Reception of Latinos in Arkansas

In the most rural and impoverished state in the country a state that is characterized by one small town after another the influx of Latinos has been transformative. Rogers, Arkansas, a midsize town of about 40,000 in the northwest corner of the state, saw its Latino population swell to nearly 10,000 by 2003. Likewise, in DeQueen, in southwest Arkansas, the Latino population went from 506 (or roughly 10 percent of the population) in 1990 to more than 2,000 close to 40 percent of the town’s total population. Although small, such numbers represent profound cultural shifts, especially when multiplied across the state. One migrant put it this way:

When I first came to Arkansas it was tough working in poultry because there were no Hispanos. I made some friends at work. We never socialized outside of work, though. Just going out was a struggle. It was like people had never met someone who didn’t speak English. I almost couldn’t get my children registered in school. No one at the school spoke Spanish! And there was no ESL [English as a Second Language].

I’d been in California for ten years so I was accustomed to the United States. But here was like another country.7

Arkansas has experienced its share of nativist and racist impulses with respect to the Latino population, including fears about schools, the use (or lack thereof) of the English language, the taking of jobs by migrants, declining property values, and crime. Overall, however, Arkansans’ reaction to unauthorized immigration has been more subdued than that of the federal government.


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