Diversity prompts increased racial isolation

Dec 28, 2013, 4:15 PM

WATSONVILLE, Calif. (AP) – In a grassy downtown plaza, strolling musicians wearing glitzy cowboy outfits blast a mariachi song, while Spanish-speaking shoppers bustle between farm stands, sampling tart cactus leaves, sniffing roasting chilies and buying bundles of warm pork tamales.

The scene is an increasingly typical one in towns across California, where Hispanics are on pace to become the largest ethnic group next year. And Watsonville is but one of dozens of California communities where Hispanics outnumber whites.

The town of 52,000 on the picturesque Central Coast, where good soil and pleasant weather enrich crops of strawberries and lettuce, and a driven and determined low-wage workforce fuels small factories producing everything from high-end shock absorbers to handcrafted glassware.

Spanish is spoken in most homes and businesses in town, and one out of five households is linguistically isolated, meaning no one over 14 speaks English.

Rising immigration hasn’t made Watsonville more diverse; it is a community heading toward racial isolation, a growing phenomenon in a state that offers one possible look at how the nation may change as non-Hispanic whites become a minority in the coming months.

Like most U.S. towns, Watsonville has been formed by waves of immigrants, Croats, Portuguese, Filipinos and Japanese, each arriving with their own language, customs and cuisine. The current surge of Hispanics has brought a Latin American influence.

“For me, downtown Watsonville is like being in a small Mexican town,” said Oscar Rios, who was Watsonville’s first Latino mayor. “Everyone speaks Spanish. The restaurants are Mexican. It’s got a very different feel than a traditional American town.”

Rios came into office after a landmark voting rights case 25 years ago deemed Watsonville’s at-large election system discriminatory and mandated district elections to end all-white political leadership. At the time, 50 percent of the residents were Hispanic.

Today, 82 percent are either immigrants, or descendants of immigrants, mostly from Mexico but also elsewhere in Latin America.

“Communities where Latinos live are becoming more and more Latino over time,” said Brown University sociologist John Logan. “And as more Latinos arrive, they’re still living in very separate neighborhoods.”

But predominantly white neighborhoods are also seeing an influx of Latinos, Logan said.

Hans Johnson at the Public Policy Institute of California said there are signs of increasing residential segregation, but that that becomes a problem only when places that are highly segregated end up becoming economically depressed for generations of immigrants.

“Here I would say the track record in California has been, so far, that we see pretty strong improvements from the first generation to second generation,” he said.

Watsonville, where 40 percent of the residents are foreign born, is in the early phase of the transformation. The community has a 23 percent unemployment rate, and poverty rates twice as high as the rest of California.

Nahara Villalobos, 17, who will be a senior at Watsonville High School this fall, is determined to move up, educationally and economically. Her parents immigrated to California from Mexico about 25 years ago. Her father works on a mushroom farm and her mother is a housewife, caring for Nahara’s disabled older sister.

Although she was born in the U.S., Nahara didn’t learn English well until she was 9, and to this day she acts as her family translator at doctor appointments, signing leases, filling out contracts and tax forms.

When her family moved onto an all-white block five years ago, it was Nahara who had to explain to her father that neighbors were asking if he was an ex-con, and her mother if she was the housecleaner.

“You wouldn’t believe the way the neighbors treated us,” she said. “I’m going to get out of here, be the first in my family to go to college, become a lawyer. I’m not just saying this. I’m going to do it.”

A member of the Watsonville Youth City Council, Nahara interned this summer at City Hall, and serves on her school’s Conflict Resolution Team.

Walking past downtown’s historic Victorians, Nahara doesn’t notice that almost every sign is exclusively in Spanish, from the barber shop, “Cortes de Pelo,” to dress shop notices asking patrons to not bring in food or drink: “Por favor, no pase con comida o bebida.”

At the courthouse on the corner, interpreters are at work in all four courtrooms, helping judges and lawyers communicate with clients dealing with everything from divorce settlements to murder charges. At the public library, laughter, stories and music ring out from Bilingual Toddler Time.

