Latinization

of Southern

Space and Place

Daniel S. Margolies

Gallery Filter Descriptions

Places

The Latino impact on the South has been documented in numerous ways by a wide variety of scholars and activists concerned with the social and political consequences of immigration, but very little attention has been paid to the visual impacts on the southern landscape until this study.

North Carolina

North Carolina has boasted the fastest growing Mexican migrant population in the United States since the 1990s, with a 393.8% increase in population between 1990 and 2000. Its cities are similarly booming. The Latino population of Charlotte increased 622.4%, while Raleigh-Durham saw a 704.7% increase. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the state has had continued to have a very robust 88.9% Latino growth in the last decade. Three quarters of these migrants come from Mexico.

While the cities of North Carolina feature large and diverse neighborhoods reflecting the new migrant visual culture, as pictured in this collection, perhaps most fascinatingly is the transformation of small towns such as Siler City and rural areas like Surry County. There migrants arriving for construction and agricultural work have remade rural Southern spaces into new Latino places.

Asheville

Asheville is the most significant city in the western part of North Carolina, and it boasts a robust Latino community with numerous tiendas, taquerias, clubs, and other venues in the city and environs. One of the most unusual and noticeable of the Latino spaces is the lowrider shop in West Asheville, which is pictured in this collection of images. The unusual views of these custom cars standing jacked up in front of the shop are so dramatic that passing drivers have become engrossed and run into the telephone poles next to the shop.

Burlington / Haw River

These small towns between Durham and Greensboro boast a stretch of tiendas, churches, taquerias, and carnicerias with some of the most visually interesting examples of Latinized social spaces in North Carolina pictured in this collection.

Mount Airy

Once serving as the model for small town life as Mayberry on the Andy Griffiths Show, Mount Airy today presents a much more complex and diverse present in the Nuevo South. The traditional looking town is home today to the storied Old Time Fiddlers Convention as well as to a new Latino Festival and rodeo, and there are dance halls, tiendas, and other venues for the new community in town and throughout Surry County.

Winston-Salem

The Latinization of social space is immediately apparent in this fascinating city. There are large stretches of Winston-Salem that look like areas of South Texas or California, with bright colors, extensive signage in Spanish, handpainted or poster covered store fronts, elaborate murals, and numerous tiendas, taquerias, clubs, and other establishments.

Virginia

Between 1990 and 2000, the Latino population in Virginia boomed, increasing faster than any other ethnic group at a rate of 105.6% compared with overall growth in the Commonwealth of 15.7%. The 2010 census reveals that the Latino population has continued to grow at 71.2%. This rate of growth was especially noticeable in areas such as Roanoke that otherwise have been experiencing a population decline.

Accompanying this massive growth in population has been a marked transformation of the visual scapes and social spaces of Virginia. As in the case of North Carolina, these developments are inscribed both in city neighborhoods, suburban strip malls throughout the state, and on rural byroads in places like Axton or Collinsville. The spaces of this new borderland challenge and refresh the existing regional sense of place by nurturing entirely new hybrid visual cultural forms and fresh commonalities.

Manassas

Prince William County passed some of the strongest anti-immigrant legislation back in 2007, and though this has dampened spirits in the community there it has not prevented the recreation of social, visual, and musical spaces in the city. In the summer, monthly rodeos and concerts brought major bands from Mexico and crowds of several thousand to the Prince William County Fairgrounds for a day of cultural celebration and entertainment. In the decaying strip malls of this Northern Virginia town, new migrants have reshaped loose spaces in new ways.

Richmond

On Jefferson Davis Highway heading south out of Richmond, a traditionally African-American area of the city has become heavily Latino, largely Mexican and Central American. In addition to flea markets, tiendas, taquerias, and other business establishments large and small, there are numerous clubs and other venues for live music, as well as djs and karaoke singing. The signs, colors, and sounds of this area of the city create an entirely new sense of space in this Southern city.

Roanoke

The largest city in Virginia west of Richmond, Roanoke has a vibrant Latino population and a dramatic reshaping of space along a busy stretch of major artery Williamson road. The new signage, colors, and imagery has placed a decisive stamp on the cultural geography of the Magic City.

Blackletter

A characteristic style of graphic presentation and signage in Mexico and the Mexican diaspora, blackletter appears throughout spaces in the South in a variety of forms.

Why is blackletter such a popular and ubiquitous style? According to Cristina Paoli, the author of Mexican Blackletter (Mark Batty, 2006), “blackletter in Mexico serves as a vehicle to express eccentricity and irreverent elegance...Blackletter draws attention to its heaviness, formality, history and tradition. At the same time...it evokes a transcendental playfulness, something that is out of the ordinary although it is tethered to daily life” (p. 26).

Flea markets

Flea markets are unique social spaces in which to observe the diverse changes brought by globalization and transnational migration, as these places stand at the vital crossroads of commerce, consumption, material culture, class, race, and community.

The social and cultural meanings and social spaces of flea markets have been transformed by the new transnational migration to the South. By definition, flea markets are marginal spaces in economic and geographic terms. They also are vital social and cultural places upon which social, economic, and cultural changes are clearly inscribed. The flea markets scattered like an archipelago throughout the southern Appalachians from Georgia through West Virginia present a striking portrait of evolving social spaces.

Loose Spaces

“Loose spaces” are (following the work of Karen A. Franck and Quentin Stevens) the “left over spaces” that are unorganized, unused, and ripe for reimagination and recreation. They include the “nothing” spaces of globalization and modern America such as roadsides, abandoned downtowns, decaying strip malls, rebadged church buildings, and the streetscape. As the images show clearly, the new colors, signage, and styles of these places reorganize space. These loose spaces riddle American regions and particularly urban areas, and may be even more prevalent in Appalachia, which has endured such wrenching economic devastation over time that the region is ripe with abandoned spaces.

Migrants, seeking an economic and cultural footing in their new environment, may be uniquely drawn to these loose spaces. Tiendas and taco trucks, clubs, and markets freshly reorganizing the spaces functioned as nodes of community interaction as much as sites of consumption. A tienda serves as a de facto community center.

Taco Trucks

A characteristic of the cultural and food geography of the borderlands of the southwest, and particularly in California, taco trucks are now common throughout the South in cities and rural areas alike. Taco trucks fuel working class lives and suddenly anchor a vibrant point of social interaction by carving a new social space from the side of the road or the corner of a parking lot.

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