Isolation and Incorporation:

The Lives of Hispanic Immigrants in Asheville, North Carolina



Matthew Stewart Cox George

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of

Global Studies: Latin American Studies

Warren Wilson College

9 May 2005

This ethnography examines the ways in which the experiences and assimilation of Hispanic immigrants in Asheville, North Carolina differ as a function of the permanence of their stay, their access to social and human capital, and their labor market incorporation.  The value of hard work and a moral discourse are common themes among participants’ stories.  Temporary labor immigrants experience social isolation and allocate much energy to pursuing economic goals through work.  A Hispanic Pentecostal church provides a small ethnic enclave that encourages members to integrate economically and to segregate morally from United States culture.  Labor market incorporation modifies the experience of permanent immigrants, who enjoy greater amounts of human and social capital.

Table of Contents

Introduction. 3

Theoretical Background.. 5

Methods..... 14

Hispanic Immigrants in Asheville: Who Are They?......... 16

Temporary Labor Immigrants:  Isolation and Individualism................... 22

The Church as a Welcoming Agent and Resource for the Newly Arrived....... 32

The Social Function of the Church

         and its Implications for Immigrant Incorporation................... 36

Permanent Immigrants: Two Case Studies....... 45

Conclusion. 55

References.. 56























Immigration has been a defining factor in the economy and culture of the United States throughout its history.  In the past century, Mexico and Central America have replaced Europe as major sending regions of migrants to the United States (U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics 2004).  This immigration has become an important political, social, and economic issue as the United States reacts to these growing trends.  Hispanic workers (many of them undocumented) are invaluable laborers and their growing numbers represent increasing political clout.  A concerted effort to militarize the southern U.S. border against illegal migrants, which began in 1986, has resulted in increased migrant deaths and yet has not curbed the flow of migrants from Mexico and Central America (Durand, et al 2001; Singer and Massey 1998).  Politicians are reluctant to crack down on undocumented workers in the U.S. because many businesses could not survive without their labor.  Influential political scientist Samuel Huntington published the 2004 book, Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity, in which he labels Spanish-speaking Hispanic immigrants as the greatest challenge to U.S. identity.  The issue of south-of-the-border immigration is hotly contested.  But most people are not asking questions to the immigrants themselves.  What is it like to be the subject of such intense and heated debate?  How do they cope with the challenges of living and working in the United States?

I designed this project to ask such questions to the migrants themselves, to hear from them how they manage to adapt to life here in the United States.  This research investigates several specific cases of Latin American immigrants to Asheville areas with a specific interest in hearing their voices and understanding how they describe their own situation. 

The terms “Hispanic,” “Latino,” and “Latin American” are so general that they ignore the assortment of nationalities, languages, and cultures of these diverse people.  The responses I received to my questions were as diverse as the people who shared their time and stories with me.  This limited the possibility to generalize the results, which take on the character of a case study.  However, the opportunity to learn from these stories is broad and exciting.

            My purpose is to argue that the process of incorporation followed by Hispanic immigrants to Asheville has an important role in determining their attitude toward U.S. society and the attitude of U.S. society toward them.  The theoretical background summarizes migration theory with an emphasis on theories of assimilation.  The analysis is divided into four thematic sections.  Each addresses immigrants who have adopted a different mode of incorporation.  To begin, I will explore the experience of recent immigrants, who tend to be the least involved with local society and the least accepted.  Next will be a section on how a local Pentecostal church aids new members of the Asheville Hispanic community.  I will then cover how the church provides an ethnic enclave for more settled immigrants.  I continue with a discussion of two ways in which more permanent settlers incorporate and the implications for their adaptation to U.S. society.  Permanent settlement is influenced by how immigrants lay down roots and become invested in local culture, society, and economy.  Just as the coping mechanisms and incorporation strategies of different Hispanics vary, so do their attitudes towards life here in the United States.


