A Note About 'The New Immigrants'

A story that was never intended as, and wasn't, anti-Mexican
Winstonlee via Wikimedia Commons

A couple of people have sent me emails about “The New Immigrants,” my story in the October issue of Charlotte, and their impression that the story disparages Mexican immigrants. (Charlotte’s generation-old Latino community once consisted mainly of poor laborers from Mexico but is diversifying to include more affluent and better-educated newcomers from other Latin American countries.)

“I came away with the feeling that Latinos in the area are affluent, exotic and educated. Unless, of course, they happen to be of Mexican origin,” wrote Noemi Santana of Charlotte, a logistics and compliance manager for Belk and a third-generation Mexican immigrant. “By portraying Mexicans as nothing more than the bottom of the barrel you have only perpetuated the idea that Mexicans are ‘people that have lots of problems,’ to use Donald Trump’s mildest words.”

It can’t be fun to be a Mexican-American in this Season of Trump. The Census data don’t lie—as of 2010, most Latino immigrants in Charlotte were Mexican; as a group, their income and education levels were far lower than the city average, and their poverty rate far higher—but the generalization doesn’t account for Mexican immigrants who are more educated and have done well financially. That’s the tricky thing about generalizations, and a national atmosphere in which people like Trump can exploit them for their own ends.

It ought to go without saying, but countless Mexican immigrants in Charlotte and elsewhere have made substantial contributions to their communities. And here’s something else that really shouldn’t have to be made explicit: That includes the poor laborers who have settled in Charlotte over the years to try to make better lives for themselves. There’s no shame in being poor or undereducated, or forced to work construction or other blue-collar jobs because they’re the only ones available to you. (Or because more privileged natives don’t want to do them.)

I don’t want this to be construed as an apology, exactly, just a clarification. I honestly never imagined anyone would read my story and perceive it as a slam against Mexicans, as if the second wave of Latino immigration I describe is some kind of upgrade from an inferior version. It’s not. It’s a change, that’s all. What’s really sad, though, is that some readers could read the story and automatically assume that it would “perpetuate the idea” the Mexican immigrants were, or are, “the bottom of the barrel.” Too many people embrace that myth, and having to explain that I didn’t mean that at all lends it far more legitimacy than it deserves.

Categories: The Buzz