Immigrants Embrace Southern Living

Franco Ordonez, Charlotte Observer, Sept. 20, 2009

Carola Cárdenas left her native Venezuela twice to live in the United States. Both times she moved to cities that have long attracted large numbers of immigrants, first to Los Angeles, then New York.

But after four years living in the shadow of Manhattan in nearby New Jersey, Cárdenas, 36, and her husband decided to plant some roots elsewhere. They chose Charlotte–far away from any traditional immigrant gateway.

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The family’s story reflects the path that many immigrants, here legally or not, are taking–from U.S. urban enclaves filled with immigrants who share their language and culture to Southern cities like Charlotte that offer appealing and affordable suburban lifestyles.

A study published this year by the New York-based Center for an Urban Future found that a growing number of successful immigrants in New York are moving to Southern cities that boast a lower cost of living and a better chance to achieve middle-class goals like homeownership and sending their children to college.

Analysts say the trend reflects immigrants’ greater assimilation and movement up the economic ladder. It also reflects new migration patterns that have been created as large numbers from ethnic communities have spread into regions that traditionally had very little diversity.

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Cárdenas, a membership and fundraising director for a YMCA branch, said they realized quickly that “we were not in New York anymore.” But they were encouraged to hear Spanish on the radio, see a few stores and restaurants catering to immigrants, and learn of growing numbers of Latino businesses opening that could possibly use Miguel’s services as a graphic designer.

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Perfecto Paredes, a district manager of Compare Foods and a native of the Dominican Republic, moved to Charlotte four years ago from New York City. He said friends from the city constantly ask him about Charlotte.

“They want to know about everything–the city, jobs, weather,” he said.

More than a dozen uncles, aunts and cousins have followed Oscar Reto, a mortgage loan officer and a native of Peru, to Charlotte from New York since he moved here in 2001.

Detroit resident Roberto Sanchez travels to Charlotte often on business. He’s long wanted to move to the region, saying the pace reminds him of life back home.

“The weather is very similar to Mexico,” he said. “You don’t need as much money. People are calmer, more easygoing.”

North Carolina’s Latino population has soared since the 1990s, growing more than 1,000 percent. But it’s not just Latinos moving from the Northeast. High-tech professionals from India, teachers from Africa, and others from throughout the world are moving to Charlotte after stops in Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami.

More than 8 percent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s 103,000 foreign-born residents moved to the area from another state in 2007, according to Census figures.

Such changes prompted the Levine Museum of the New South to dedicate a yearlong exhibit, “Changing Places: From Black and White to Technicolor,” to the influx of people from around the world.

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