Researchers have employed many theories to describe international migration.  According to Portes (1997:810), existing migration theories can be placed into four broad categories: “origins of international migration, directionality and continuity of migrant flows, utilization of immigrant labor, and sociocultural adaptation of immigrants.”  Migration theories are not mutually exclusive and none alone fully describes all the complexities of international migration. 

            This study is concerned primarily with the Hispanic immigrant experience in the receiving country.  Therefore, theories that fall under the “sociocultural adaptation of immigrants” category will be most relevant.  Of interest also are theories that describe the “origins of international migration,” which serve to explain the history and continuing influx of new immigrants to the U.S.  These theories have undergone nearly a century of evolution.

            Origins of International Migration

            As a case study, this paper looks at only a handful of different Hispanic immigrants.  Each is here for his or her own reasons.  A wealth of existing scholarship that describes the origins of international migration provides a framework for understanding the larger context for their immigration stories.

            Neoclassical economics describes the decision to migrate as a cost-benefit analysis on the individual or household level that weighs the opportunity for earnings against the cost of migration.  Neoclassical economics may also be applied at the macro or international level, in which the theory posits that international labor markets are in search of equilibrium where wages are equal in sending and receiving countries (Massey, et al 1993).  Age is a factor that limits the potential earnings for a person considering migration.  For this reason, older people are less likely to migrate (Myers 2000). 

            Migration networks are a vital element in the migration process.  Once a migration route is established, each subsequent migrant that uses this network strengthens it for those who follow.  Eventually, as Brettell and Hollifield (2000:16) put it, a “culture of migration” is encouraged by previous successes and migration can become a “normal part of the life course” for entire communities in Mexico and Central America.  This process has been described in terms of social capital.  In this case, social capital includes membership in social networks, which can be articulated as a sense of belonging to an imagined community (Chavez 1991, 1994).  Social capital can be obtained through relationships with experienced or settled immigrants, or with North Americans and the host culture.  Human capital includes education, financial resources, marketable abilities such as a skilled trade, knowledge of the English language, legal immigrant documentation, or simple experience or comfort navigating this foreign environment.  Social capital increases the likelihood of migration and the chances of success.  Indicators of social capital are knowledge of or membership in migrant- and other social networks and membership in a community with a history of migration.  Migrant-specific social capital is acquired through acquired direct connections with other migrants (Singer and Massey 1998). 

Dual or split labor market theory explains international migration on the national level essentially in terms of pull factors from the receiving country.  Developed, or “core” nations always have a need for workers at the bottom of the pay scale.  This is because jobs exist in a strict hierarchy of status.  If a pay raise occurs at the bottom of the pay scale, workers at all higher levels of status will demand raises.  Employers cannot afford to give raises to all workers as a result of structural inflation.  For this reason, jobs at the bottom of the pay/status scale become stigmatized as “immigrant jobs” and it becomes very difficult for employers to hire native workers, thus making the presence of immigrant workers (who don’t mind working low status jobs) vital to the system (Massey, et al 1993). 

Split labor theory is often used in tandem with dependency theory, where underdeveloped or “peripheral” countries exhibit push factors stemming from the limitations of “traditional” society that encourage migrants to move to “core” countries for employment.  Dependency theory recognizes the inequality of exchange between urban and rural and core and periphery that results from international migration, where rural areas and peripheral countries suffer from the loss of surplus (Kearney 1986). 

            World systems theory places international migration in the context of the global economic and political order (Heisler 1992).  The main tenet is that international migration follows the international movement of capital, in the opposite direction.  For example, while Mexico and Central America are mainly receivers of foreign capital from the United States, these countries are mainly senders of international migrants to the U.S. (Massey, et al 1993).  Kearney (1986) emphasizes the importance of political factors at both ends in determining this flow of migrants from the periphery to the core.  Massey, et al also argue that along with foreign investment in developing countries comes an influx of ideology from developed countries, in the form of advertising and television.  This serves to create an increased demand for a life only available abroad, thus encouraging further emigration from the developing country (Massey, et al 1993).  Because U.S. labor markets continue to rely on cheap immigrant labor and economic integration between the U.S., Mexico, and Central America continues to increase with new reductions in trade barriers, immigrants can be expected to continue to flow northward.  The world systems theory sees international immigration to be self-perpetuating, in that core countries receive a source of cheap labor and the periphery loses many ambitious positively selected immigrants (Portes and Rumbaut 1990). 

