Hispanic Influx Causes Tensions with Blacks

Dahleen Glanton, Daily Press, July 17, 2013

In a region where race relations traditionally have been defined in terms of Black and White, an influx of immigrants to the Deep South in the last decade has upset the delicate cultural balance and created tensions among longtime residents and new ethnic groups.

The changing demographics have forced the South to again confront its prejudices as it becomes home to unfamiliar cultures. This time, however, the resistance has come not only from whites, but the region’s largest minority group, African-Americans.

“There are tensions between whites and Blacks, between whites and Hispanics, and between Blacks and Hispanics,” said Walter Farrell Jr., associate director of the Urban Investment Strategy Center at the University of North Carolina. “In rural areas, in particular, there has been such minimal diversity in the past, and now this quick influx of immigrants is changing the cultural fabric of these conservative communities.”

Alabama’s Hispanic population more than tripled in the last decade to 75,830, though that represents less than 2 percent of the overall population. In 1999, Georgia counted 239,000 Hispanics, representing 9 percent of the population, compared to African-Americans who represent 27 percent. Hispanics comprise 1.4 percent of the population in Mississippi, 2.4 percent in Louisiana and 3.2 percent in Arkansas, according to the new census.

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In Georgia, Black legislators recently defeated a bill supported by the governor to broaden the state’s “minority” designation to include Hispanics. The bill would have allowed Hispanics, whose population in Georgia increased by at least 120 percent since 1990, to be included in tax breaks for companies that hire minority contractors.

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“We were not comfortable amending laws that originally were passed to aid racial minorities, such as African-Americans and Native Americans, who have a long history of being discriminated against,” said Rep. Bob Holmes, a member of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus. “There is growing competition between Blacks and Hispanics, and in the South, it is going to get worse. We know that they have escaped from poverty and we want them to have a better life here, but not at the expense of African-Americans.”

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As ethnic businesses thrived in Atlanta’s suburbs, several towns have been sued over ordinances requiring that all business signs be primarily in English. Opponents argue that the rules discriminate against Chinese, Vietnamese and Hispanic immigrants.

Local officials counter that the ordinances are needed so emergency personnel, such as firefighters and police, can easily identify businesses.

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Other clashes have involved religion.

Somali refugees who are Muslim walked off their jobs at a College Park, Ga., chicken processing plant recently because they were denied breaks needed to pray. Another group of Muslims quit their jobs assembling cellular telephones at a Solectron Corp. plant near Atlanta because they could not take time to pray. A dozen Somali employees were fired from a Hertz rental car facility at Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta for not complying with the company’s policy prohibiting loose-fitting clothing and long dresses.

All three cases were later resolved in favor of the Muslims.

In Mississippi, a Muslim man won an appeal to the state Supreme Court allowing him to slaughter sheep, goats and cows on his farm in accordance with Islamic law. The agriculture commissioner had sought to shut down the slaughterhouse, saying it was a health hazard.

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The most far-reaching case, one that could have national implications, involves a Mexican immigrant in Alabama who sued the state to let her take the driver’s license exam in Spanish.

Though Martha Sandoval, who works as a house cleaner in Mobile, already has won her challenge to Alabama’s “English-only” rule, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide this summer whether she had the right to sue the state.

At issue is whether individuals can file suit under a provision in the 1964 Civil Rights Act that bars states that receive federal money from discriminating based on race, color or national origin. {snip}

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