Race and Nation: Bridging Racial and Ethnic Communities

Staff

Vol. 23, No. 3-4, 2001 p. 16

The Southern Regional Council's (SRC) participation in the Race and Nation in the Global South collaborative, focusing on recent immigration to the American South, is one element in SRC's new initiative, Partnerships for Racial Unity.

As the SRC continues to work towards better understanding and collaboration between members of the white and African-American communities, the Partnerships Program allows the SRC to expand that work by learning from new immigrants as they arrive in and adapt to the South. The Partnerships program seeks to bridge racial and ethnic communities and foster multi-racial collaborations.

The Race and Nation project combines community-based research with popular education to investigate and influence the changing racial dynamics of the region. We hope better to understand both the experiences of new immigrants as they arrive in and adapt to the South and the attitudes of more long-term residents toward new immigrants. The overall goal of the project is to identify areas of potential collaboration as well as conflict among different groups, and to encourage multiracial efforts to address common needs.

The Race and Nation project's goals are to analyze the changing racial-ethnic context of the South and, to use that knowledge to build the collective vision, personal relationships and organizational ties necessary for joint, long-range, inclusive, racial justice work at the local and regional levels. The analyses and strategies for effective bottom-up strategies for anti-racist work will then be widely disseminated through the region, increasing the capacity of local and regional organizations to work effectively in the changing racial-ethnic context of the South.

With research partners at the Center for Research on Women (CROW) at the University of Memphis and the Highlander Center in New Market, Tennessee focusing on the state of Tennessee, the SRC is focused in the urban center of metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia. Project Director Dwayne Patterson and Project Associate Blanca Rojas are meeting with local activists and conducting research in the Chamblee/Doraville area. Approximately fifty interviews are being carried out in this area of cultural co-existence that stretches along Buford Highway in DeKalb County, which has developed, over the past two decades, into a powerful economic generator with hundreds of small Asian and Latino businesses. Unlike the long-established immigrant communities of New York and Los Angeles where different ethnic groups tend to establish distinct neighborhoods, the Chamblee/Doraville area blends Asian and Latino businesses and people.

One of every ten people in Metro Atlanta is Latino or Asian. The 2000 Census showed a 300 percent increase in Georgia's Hispanic population, the third highest among Southern states. These changing demographics have made DeKalb County one of the most diverse in the nation, with African Americans comprising 55.3 percent of the population, whites 37 percent, and Hispanics and Asian Americans comprising 7.9 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively. Attracted by economic opportunity, increasing numbers of men, women, and children from Mexico and other Latin American as well as Asian countries are moving into the area. New immigrants are settling in homes and apartments, working in construction, the service industry, and many other professions, attending local schools, and buying groceries, clothes, and more in local stores.

Based on the initial interviews, it is possible to identify four general areas of special interest:

  • Access to education, including education rights for immigrant students and parent involvement programs;
  • Political representation and civil rights, including census counts, redistricting issues, access to drivers licenses, and relations with the police and the Immigration and Naturalization Service;
  • Employment and economic status, including work relations and perceived job competition; and
  • Community/neighborhood relationships, problems and needs, including crime.

Following is an excerpt from one of the interviews conducted by the SRC's Partnerships team.