My research will use these theories concerning the origins of international migration to place the participants in the study in context.  Social capital gained through immigrant networks is a central reason why each of the participants is here.  A variety of factors contributed to their decision to come to Asheville, including a perceived opportunity for economic gain, the political and economic realities of their home country and the U.S., and certain push and pull factors described by dependency theory.

            Sociocultural Adaptation of Immigrants

            I will not be one of “those anthropologists torturing their stories from the field so as to avoid ever using the term ‘assimilation’” (Waters 2000:45).  Barbara Heisler labels the period from 1900-1969 the Classic Period of immigration theory.  This research was done exclusively in the receiving country and effectively ignored the political dimension of migration, focusing on push and pull factors.  Classic migration theory held that international migration was a movement towards an equilibrium between the advantages of the core and the disadvantages of the periphery (Heisler 1992).

            Beginning in the 1920’s and 1930’s, the Chicago School of Sociology came to the forefront in immigration studies, as the waves of southern and eastern European immigrants were cresting.  Robert Park was a central figure in the development of assimilation theory (Alba and Nee 1997, Heisler 1992, Rumbaut 1997).  Park’s model of assimilation was an inevitable one-way process that described immigrant interaction with the host culture in four stages: contact, conflict, accommodation, and assimilation (Rumbaut 1997, Alba and Nee 1997).  Park defined acculturation as the adoption by immigrants of cultural practices of the majority: language, dress, values, appropriate modes of expression, etc. (Alba and Nee 1997).  Assimilation, the final outcome of the process, which could last for generations, according to Park, occurred when diverse ethnic groups achieved a cultural solidarity sufficient to establish a unified national identity, or when ethnic groups disappear and are totally Americanized (Alba and Nee 1997, Heisler 1992).  Ethnic differences are no longer present and most studies of first generation immigrants, including this one, correspond with Park’s first two stages: contact and competition (Alba and Nee 1997).

            A key revision to assimilation theory came from Milton Gordon in 1964 (Alba and Nee 1997, Rumbaut 1997, Heisler 1992).  Gordon stated that acculturation is inevitable, but does not always lead to assimilation.  Like Park, Gordon maintained that the host culture was not significantly changed by the absorption of immigrant groups (Alba and Nee 1997).  Gordon modified Park’s four-stage concept.  His assimilation model had three stages: acculturation, structural integration, and assimilation.  For Gordon, structural assimilation means “interaction in primary relationships and the absence of discrimination and prejudice” (Heisler 1992:626).  Gordon stated that acculturation, or the adoption of core culture always occurs, but does not always end with total assimilation (Heisler 1992).

            During the 1960’s several events challenged the equilibrium and assimilation models of previous migration studies.  The civil rights movement showed plainly that African Americans were far from being assimilated, despite centuries of living in the U.S.  A new wave of immigrants came to the U.S. from Latin America and Asia.  And world systems theory appeared with a global theoretical perspective that was absent from previous migration studies.  Heisler deems this new period in immigration studies the Modern Period (1992).

            In 1973 “straight-line assimilation” theory appeared separately in works by Gans and Sandberg.  This research added the element of the generation as a driving force of change.  Each subsequent generation is further from the cultural “ground zero,” and one step closer to assimilation.  In response to criticism that said that culture is created in the receiving culture, not just in the sending culture, Gans updated the idea with his “bumpy-line theory of ethnicity” in 1992.  Albeit with minor jumps and starts, each generation moves in a general direction towards assimilation.  Further criticism holds that this theory overlooks the political, economic, and social variables that complicate the situation of each generation (Alba and Nee 1997).  I did research for my study on first generation immigrants only, so it is not possible to measure changes from generation to generation.

