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Economic restructuring of the East Coast of the United States

Geographic and demographic changes in migratory flows

Between 1990 and 2000, the “new geography of Mexican migration” (Durand, Massey, & Capoferro, 2005) marked a new phase of the 100-year-old history of circulation between the two countries. On the East Coast, the percentage of migrants from Mexico and Central America doubled in a decade. The number of migrants settling in traditional gateways such as California and Texas declined. Instead, the Midwest, Northeast and the South became important new destinations (Griffith, 2005; Hirschman, 2008).

The restructuring of the US economy, from Fordist to flexible production beginning in the 1970s and accelerating in the 1980s, stimulated the transformationin the geography of Mexican migration to the United States (Harvey, 1989). A period of decreasing profitability and productivity of US corporations after the mid-1960s and the oil crisis in 1973 stimulated a major overhaul of production processes and labor control. Deindustrialization of manufacturing centers precipitated an increase in offshore production with flexible production chains coordinated over geographically dispersed areas. Flexible accumulation ushered in the expansion of the service sector, where unionized, industrial workers lost ground to the growth of a casual workforce of part-time, temporary and informal laborers.

The service sector was dominated by producer services, what is known as the FIRE economy (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate). These services required highly skilled workers and numerous low-skilled workers to "service the lifestyles and consumption requirements of the growing high-income professional and managerial class.” (Sassen, 1998b, p. 48) Women, formerly as reserve labor, and immigrants, culled from the surplus populations of the Global South, filled low-wage service jobs. The transition to flexible accumulation displaced important segments of the working class across borders, incorporating them into the new configurations of class adapted to the tendencies of deregulation (Friedman, 2015). On the US East Coast, Mexican migrants filled the ranks of this new global proletariat.

Pahuatecos/as in Raleigh-Durham Corridor, North Carolina

Two great forces intervened in the economic reconversion that put the so-called Nuevo New South or Latino New South in the 1990s at the forefront of neoliberal globalization and flexible work: on the one hand, the relocation of national and foreign capitals through a combination of tax incentives, low business costs and commercial opening. On the other, the deindustrialization that dismantled forms of production and organization of work in agriculture, steel industries, furniture, carpets and rugs, textiles and clothing, paper, tobacco and chemical plants among others. The loss of jobs was uneven in different sectors and areas of the country. The effects on workers were also dissimilar: according to the level of union organization, some received generous severance packages, while others were dismissed with little compensation. (Minchin, 2012; Mohl, 2003; Popke, 2011).

According to information from the population censuses of the United States, in 1990 the Nuevo New South received only 3.6 percent of the Hispanic migrant population. Ten years later, the percentage reached 7.5. Four flows converged in this increase: internal migration from the southwestern United States; others came from Central Mexico and Central America; at the same time, legal migration was promoted through work visas and labor recruitment in traditional areas of Mexican migration. Finally, itinerant agricultural workers who followed the annual crop calendar migrated into the US South (Griesbach, 2011; Levine & LeBaron, 2011). The myth of the disappearance of the neoliberal state was challenged by the decisive state practices that facilitated the encounter between

Surplus labor and restructured economies 37 capital searching for profit-making opportunities unobstructed by regulation and abundant “cheapened” laborers from the Global South. Increasingly restrictive US immigration policies and guestworker programs boosted the supply and lowered the cost of Mexican labor (Canterbury, 2012; Kofinan & Raghuram, 2015; Mezzadra & Neilson, 2013).

As we have indicated in other works (D’Aubeterre, 2019), North Carolina, one of the 11 states that make up the Nuevo New South, formerly the Old South, was considered a “backyard” of abundant cheap, biracialized work, with weak unionization to challenge powerful paternalism; in short, vulnerable communities suitable for investments of any cost (Smith & Winders, 2007; Popke, 2011, p. 247). An improved formula was put into operation for this relaunch by exploiting undocumented migrant workers who misaligned with their presence an age-old biracial, class and gender formation. In sum, the deindustrialization referred to is the historical expression of a specific moment of the unmaking (destraction) of the preceding working class. The other side of the process is the formation of the new working class (Silver, 2014).