Nahara points to El Charito market where she and her friends buy sweet, spicy, salty tamarindo and Chamoy candies during lunch.

In the fields surrounding the town, workers are in the fields before dawn, bending over in torn jackets, hats and high collars to keep off the sun, digging up carrots, bundling kale.

Current Mayor Lowell Hurst, who is not Hispanic, said in his 30 years in Watsonville, the community has changed a lot.

“We have more people that probably lack legal status and that means more people that are really kind of living in the shadows,” he said. “Certainly there’s been white flight from this city as people’s economic status improves and they wish to have better opportunities.

He added: “But do people flee because of race or language? I don’t know.”

Hurst said many residents appreciate the Latino influence. “I think a lot of people would like to put the differences of race on the back burners and focus more on economic opportunity and celebrate the diversity of cultures that exist,” he said.

As generations pass, towns like Watsonville will become more Americanized, but at the same time some parts of Mexican culture are already weaving into the U.S. fabric, said University of California, Irvine sociologist Susan Brown.

She points to salsa, which long ago surpassed ketchup as the nation’s leading condiment. And Brown said American icons like hot dogs and hamburgers are actually the legacy of a wave of more than 5 million German immigrants more than a century ago.

“This Mexican wave is a big group,” said Brown, “but we forget that a huge, huge number of Germans came, and we’ve absorbed them.”

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

President of Malawi Lazarus Chakwera addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assem...
Associated Press

‘Multilateral’? Global South’s leaders question solidarity

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — The United Nations was established on one simple notion above all others: Working together is better than going it alone. But while the term “multilateralism” might be trending at this year’s U.N. General Assembly, some leaders are calling out the heads of richer nations. Whether it’s the global response to the […]
7 hours ago
FILE--Vanessa Caudel, a nurse, sits at her work station in the Great Circle treatment center  on Fe...
Associated Press

Critics: Oregon’s move to decriminalize hard drugs a failure

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Two years after Oregon residents voted to decriminalize hard drugs and dedicate hundreds of millions of dollars to treatment, few people have requested the services and the state has been slow to channel the funds. When voters passed the state’s pioneering Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act in 2020, the emphasis […]
7 hours ago
Evidence tape is seen with a Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit in an examination room, Wednesd...
Associated Press

Texas vow to ‘eliminate all rapists’ rings hollow at clinics

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — When Texas’ new abortion law made no exceptions in cases of rape, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott defended it with an assurance: Texas would get to work eliminating rapes. One year later, Lindsey LeBlanc is busy as ever helping rape victims in a college town outside Houston. “The numbers have stayed consistently […]
7 hours ago
A protester holds a poster showing the image of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at a gathering a ...
Associated Press

Ceremony and controversy await Harris during visit to Asia

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attending funerals on behalf of the United States is normally a straightforward assignment for a vice president, but Kamala Harris will confront controversy at nearly every turn as she visits Asia for the memorial honoring former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. American allies are seeking clarity after mixed messages over whether President […]
7 hours ago
Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooti...
Associated Press

Democrats in Florida seek to win over Latinos on gun control

MIAMI (AP) — Annette Taddeo walked to a podium overlooking Miami’s Biscayne Bay and described to her audience how she had fled terrorism as a teenager in Colombia and now feared for the safety of her 16-year-old daughter at an American public school. A blue and bright orange bus behind the Democratic congressional candidate carried […]
7 hours ago
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz is shown at the defense table after the d...
Associated Press

Prosecutors to begin Florida school shooter trial rebuttal

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Prosecutors in the penalty trial of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz will begin their rebuttal case Tuesday, challenging his attorneys’ contention that he murdered 17 people because his birth mother abused alcohol during pregnancy, a condition they say went untreated. Prosecutor Mike Satz’s team is expected to call experts who […]
7 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
...
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
Diversity prompts increased racial isolation