            Modern Period studies of assimilation have expanded the scope of earlier research.  Douglas Massey in 1985 introduced spatial assimilation to the vocabulary.  As ethnic groups acculturate, they acquire spatial mobility, which allows for the structural assimilation of immigrants.  The most successful human capital immigrants (those who arrive with skills that can be used outside the secondary labor market) move out of ethnic economies to enter the mainstream job sector, where they find greater opportunities for economic advancement.  Less successful immigrants often remain concentrated in ethnic enclaves (Alba and Nee 1997).  Portes and Rumbaut note that ethnic enclaves do not always limit the possibilities for immigrant success, citing the flourishing Cuban community in Miami as a convincing example (1990).

            Rubén Rumbaut puts forth a criticism of the process known as “socioeconomic assimilation” described by economists as “achieving ‘parity’ with the native majority in such indicators as education, employment, and income” (1997: 946).  When the average income, for example, of an immigrant group reaches the average income of natives, socioeconomic assimilation is achieved (Rumbaut 1997).  Rumbaut argues that the model does not account well for “brain drain” or human capital immigrants that arrive with levels already above the national average (1997).  But because usable human capital (job-related skills, English-language proficiency, etc.) is the main limiting factor in immigrant socioeconomic assimilation (Alba and Nee 1997), this argument does apply to Hispanic immigrants who have very little human capital.  This is why Hispanic men, native and immigrant, earn significantly less than “white” men (Alba and Nee 1997).

            Other models of immigrant incorporation fall under the category of enclave theory (Heisler 1992).  Piore, in 1979, came up with a segmented labor hypothesis, where immigrant groups would compete for the best jobs and the losers would be isolated in the lowest tier secondary labor market jobs.  There, they would have few opportunities for occupational mobility (Heisler 1992).  Portes and Rumbaut (1990) present another model for immigrant incorporation that depends on the choice of the immigrant.  There are three different ways to incorporate.  First, human capital (skilled or professional) immigrants can join the primary labor market, which usually results in relatively rapid incorporation (Heisler (1992) points out that they avoid the use of the term “assimilation”).  Second, they can enter the secondary labor market, described above, which limits immigrant incorporation.  Third, immigrants can join the ethnic enclave economy, in which immigrants do business primarily with one another.  They argue that the third option may provide the best chance for upward mobility for immigrants with little human capital (Portes and Rumbaut 1990).  Heisler notes that these models are important because they take into account the diverse resources with which immigrants enter the country (1992).

            A popular view of cultural assimilation is movement from some cultural ground zero toward complete Americanization (Rumbaut 1997).  But, more accurately, “assimilation, as opposed to acculturation, is a two-way street” (Dewind and Kasinitz 1997:1102).  Assimilation does not depend only on the willingness of the immigrant.  The receptiveness of the host society affects the assimilation process as well.  This receptiveness is articulated through common stereotypes and attitudes and government policies.

            Assimilation theory has come under severe attack during the 1980’s and 1990’s.  According to DeWind and Kasinitz, “terms like ‘assimilation,’ ‘acculturation,’ ‘pluralism,’ and ‘melting pot’ are loaded with the historical baggage of questionable assumptions and values” (1997:1097).  This is because the theory was co-opted by those with a political agenda interested in encouraging an Americanization of immigrant minorities, often at the expense of their individual cultures.  But just as assimilation theory was about to be discarded from the sociological vocabulary, several articles appeared to resurrect the main tenets of the model.  At the forefront were articles by Heisler (1992), Alba and Nee (1997) and Rumbaut (1997).  “Assimilation did and does occur,” argues Hiesler, who then qualifies her statement by saying, “I would argue that while assimilation will always take place in the case of individuals, group assimilation may well be a historical phenomenon” as many black Americans and Hispanics in the U.S. continue to not be structurally assimilated (1992:629;631).  Rumbaut (1997) adds that acculturation to American culture begins in Latin America, with the increasing influx of American television and increasing network connections.  Schools in Latin America also facilitate this process by teaching English to pupils who may very well become future migrants to the U.S. (Rumbaut 1997).

