, that is. Room service and maids and taxi drivers all were multi-lingual.

    And at first yes, it was a little odd not hearing/reading English everywhere- but then again I expected a large metropolitan (not to mention seaport) city to be home to many, many races. And I was able to function fine - learned some new words too.

    And yes, by the early 1990s, the Hispanic population grew by huge leaps up along the Southern coast and into Tennessee. Some legal, some not.

    Other than some newness, what is it I should be afraid of?

    If I or my children or my neighbor's kids all speak two or more languages, won't they be much smarter Americans, able to compete on many levels?

  8. Mmmm... ethnocentric racists. Doncha just want fold them in half, pack them up in a crate, and send them back to the country their ancestors came from?

    Note: I come from Illegal Immigrant stock: My Great Grandfather crossed part of the European continent from Germany to stow away on a boat when he was 13. Didn't speak a word of English. Oh, but I guess since he was tall and blonde and white it's different... And my Nana didn't grow up speaking German.

    Other ancestor's came from the Netherlands. I didn't grow up speaking Dutch or wearing wooden shoes (although we do have tulip bulbs in the yard--of course tulips are actually a flower from India).

    The large Irish faction of my family who came over in the mid to late 19th century spoke Gaelic (er, or as my Irish friends say, "They spoke IRISH"). Of course, it was against the law for them to do so at the time in their home country because Great Britain had outlawed it. Also, the Irish were HATED by "Americans." They were considered stupid and lazy. Now we all celebrate St. Patrick's day (oh, St. Patrick was Welsh by the way), made U2 one of the number one bands in the world, and consider John Kennedy one of our most forward thinking Presidents.

    Nice that my ancestors moved to a country where the language you speak wasn't mandated by the state. Too bad there are folks out there that somehow think that America is a culture onto itself.

    Let me fill you all in on something: if you're white and speak English, you are hardly a Native to this continent.

  9. Anonymous3:57 AM

    It's so easy to throw out the "racist" tag, turn it into a personal attack, and stop all discussion of this issue.

    Speaking more than one language is fine. Legal immigration is fine.

    The issue is ILLEGAL immigration.

    It is far more complex than a "little newness" here and there and picking up new words.

    There are serious related issues in the loss of manufacturing jobs in the US, lowered wages in the US, educational costs, law enforcement costs, healthcare costs, etc.

    Illegal immigration is not just about Hispanics but they do make up the largest number of illegal immigrants at this time.

    And, yes, it is a border issue: illegal immigrants in GA, NC, TN, and elsewhere crossed the "border" just like illegal immigrants in CA and AZ. It's just that GA, NC, and TN illegals moved east after crossing the border.

    It is not so much that the law and policies have failed---it is a failure to enforce the law.

    A million here and a million there and suddenly you are talking about real numbers and real problems---problems that go beyond learning a few new words.

  10. It is absolutely a very large issue with many components, as noted above. Those who benefit most are large companies who use low-paid, undocumented workers, such as Garcia Labor.
    Sure would have been interesting to hear the facts of this case in court - but that won't happen as this administration cut a deal with them for a guilty plea -- that stops discussion cold and fast.

    And failure is failure. Blame the policy or the policymakers or those who fund or don't fun programs -- either way this is a Federal issue where the policies have all failed. Completely.

    Putting in a giant fence won't help - walls have been tried since there have been nations attempting to repel anyone unwanted, but it doesn't work. Mainly because Business works to make sure undocumented workers get bogus paperwork and get thru the walls.

    The adage "who benefits?" is most appropriate here.

    The system has been swamped for years, and the biggest swamp is in D.C.

  11. Anonymous1:04 PM

    The DC swamp is larger but it's the same money swamp that's in Tennessee---and Hamblen County.

    You hit it. See who benefits and there is the person who helps, assists, supports, and encourages illegal immigration.

  12. To "There's More"
    Well, I call 'em like I see 'em, and the two annonymous comments above fly their flags pretty high.
    (e.g., "nothing short of an invasion," "drug dealers," "all you hispanic lovers out there," "Forget professional level job because those will only be available to Mexican born folks," etc...)

    This is a complex issue, I agree. But most folks pay lip service to the real causes of illegal immigration. For so many (whether or not they are willing to admit it) it's about not liking the brown people who speak "Mexican." The race card is the big ace in this game, and any one who tries to deny it is either sadly myopic or lying.

    Our governmental policies are doing little to nothing to change Mexico for the better. Where is the American involvment in Oaxaca? Since we're moving all our factories down there, why do we have more and more people crossing the border. I've known plenty of illegal immigrants in my life who were white and spoke the Queen's English. I guarentee they aren't the people the annonymous commentor's have in mind when they think of aliens.

    So much of this is is an ethnocentric, racist issue.
    A lot of it is that easy.
    Just not very comfortable to admit.