Cafe Conversation-Immigration

MendezNewcomers in the Cradle of a Nation: Mexican and Central American Immigrants in Williamsburg, VA”

Sociologist Jennifer Bickham Mendez (The College of William and Mary) will share some results from her ten-year, ethnographic study of Mexican and Central American immigration to Williamsburg, Virginia. Bickham Mendez places at the center of her work the lived realities of this latest group of settlers to the Williamsburg area, as they seek to make a life in their new surroundings.

Her work uses cases of local people’s daily lives as a window into broader trends in the nation and in a globally interconnected world. Working with an array of community agencies and standing with immigrants as they have sought services for themselves and their children provides a view of this community through the eyes of this recent group of arrivals.

Bickham Mendez will also draw from two research trips to the home communities of four immigrant families who reside in Williamsburg. She and her students interviewed family members, NGO practitioners, and community leaders in four sending villages and towns in Central and Southern Mexico. She and her students have also traveled three times to the US-Mexico border to visit the most heavily trafficked crossing region.

Through participation in research delegations on the border they meet with humanitarian workers, border patrol agents, and advocacy groups, and stay in shelters with recently deported migrants. The experiences of exclusion and hardship, but also triumph and resolve of this group of newcomers to our community add texture to overly simplistic rhetoric about the “immigration problem.” The unique position that Williamsburg occupies within the foundational story of the United States, makes this
“new immigrant destination” an ideal case study for addressing pressing questions for democratic societies in the 21st century.