            Alba and Nee (1997:863) defend and update assimilation theory most explicitly.  They provide a new definition for assimilation: “the decline, and at its endpoint the disappearance, of an ethnic/racial distinction and the cultural and social differences that express it.”  Assimilation, they note, is not necessarily a one-sided, one-way process.  It can be achieved by change in one group, which is not necessarily a minority group, or by “group convergence” of two or more groups to create a “hybrid cultural mix” (1997:834).  Although they acknowledge the difficulty of prediction population flows far into the future, they hypothesize that Hispanic assimilation will be slowed by a constant influx of new immigrants that will create a “surplus in the supply-side of ethnicity” (1997:835).  Alba and Nee respond to Heisler’s assertion that assimilation will occur only on an individual basis in the future.  They argue that assimilation is primarily a group process that involves the negotiation and disappearance of differences between groups.  Assimilation is for Alba and Nee a valuable tool to describe the new immigration and its relationship with American culture (Alba and Nee 1997).  For the purposes of this research project, I will follow Heisler’s approach that accepts individual assimilation by focusing primarily on data I acquired from personal interactions with people.

            I intend to argue that as the immigrants in my study negotiated the difficult reality of life in the U.S., they made choices that affected their path toward assimilation.  This process is long, “bumpy,” and only just begins with the first generation.  In fact, process of incorporation followed by these first generation participants may have a more significant impact on the assimilation of their children.  The different strategies for coping with life here that I observed fall into categories provided by enclave theory.  Particularly, the three modes of incorporation described by Portes and Rumbaut have an important role in determining immigrants’ assimilatory pathway.  From avoidance of acculturation to rapid assimilation on the part of a human capital immigrant, this theory does help to understand the ways my participants shape an acceptable reality.


            I conducted this ethnography by gathering data from personal interactions with and observations of Hispanic immigrants in Asheville.  I used several different approaches to gain access to these people, which was not very easy because of the sensitive and personal information that we could be discussing.  For about three months I volunteered two or three hours a week at International Link, an Asheville nonprofit organization that provides resources to Asheville’s foreign-born population.  There, I hoped to meet people willing to participate in formal interviews, although I only was able to conduct two.  I did, however, meet several people there and have some informal conversations that led my research in a new direction.  I found out about the Hispanic Pentecostal church where I did one portion of my fieldwork from a person I met at International Link.  I attended this church on four occasions in the spring of 2005.  There, I used primarily participant observation methodology.  I was mainly an observer, though I did participate actively in the church services and share many informal conversations with people there about my project.  In general, I looked for any recurring themes that appeared to be important to the church community.  I also attended a small group “reunion” at the house of one of the members.  A third location where I did fieldwork was an Asheville Mexican restaurant and bar.  I went there once and met a group of people, with whom I interacted once more two weeks later.  I accepted an invitation from one of these people to his house, where we spent about an hour chatting and watching an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.  In all, I drew data primarily from the interactions I had with eight informants (six from Mexico, one from Peru, and one from Honduras) as well as my observations of numerous others.  I spoke Spanish with all of the participants in this study.  My Spanish skills are advanced, but not entirely fluent, which restricted my ability to understand several conversations and segments of interviews.  All names that appear in this paper are pseudonyms.

            The methodology I used limited my ability to achieve the goals I had set for this project.  I wanted to give voice to the voiceless, but because so little of my data came from formal tape-recorded interviews, I did not have the opportunity to record directly the voices of my participants.  Instead, my participant observation methodology forced me to make brief jottings whenever possible to keep my memory fresh long enough to record what happened more completely in my fieldnotes.  I had no choice but to filter their voices through the inexact lens of my memory.  In order to be as accurate as possible, I took notes whenever I could, which when public note taking was not appropriate, such as at the bar, meant frequent trips to the bathroom.  Please note that the words of my participants appear verbatim (translated by me from the Spanish) only when they are in quotations or in the interview-format excerpts.

