Category Archives: Latinx Series

Latino Memphis

The May edition of “Latinx Foodways in North America” features exciting research conducted by Simone Delerme on Latino foodways in Memphis, TN. Her work explores how Latino immigrants are incorporated into Memphis’ social, economic, and political context.

MiTierraMirna (1)

By Simone Pierre Delerme

Memphis’ Summer Avenue has become an enclave with a concentration of Latino-owned restaurants and small businesses. Along the corridor, one will find some of the community’s Latino pioneers. Mirna Lissette Garcia and her business partner Maryury Rodriguez, for example, opened Mi Tierra Restaurant in October of 2003. Mirna was born in Guatemala City in 1964 and migrated to Chicago when she was fourteen years old. In 1995, she decided to move to Memphis with her son and join family in the area after visiting. She was a pre-school teacher in Illinois with no experience in the restaurant industry. However, after moving to the area she found employment in one of the first Mexican restaurants opening in Memphis where she learned everything she knows. Maryury’s brother is the owner of restaurants in Chicago and Florida, and helped the two women get their business started as they strive to “give Memphis a little of Colombia.” They later diversified their menu and added Mexican cuisine since their customers were not familiar with Colombian food, one of the biggest challenges faced by the owners of non-Mexican establishments. Their unique vision transformed the interior of a building in a small Memphis shopping center to a space where Latinos congregate to eat, listen to music, and dance to the rhythms of cumbia, salsa, and merengue.

This ongoing project on the experiences of Latinos in the south, began over the spring of 2016 with interviews in Oxford, Mississippi; subsequently the research expanded to Memphis. The objective was to document the migration stories of immigrants and the experiences of other members of the Oxford community as part of The Invisible Oxford Project. We created the website and archive in the southern studies research methods course that I teach. The interviews we collected and archived focused on the less visible spaces, places, and communities in Oxford. The project grew to an ethnographic study of Memphis and Oxford conducted in collaboration with McNair Scholar Brittany Brown and Honors student Katherine Aberle. Taking into consideration the South’s historic black/white racial binary, we documented the place-specific experiences of Latinos in new destinations of migrations in the Mid-South using anthropologic methods, which include participant observation, informal and oral history interviews as well as content analysis of newspapers articles and archived transcripts.

Between 1980 and 1990 there was little growth in Memphis’ small Latino population of 5,225, however, between 1990 and 2000 the population increased by an astounding 333.6%. In contrast, the non-Latino white population declined over the last four decades while the number of Latinos continued to increase to 41,994 in 2010. In the last decade Oxford, MS has seen a 281% change. During the interviews, individuals were asked opened ended questions so they could reflect on themes ranging from assimilation and cultural preservation to incidents of discrimination and adapting to life in the south. From the interviews, we learned that in both Memphis and Oxford we were witnessing the growth of the Latino community as a result of family unification. Already established Latinos, often times working in either warehouses (in the case of Memphis), restaurants, or the construction industry, communicated to family members and friends about job opportunities, the cost of living, and the quality of life in the region. In Memphis, the communities of Berclair, Hickory Hill and Nutbush became “receiving communities” where new immigrants settled in the early 1990s. In Memphis, a larger city in comparison to Oxford, newspapers, non-profit organizations, churches, and other institutions have been created to provide services to the Latino community, preserve the culture of Latinos, and incorporate the incoming population of immigrants into the region. Although, with no Latino elected officials, there is little formal political representation.

Latino-owned restaurants and small businesses are the visual markers in the landscape that signal the Latinization of particular communities and represent incorporation into the local economic market. Latino-owned restaurants enabled individual families to become upwardly mobile. Several families we interviewed transitioned from the construction industry to the restaurant industry or kept ties to both to maximize their income. At the restaurants, immediate and extended family members worked together to establish their businesses, sometimes even expanding their operation to multiple locations. One family successfully opened over 22 Mexican restaurants in the region. These restaurants have become important symbolic social spaces in the community, places where Latinos congregate and connect to preserve their culture through food, music and dance. But, these restaurants are also spaces where non-Latinos are exposed to Latin American and Caribbean culture as both consumers and employees. So, restaurant owners and managers also served as cultural brokers. For our non-Latino interviewees, this led to increasing consciousness about the growth of the Latino population and the challenges these individuals face—like linguistic barriers—and fostered activism and outreach through churches and non-profit organizations like St. Peter’s Episcopal church in Oxford, Latino Memphis and Caritas Village. As Chef Elijah Townsend of Caritas Village—a restaurant, catering facility and community center in Memphis—explained:

My hope [ ] is that we can begin to bridge, close the gap on some of those barriers and begin to actually learn about each other and I think food is a great source to allow that to happen.  I think food is an amazing tool to bring people together.  If we think, if we look back over our lives, everything that happens to us, in some capacity, food is involved.  Whether it’s happy, sad, celebratory… food’s there.  I think food has the ability to take us to places we never physically will be able to go but we can experience that through taste and through that journey.

The influx of Latinos to Memphis and Oxford is challenging the historic black-white racial binary that has existed, and Latino-owned businesses are an important visible presence signaling the Latinization of spaces and places in communities throughout the south.

Dr. Simone Delerme is McMullan Assistant Professor of Southern Studies and Anthropology at the University of Mississippi. Her research focuses on Latino migration to the American South, and the social class distinctions and racialization processes that create divergent experiences in Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee. Interview transcripts from the project can be accessed on the Southern Foodways Alliance’s website, https://www.southernfoodways.org/oral-history/latino-memphis-and-oxford/.

