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Becoming “Hispanic” in the “New South”: Central American immigrants’ racialization experiences in Atlanta, GA, USA

Abstract

For many migrants from Latin America, “Hispanic/Latino(a)” is an identity that they encounter in the United States with which they were unfamiliar in their home countries and must negotiate in their everyday lives in a new context. Specifically, immigrants from Central America are unlikely to see themselves as “Hispanic” or “Latino(a)” prior to living in the United States, more often identifying with their home country, city, town, village, or neighborhood. This paper draws on racialization theory and twenty-seven in-depth interviews with Central American immigrants in Atlanta, GA to examine this process of identity negotiation across the traditionally black/white racialized landscapes of a “New South” city. Interview participants adopt a racialized Hispanic identity through a complex process involving the interplay between how they think of themselves and their perceptions of how native-born Atlantans view them. The interview analysis presented herein demonstrates that although Central American immigrants actively negotiate a Hispanic racialized moniker, they do so within an urban context dominated by native-born residents whose racialized assumptions lump Spanish-speaking, brown skinned individuals into a monolithic “Mexican” category. Thus the ways in which racialized difference is constructed in contemporary Atlanta for recent Central American immigrants is very much bound up in such false presumptions of national identity and cultural group belonging.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Although the labels “Hispanic” and “Latino” do not carry the exact same meanings, they are frequently used interchangeably in contemporary immigration research. However, as a majority of interview participants in this study self-identified as Hispanic, I use this term exclusively throughout the paper. I place these terms in quotes here to denote their socially constructed origins, yet dispense with the quotation marks for the remainder of the paper for stylistic purposes. See Oboler (1995) for a useful discussion of the differences between the two terms.

  2. 2.

    The equation for Location Quotient (LQ) is given as:

    \( {\text{LQ}}_{j} = \left[ {{\frac{{{{{\text{ca}}_{j} } \mathord{\left/ {\vphantom {{{\text{ca}}_{j} } {t_{j} }}} \right. \kern-\nulldelimiterspace} {t_{j} }}}}{{{{CA} \mathord{\left/ {\vphantom {{CA} T}} \right. \kern-\nulldelimiterspace} T}}}}} \right] \) where j references census tracts, ca j is the number of Central American immigrants in census tract j, t j is the total population in census tract j, CA is the number of Central American immigrants in Atlanta, and T is the total population of Atlanta.

  3. 3.

    To preserve the integrity of the interviews, the interview quotes included herein were taken ver batim from the typed transcripts. All interview participants were given a pseudonym to be used throughout this paper. The average age of interviewees was 30. They had lived in the United States for a mean of 7.5 years and in metropolitan Atlanta for an average of 5 years. Seventeen of twenty-six participants had lived somewhere else in the United States before migrating to Atlanta, while the remaining ten were direct migrants.

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Acknowledgments

Many thanks for Steve Holloway, Kavita Pandit, Amy Ross, Deb Martin, Stephanie Bohon, and Josh Inwood for comments on earlier drafts of this paper. I am also indebted to two anonymous reviewers for their insights and suggestions. Research for this project was conducted through funding by National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Award #0402746 and the Association of American Geographers (AAG) Dissertation Research Grant Fund.

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Correspondence to Robert A. Yarbrough.

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Yarbrough, R.A. Becoming “Hispanic” in the “New South”: Central American immigrants’ racialization experiences in Atlanta, GA, USA. GeoJournal 75, 249–260 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-009-9304-7

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Keywords

  • Racialization
  • Central American immigrants
  • Hispanic identity
  • New South
  • Atlanta