            Another goal of this project is to analyze how different modes of incorporation affect the process of immigrant assimilation.  This process takes place over an extended timeframe, well beyond the scope of this project.  Because my relationships with my informants did not last longer than about a month, I was not able to observe significant changes in immigrant assimilation over time.  However, I was able to use personal accounts of past events to make some inferences about how people had assimilated until the present.


            In this time of relative political stability and continued economic downturn over the majority of Latin America, most Hispanic immigrants come to the U.S. for economic reasons (Massey and Espinosa 1997).  They want to improve their standard of living in ways that cannot be accomplished in their home countries (Myers 2000).  Massey, et al argue that along with foreign investment in developing countries comes an influx of ideology from developed countries, in the form of advertising and television.  This serves to create an increased demand for a life only available abroad, thus encouraging further emigration from the developing country (Massey, et al 1993).  

            I must begin with a note about some differences between immigrants from different Latin American countries.  Contrary to an alarmingly common misconception, not all of the Spanish-speaking immigrants in the U.S. are Mexicans, although many are.  The 2000 U.S. Census counts over 9 million Mexicans, nearly 4 million Central Americans, 3 million from the Caribbean, and 2 million from South America residing legally in the U.S. (U.S. Census Bureau 2000).  As of January 2000, Mexicans comprised an estimated 4.8 out of 7.0 million (69%) undocumented immigrants in the U.S.  The Latin American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Honduras, and Ecuador were five of the six countries to have more than 100,000 undocumented immigrants in the U.S. at the same time (U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service 2000).  Latin Americans are primarily labor migrants, with less than 10% holding positions as professionals or managers (Rumbaut 1997). 

            The 2000 U.S. Census shows that Mexicans are easily the largest immigrant group in the U.S.  This is due primarily to the geographical proximity of the two countries and the long history of Mexican laborers working in the U.S. (Durand, et al 2001).  Mexicans are the least educated of all immigrant groups and mostly temporary in duration, thanks to the relatively short travel distance to return home.  Mexicans share, with Canadians and British, the lowest rate of immigrant naturalization (Portes and Rumbaut 1990, Rumbaut 1997).  The majority of Mexican immigrants are economically motivated and live in cities, although many work in agriculture (Portes and Rumbaut 1990).  The census figures above suggest that about half of the Mexicans residing in the U.S. are undocumented, although of course the figures are based upon estimations of a difficult process to follow accurately.  The undocumented may be discouraged from returning home as often because of the danger involved (Chavez 1991).

            Central American immigration to the U.S., mainly from the countries mentioned above, increased greatly in the 1970’s, which was a period of heightened political and economic instability in the region (Hamilton and Chinchilla 1991).  While political instability is not currently an imminent threat in Central America, economic instability continues.  Immigration networks to the U.S. have solidified, allowing Central American immigration to continue into the current century.  Many Central Americans in the U.S. are undocumented (Rodriguez 1987).  Rodriguez identifies several significant differences between Central Americans and Mexicans in the U.S.  Internally, they have diverse ethnic, national, and cultural backgrounds (1987).  Unlike Mexicans, their migration route often takes them through Mexico, where they are also illegal immigrants.  My informants told me this risky journey exposes them to numerous opportunities to be apprehended or forced to pay a bribe.  Because returning home for Central Americans in the U.S. is so dangerous, they are more likely than Mexicans to stay longer periods of time.

Western North Carolina is a region with a relatively high concentration of Hispanic immigrants.  The numbers are growing.  In the 1990’s, North Carolina received more undocumented immigrants than all but five other states (U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service 2000).  Asheville, though, is in Buncombe County, where in 2000 Hispanics made up only 2.8% of the population, compared with 4.7% statewide.  The city of Asheville itself is also below the state average, at 3.8% Hispanics (of whom 2.2% are Mexican, 0.3% are Puerto Rican, 0.1% are Cuban, and 1.2% are Other Hispanic or Latino) (U.S. Census Bureau 2000).  This figure contrasts even more with Henderson County, directly to the south, which is home to 5.5% Hispanic or Latino population. 

