Arkansas Latinos and Poultry

In the case of Arkansas, greater numbers of Latinos were initially drawn to the state in the mid-1980s largely because of employment opportunities in the poultry industry. The state produces more chicken than any other, and poultry is Arkansas’s largest industry. Tyson Foods, the largest poultry producer in the world, is headquartered in the state, and most of the industry’s major players have operations in Arkansas. As a result, the surge in Latino population during the 1990s was geographically concentrated in towns or regions with significant poultry-processing facilities. Although the speed and timing of Latino entry into poultry plants varied somewhat depending on region, the latinization of the state’s industry was undeniable by the mid-1990s.

In most cases, and especially in the economically booming and poultry-producing region of northwest Arkansas, whites and blacks left poultry plants in the 1980s as more attractive jobs became available. Latinos, many of whom moved from California, quickly obtained poultry jobs that, although difficult and dangerous, provided benefits, the potential for overtime, and relative job security, especially when compared to seasonal agriculture. As one migrant recounted,

I am the Christopher Columbus of Arkansas. I discovered Arkansas for my pueblo [in Mexico]. I came to Arkansas in 1987 or 1988. I had been working in California for more than twenty years. The first day [in Arkansas] Tyson hired me. There were ten Mexicans in the plant. . . . Right away I told my two other sons to come to Arkansas. I said quit your job [in California] tomorrow and come. Then the whole town [in Mexico] stopped going to California and started coming to Arkansas.

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