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Forging Hispanic communities in new destinations: A case study of Durham, NC

Forging Hispanic communities in new destinations: A case study of Durham, NC

Theoretical considerations

The Chicago School of urban sociology, and its expansion into the spatial assimilation model, has long been the dominant paradigm for understanding the formation of ethnic communities and the spatial mobility of immigrants as they incorporate into U.S. society. As early at the 1920s, the Chicago School drew attention to the ways in which technological, political, economic, and cultural forces structure the spatial configuration of cities, and how this spatial configuration, in turn, shapes the social and economic behavior of urban residents (Park, Burgess, and McKenzie 1925). In its classic formulation the theory emphasized the centrality of “social integration” and focused on concepts such as social disorganization, ecological succession, and market-regulated social differentiation to understand the spatial position of immigrant groups (Walton 1993). Urban development and incorporation was explained in ecological terms where the spatial location of groups was a simple reflection of their free market position in terms of resources and abilities, and inequality among places was regarded as a natural consequence of functional differentiation (Logan and Molotch 1987: 6).

The geographic representation of this market-ordered space is best exemplified in Ernest Burgess’ concentric circles model of urban development (1925). The model provided one of the earliest, and most iconic, representations of the spatial configuration of American cities. Burgess observed that different land uses radiated out of the city center in a series of concentric circles closely related to property values. At the center of the city lay the central business district, ringed by factories and progressively nicer residential housing. Immigrants tended to settle in the inner ring, or “zone in transition,” because it was proximate to heavy industry and contained low-rent, dilapidated housing. As a particular immigrant group gained U.S. experience and moved up the socio-economic ladder they would move outward to subsequent rings of modest working class homes and the suburban periphery, and the next wave of immigrants would enter the zone of transition.

This model was expanded upon by subsequent Chicago School theorists such as Zorbaugh and Hoyt, among others, who elaborated on how natural boundaries such as railroad tracks and sectors of development shaped urban land uses (Hoyt, 1939Zorbaugh, 1926). Homer Hoyt in particular noted the tendency for cities to grow in a star-shaped manner in association with highways and other venues of transportation radiating from the center. Harris and Ullman (1945), recognizing considerable variation across metropolitan areas, argued that cities often contained multiple nuclei that emerge in connection with land use patterns and social and historical forces.

For understanding the experience of immigrants, though, the emphasis on neighborhoods and neighborhood succession provided concrete and empirically identifiable connections between the spatial configuration of cities and residents’ socioeconomic position. The free market and integrationist underpinnings of the classical Chicago School, however, came seriously into question during the 1960s and 1970s, a period marked by racial and ethnic conflict, urban rioting, deindustrialization, and fiscal crises. Influenced by a Marxian political economy perspective, a new wave of urban scholars argued that the urban system was not a product of natural forces but rather the spatial manifestation of inequalities embedded within capitalist forms of social relations (Castells 1977;Lefebvre 1991; McQuarrie and Marwell 2009). Cities were situated within a hierarchical global system that shaped the accumulation, circulation, and distribution of both capital and labor. The position of immigrants within cities was not merely a derivative of their socioeconomic endowments but instead directly connected to their particular role in global capitalist development. The end product was more explicit attention to the role of political processes, power elites, and class conflict in shaping the urban landscape.

While the Chicago School and political economy approach clashed over the forces shaping urban settlement patterns, their arguments about the formation and evolution of immigrant communities were not completely incompatible (McQuarrie and Marwell 2009). In fact, there have been many attempts to bridge the two perspectives. Rather than moving away from the spatial processes described by the Chicago School these integrated approaches highlighted the structural processes, such as racial inequality in the housing market or differential capital investments that undergird observed patterns of spatial differentiation (Logan & Molotch 1987).

The spatial assimilation model, in particular, provided a clear and empirically testable theoretical integration of the Chicago School and conflict perspectives as they related to immigrant settlement patterns (Massey, 1985). Immediately after arrival, most immigrants have both extremely limited market resources and social and cultural capital that are ethnically bounded. Both of these factors encourage the formation and maintenance of ethnic communities, where newcomers reside while they become adapted to the United States. However, opportunities and resources are unevenly distributed across the urban landscape; different neighborhoods confer differential prestige, home values, city and other public services (including quality education), physical safety, and access to employment and a variety of amenities. As people advance economically, they endeavor to translate their gains in financial status into gains in residential status in order to procure access to those resources and opportunities (Massey 1985Massey and Denton 1993). Thus residence in ethnic neighborhoods or enclaves is expected to be temporary; a stepping stone to higher quality accommodations that immigrants seek to leave once they improve their financial and social situation. As a particular ethnic group advances spatially, they create vacancies that can be filled by newer waves of immigrants. Thus while a neighborhood may succeed from one ethnicity or national origin group to another, it retains its immigrant character. Because higher quality housing tends to be located outside of densely packed inner urban neighborhoods, upward movement generally entails outward movement. While spatial assimilation is a function of these individual socioeconomic processes, it is contingent on features of the larger city context, such as racial discrimination in the housing market, industrial organization, capital investments, and government policies.

Recent scholarship falling under the umbrella of the Los Angeles school, however, has raised important challenges to the Chicago School model stemming from shifting intra-metropolitan settlement patterns. Specifically, since World War II industrial restructuring and the widespread use of automobiles have fundamentally transformed urban areas, and potentially the relationship between cities and behavior. In contemporary post-modern cities decentralized freeways replaced the hub and spoke system creating a sprawling urban area characterized by multiple nuclei of concentration rather than a single central business district, single use as opposed to mixed use zoning, low rather than high density, and horizontal access as opposed to the vertical profiles (Dear 19962002Fogelson 1967;Fulton 1997Gottdiener and Klephart 1991Scott and Soja 1996Soja 1989Sorkin 1992). As these cities grow, their multiple centers may increase in density and form mini-business districts of their own, but overall centripetal forces prevail, pulling jobs and other amenities ever outward toward suburban and edge communities.

