While California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois boast the largest number of Latinos in the US, the states that have the most rapidly growing Latino population are largely in the south. As these demographics shift, it’s important to look at the impact and contributions our community is having in this region. That’s why the folks at Latino USA decided to head south for a two-part episode exploring the expanding, but still highly overlooked Latino inhabitants of this region. In an episode titled Southern Roadtrip, Maria Hinojosa, Zakiya Gibbons, and Jeanne Montalvo head to Georgia and Alabama to see how the Latino community has grown and made the south their home over the last two decades.
For Jeanne, who spent about five years as a member of the only Latino family in a small city in Alabama, growing up accentuated their differences. As a child, she was the only Latina to do her communion one year. Her classmates asked her whether she was white or black, but she didn’t identify with either. When she returned with Latino USA, many things remained the same. But the Latino population had now risen – enough to warrant the need for a Latino grocery store.
Jeanne’s family moved to Atlanta in 1992 after they learned just how much of a grip the KKK had on their small town, and because the Montalvos wanted to provide a better life for their kids. At the time, Atlanta also didn’t have a notable Latino population. But that all changed when the city hosted the 1996 Olympics.
Struggling to build the stadiums and housing to house thousands of Olympians, the city turned to Latinos to meet their deadline. It’s rumored that Immigration and Naturalization Service purposely chose to not deport the undocumented immigrants the community was depending on. (Latino USA couldn’t confirm or deny this because INS no longer exists and Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment.)
And though the 1996 would have been impossible without Latinos, it was after the games that tensions arose. The Latino population stayed behind and started to build lives in the city, but not everyone welcomed them.
Check out this captivating hour of Latino USA here, and tune in next week, when Maria, Jeanne, and Zakiya head to Alabama.
September 19, 2017 at 4:35 p.m.: This post has been updated to elaborate on why the Montalvo’s moved to Atlanta.