Dr. Delerme’s research questions are included below. We invite readers to comment on them.  The following questions guided our data collection and analysis:

  • How are Latino migrants incorporated into the social, political and economic life of communities in non-traditional destinations of migration?
  • How are residential and commercial spaces with a concentration of Latinos perceived by non-Latino residents?
  • How do Latinos navigate the South’s historic black/white racial binary?

If you would like to contribute to this series, please contact Sarah Fouts saf817@lehigh.edu.

 

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Latinx foodways, Latinx Series, restaurants

A “Hoppy” Bubble? Linking Labor and Capital in Washington State’s Beer and Cannabis Industries

Blog Editor’s note: This is the second installment in FoodAnthropology’s series on Latinx foodways in North America. We welcome contributions from researchers in this area. More details about the series are here

Megan A. Carney
University of Arizona, School of Anthropology and Center for Regional Food Studies

Every fall in the Pacific Northwest, craft brewers and beer connoisseurs alike anxiously anticipate the availability of freshly harvested hops. Ranging from mid-August to mid-October, almost every brewer in the trade premieres a fresh hop beer. The widespread and increasing demand for freshly harvested hops turns the craft beer scene into some kind of frenzy: brewers buy as much as they can as soon as the hops are available and then proudly display their piling heaps of green and gold treasures – mounds of the fresh hop buds – with much fanfare to salivating beer aficionados. The hop bud enjoys much attention, even worship, during this time of year, its image projected onto all forms of marketing and advertising from bottle labels to bumper stickers and billboards.

Washington State’s Yakima Valley is one of the most productive hop-growing regions in the United States, accounting for more than 70 percent of total hop cultivation nationally. It is a $380 million industry that generates over 65 million pounds of popular hop varieties such as Centennial, Amarillo, and Cascade. While an agricultural tradition has thrived in the Yakima Valley for many generations, due in part to its proximity to the Columbia River and fertile soils, more growers have gradually begun cultivating hops. Hops production has been increasing since the turn of the nineteenth century with a particularly sharp increase in 2005.

The elevated status of hops, however, and its near fetishization among brewers and consumers tend to obscure the labor processes and larger shifts in agricultural land use that have enabled the increased availability of hops. Harvesting hops is a labor-intensive process despite certain advances in mechanizing hops production. Migrant workers, whose origins trace from Mexico and Central America predominantly, perform the bulk of this highly skilled labor. One brewery even recently released a beer to pay homage to this migrant workforce. Since hops harvesting is seasonal, these migrant workers often migrate to other regions of the United States in search of work in other seasonal industries. While migrant labor has historically sustained much of the agricultural production in the Yakima Valley, the increasing demand for highly-skilled migrant workers in hops cultivation and harvesting due to the industry’s rapid expansion is a more recent development.

Much remains unknown regarding the specific labor and living conditions of migrant workers employed in the hops industry. However, studies of migrant farmworkers in the Yakima Valley have found substandard living conditions, numerous occupational hazards, high rates of food insecurity, chronic health conditions, and inadequate or limited access to health care as characterizing the daily struggles of this population. My research aims to understand the lived experiences of these workers, specifically the daily and seasonal rhythms of their labor, living conditions, and broader effects for food insecurity and health. In addition, I seek to map the political-economic and institutional arrangements within which the lived experiences and life chances of workers in the hops industry and the “hop-crazed” brewers and consumers are connected.

The greater Seattle region has experienced rapid gentrification with unprecedented population growth during the past decade. Estimates are that the city grows by 1,000 new residents each week, many of them attracted to jobs with tech giants such as Amazon. These residents tend to be younger and wealthier as a whole, but with the city’s housing crisis, many are moving into what historically were more working-class neighborhoods. The shifting demographics of Seattle’s cityscape have been accompanied by the proliferation of microbreweries and recreational cannabis shops, the latter especially since Washington residents voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana in 2012. Meanwhile, crises loom around illicit drug use – particularly of heroin and other opioids – and widespread homelessness, troubling local residents, public health workers, and policymakers about specific actions to take. The growing demand for artisanal brews and high-quality cannabis among the region’s younger and more affluent residents on the one hand, and the gradual dispossession of the poor and growing homeless population on the other, arguably represent two sides of the same coin.

Another dimension of this research is probing into questions regarding shifts in land use toward hop and cannabis cultivation and the broader political-economic, environmental, and human health consequences. Food system scholars and practitioners consistently highlight the implications of shifting land-use from staple or edible crops intended for human consumption toward crops that support biofuel production, animal feed, or more “luxury” and recreational commodities. Hops and cannabis of course, tend to fit within the last category, notwithstanding arguments for how both crops may support human health in reducing stress and anxiety, or offering pain relief. Yet these crops – especially cannabis – also represent “big business” in generating revenues much higher per acre of yield than say an acre planted in pears or potatoes. Indeed, a substantial portion of Washington State’s land surface area devoted to agricultural purposes is now being cultivated for certain mind-altering substances and libations (e.g., grapes, apples, cannabis, hops). How the broader consequences of such shifts in land use unfold along lines of citizenship, class, and race within the greater Seattle region, Washington state, the Pacific Northwest foodshed, and beyond remain to be adequately understood.

Megan A. Carney is Assistant Professor in the School of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Regional Food Studies at the University of Arizona.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, beer, Food Studies, Latinx Series, wine