Spatial form is far from the only concern in these works. Much of the Los Angeles school focuses on cultural and political implications of the post-modern urban form, and issues of fragmentation, governance, and fortification. For spatial analysis though the image of the contemporary city is that of a “patchwork quilt of low-density suburban communities stretching over an extraordinarily irregular terrain” tied together by freeways (Soja 1996: 433), very different from the pre-World War II city described by the Chicago School. Moreover, the city no longer functions as a unified whole, a coherent regional system in which the center organizes its hinterland. Instead, there is no order or reason; development occurs in a non-linear, chaotic, and haphazard manner, resulting in massive disjointed regions that often defy the traditional conception of a single “city” (Dear 1996). In this conceptualization, Los Angeles is not the exception but the new rule for development in the post-modern age. As Garreau put it, “every single American city that is growing, is growing in the fashion of Los Angeles, with multiple urban cores” (1991: 3). Not even the present-day Chicago metropolitan area, it can be argued, conforms to the single-centered concentric rings model of yore (Gans 2002).

One possibility is that these changes in the spatial location of opportunities have altered the settlement patterns of recent immigrants. Post-war cities are not only polycentric they are also polycultural; as cities themselves become more fragmented so too have the forces of assimilation; with both the return of large scale immigration and the advent of significant capital investment from abroad, immigrant groups no longer spread outward through an orderly process of invasion and succession, but rather retain their ethnic character over time and across space (Dear, 1996).

Indeed, a spate of recent studies has painted a mixed portrait of immigrant settlement patterns that seems to challenge some of the tenets of the Chicago School and spatial assimilation models. On the one hand, among Hispanics factors such as higher socioeconomic status, English language proficiency, and nativity predict residence in neighborhoods with higher incomes, lower crime, and greater integration with non-Hispanic whites, supporting the spatial assimilation model (Alba et al. 19941999Denton & Massey 1998Logan & Alba 1993;Rosenbaum & Friedman 2001;South, Crowder, and Chavez 2005). On the other hand, immigrants are increasingly bypassing central cities and moving directly to suburbs; by 2000 more immigrants lived in suburbs than in cities, and growth rates there were higher than in cities (Suro 2004). Some have gone so far as to argue that rising concentrations of ethnic groups in the suburbs constitutes a new form of ethnic neighborhoods, the “ethnoburb” (Li 1998). And finally, many ethnic communities are not, as predicted by the spatial assimilation model, disadvantaged. Contemporary immigration streams include a number of relatively highly skilled, affluent national origin groups. These immigrants often reside in ethnic neighborhoods not out of necessity, but by choice, and the neighborhoods can average higher incomes and property values than non-ethnic communities (Logan, Zhang, and Alba 2002Yu 2006). Indeed, spatial assimilation and increased contact with non-Hispanic whites are no longer as tightly paired as they once were, especially in metropolitan areas that have received large numbers of immigrants in recent years (Alba, Logan & Stults 2000).

These patterns raise the question of whether differences between sprawling post-modern and centralized pre-industrial cities engender a fundamental reordering of the way in which immigrant communities develop, or whether differences are mostly superficial while the essential processes sorting groups across space remain the same (Sampson 2002). While a number of previous studies examine the locational attainment of Hispanics, few consider the spatial distribution of immigrant populations within a particular metropolitan area. What is particularly lacking is an examination of the formation and evolution of immigrant communities in new destinations, which are not only decentralized and sprawling but also lack a previous history of immigrant settlement (Waters & Jimenez 2005), potentially further undermining the validity of the spatial assimilation model.

We address the issue by conducting an in-depth social history of the formation and early evolution of Hispanic neighborhoods in Durham, NC. Our overall objective is not to settle decisively on the relative merits of the Chicago or Los Angeles models. After all, both schools of thought are broad and address not only the spatial distribution of groups but also urbanism and community, racial and ethnic conflict, governance and social fragmentation, and a number of other urban issues. There was also considerable overlap in their visions of cities. Rather, our objective is more modest; to provide an original, in-depth, historical account of the relationship between urban form and spatial dynamics in a new southern destination and their implications for models of immigrant settlement.

Contrasting predictions about the spatial pattern of immigrant settlement in new destinations can be drawn from these two models. The Chicago School would expect the emergence of a delineated “zone of transition” that acts as a port of entry for newly arriving immigrants. At the same time, the Chicago school would expect the spatial distribution of Hispanic immigrant neighborhoods in Durham to follow an orderly pattern related to the spatial assimilation model; as immigrants gain in resources and experience they would move out of this transition zone attracted by the neighborhood amenities available where majority groups reside in a pattern that should show some resemblance to concentric circles. The post-modern Los Angeles school, in contrast, places much greater emphasis on the lack of order and contiguity. The absence of preexisting immigrant quarters combined with the dearth of concentrated industrial employment would lead to scattered immigrant settlements within emerging destinations. While immigrants would still enter the region through inexpensive housing and move to better accommodations as they progress, the lack of order in multi-nucleated cities would suggest that there will be no discernable spatial pattern to this movement. Immigrant settlement would reflect the “quasi-random field of opportunities” (Dear and Flusty 1998: 66) that characterize the modern metropolis, and resemble a gaming board lacking in centralization, rather than orderly spread from an initial port of entry.

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