Established in 1853, the early development of the city of Durham was associated with the tobacco industry and, in the late nineteenth century, textile and garment factories proliferated. These factories began retreating in the 1970s under the deindustrialization drift. This process encouraged the displacement of important contingents of cheap immigrant laborers of diverse national and ethnic origins (Cravey, 2003; Levine & LeBaron, 2011; Mohl, 2003; Popke, 2011). Immigrant laborers were absorbed by the rural agro-industry—food processing, sawmills and wood production, among the most important—and, more prominently, by the construction sector, the assembly of electronics, subsidiaries of companies with high technological components, laboratories, pharmaceuticals, hospitals, universities and the restaurant industry. The arrival of high-skilled labor, attracted by this expansion and by the city’s climate, demanded, in parallel, the provision of housing and care services (Flippen & Parrado, 2012; Kasarda & Johnson, 2006).

Hispanic population in the Durham-Raleigh-Charlotte corridor, North Carolina, grew from 76,726 people, representing 1.2 percent of the total state population in 1990, to 506,203, 6.1 percent of the total population in 2004 (Furaseth & Smith, 2016). It is precisely in that corridor where the bulk of Mexican migration concentrated. In 1990 the Census registered 2,054 Hispanics in Durham county; after a decade, this number grew to 17,039: 75 percent were born abroad and more than 85 percent migrated to the United States after 1990. In 2009, Hispanics already amounted to 12 percent of the total county population, 32,904 people; 90 percent of them undocumented (Flippen & Parrado, 2012, p. 10). The city of Durham was the fourth most populated city of the state with a sustained growth of 16.9 percent during the 2000 decade. In the period between 2000-2008 the population grew from 224,618 to 262,715: 47.06 percent white, 36.53 percent Afro-American, and the rest of diverse origin.

The massive migration of the 1990s from Pahuatlân toward North Carolina was preceded by a pioneer migratory flow to the South of the United States inthe 1970s, consisting of young Otomies from San Pablito Pahuatlan in their seasonal displacements between the Sierra and the poultry and dairy ranches from the south of Texas. This destination served as an important migratory station (Izcara Palacios, 2010) from which waves of workers were redirected toward agrobusiness areas from the New Latino South (Furuseth & Smith, 2016). These circuits connected with the Sierra Norte of Puebla, where workers stayed for short periods of time, integrating into certain phases of the local agricultural calendar only to start again, after a few months, a new cycle of displacements.

In the 1980s Otomies settled in great numbers in neighborhoods shared with Afro-Americans and Latinos in Old North Durham. This area was degraded and socially stigmatized due to the ethnic condition of their poor occupants. A brief note from 12 December 2008, published in El Informador5 alluded to an area of old apartments inhabited by “Latinos,” among them dozens of Otomi families from San Pablito Pahuatlan:

The Maldita Vecindad [Damned Neighborhood] is how this apartment complex in the city of Durham is known—stated the tabloid—a place mostly inhabited by Hispanic immigrants, given the low cost of its rents. It is a no man’s land, eveiyone does things their own way, the volume of music equipment comes out from everywhere, and beer bottles are the decoration of the place on the weekends. The routine changed on a Saturday when several brave Christians, aiming to reach those hearts without Christ, set up a ramp in the parking lot, and the music band started playing and singing, but its lyrics said something different. The message of Jesus Chr ist came to the Vecindad to mend the broken souls, to give hope to everyone without it, and faith to those who have lost themselves [...].

Over time, Otomies and Pahuatecos expanded towards the northeast of the city, and to Orange County. In the early years, single men shared apartments, a common and well-documented strategy among immigrants to lower costs (Cravey, 2003; Flippen & Parrado, 2012). Our interviewees in 2013 and 2014 rented single-family homes or married couples sublet rooms to both relatives and non-relatives; children and adolescents were part of these domestic formations of changing contours. Due to the limited availability of public transport, the streets and garages of these neighborhoods are filled with second and third-hand vehicles, essential for the transportation of these workers who are forced to drive without a license given their undocumented status.6

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