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New Immigrants and Neighborhood Change

A woman with children in the yard of a Durham home

Our “Listening for a Change” initiative in the Northeast Central area of Durham, North Carolina, explored the impact of the growing Latino population in a low-income neighborhood historically populated predominantly by African Americans. Interviewees include African American, Latino, and Anglo residents who describe the evolution of life, work, and social patterns in the neighborhood. Project coordinators Alicia Rouverol and Jill Hemming focused on the themes of assimilation, ethnic and political identity, and identity formation, as well as examining cross-cultural issues such as retention of past traditions, relationship to home country, the immigrant experience in work, church, and social settings, and the creation of cultural and social institutions like local markets and newspapers. Interviewers are following immigrants’ stories chronologically, from life and work in the home country to the journey to the United States to the creation of a new home in Durham. By documenting the lives of men and women within a discrete neighborhood, across a range of ages, and from a host of Central and South American countries in addition to Mexico, the interviews reveal a rich fabric of community life and help to illuminate how North Carolina communities continue to be shaped by the experience of immigration.

With support from the North Carolina Humanities Council, Rouverol and Hemming organized a community banquet and cultural program entitled “Gathering Neighborhood Voices,” which drew more than fifty Northeast Central residents together in September 1999 for Latino and Southern home cooking, performances by local musicians and dancers, and lively discussion. Neighborhood leaders spoke with invigorating candor about the tensions between black and Latino populations and shared ideas on fostering interracial and cross-cultural cooperation through a better understanding of each other’s historical experience. Further plans for community outreach include a choreographed movement piece for elementary schools, a community mural, a video, a community history booklet, and a CD-ROM multimedia presentation. Hemming and Rouverol have involved a team of community liaisons and interviewers in their work, including Katushka Olave, Jacquelyn Wagstaff, Colin Austin, Ciro Arroyo Vicente, Angela Hornsby, and Ann Kaplan.