It is easy to assume that Spanish-speaking Hispanic immigrants would feel a significant amount of solidarity, regardless of nationality, as they share the same challenging experience of living in a foreign country.  Research has shown that this does occur.  Leo Chavez noted in his study of undocumented Mexican and Central American immigrants in San Diego and Dallas that developing a social network of fellow Hispanics as well as family and friends from the same community of origin helps determine the permanence of their stay in the U.S.  Hagan and Ebaugh showed how immigrant churches serve to create relationships between diverse Hispanics (2003).  Nestor Rodriguez found that undocumented Central Americans from different countries frequently lived together in Houston (1987).  Many studies, though, focus on a single immigrant group, often originating in a single location or country in Latin America and migrating to a specific location or locations in the U.S., and thus deemphasize the relationships between Hispanic immigrants of diverse backgrounds (Singer and Massey 1998; Massey and Espinosa 1997; Hamilton and Chinchilla 1991; Hagan and Ebaugh 2003; Durand, et al 2001; Curran, et al 2003; Simon and DeLey 1984).

One of my primary informants, Ignacio, is a 26-year-old Honduran man who has lived in the U.S. for nine years.  He immigrated to the U.S. illegally, but has since acquired papers.  In our first meeting a conversation about dancing touched on the ethnic differences he senses between different Latin American immigrants.

We talked about dancing, and Ignacio mentioned how people here think all Hispanics are Mexicans.  But they are all different.  They talk different.  And they each have their own dances and styles, but that here at Margaritas Town they all kind of mix together. 


            Ignacio is eager to change this conversation into one about his ethnic identity.  He acknowledges that he does sense some sort of pan-Hispanic identity, but that it is not invoked all the time.  At the bar, which contains a mixture of Hispanic nationalities and non-Hispanics, they choose to share their common Hispanic identity, but at the same time Ignacio is quick to distinguish himself from other Hispanics.  A religious context also seemed to produce this pan-Hispanic identity.  The pastor of the multinational Hispanic Pentecostal church frequently prayed for and referred to the various countries from which the members emigrated.

My conversation with Ignacio touched on some of the intricacies that complicate the relations between different Hispanic immigrant groups.

I asked him if the different nationalities get along.  He thought so, that all immigrants are equal.  He did say that the Central Americans and the Mexicans sometimes don’t get along because the Central Americans have to migrate through Mexico, where people take advantage of them every step of the way.  The Salvadoran and Mexican soccer teams don’t get along that well, he said. 


            This discussion indicates to me that, although there may in fact be a shared sense of identity, the Hispanic, Latin American, or Latino labels can be misleading by suggesting that they are a unified group with even internal relations.  This impression was seconded by a the comments of a Peruvian woman, Gloria, who spoke of her first job in Asheville, working in a factory with numerous other female Latin American immigrants.

She said she liked [the Guatemalans] because they were serious and responsible.  The Mexican women, on the other hand, were bossy, she said.  She emphasized that the Mexicans argued and even fought (physically and verbally) a lot in the factory, even though the bosses ran a tight ship.  She also said that Mexicans were cliquish and bossy to migrants from other Latin American nations. 


            Gloria later told me that she ended up living with the Guatemalan women she worked with at the factory, even though they were younger than she was.  Again, this excerpt suggests that there is an amount of solidarity between immigrants of different nationalities.  However, this solidarity is not necessarily all-inclusive.  Gloria chooses who to identify and fraternize with and who to avoid.  Ignacio, in a later conversation, elaborated upon the sometimes-rocky relations between Mexican and Central American immigrants.

He told me that many Mexicans carry guns in their cars, mostly because they don’t like Central Americans.  He repeated how Central American immigrants get hassled and forced to pay bribes by police officers as they pass through Mexico and how this ends up causing problems between these groups once they get to the states. 


            For every example my informants gave me of conflict between immigrants, including this important source of tension in the journey of many Central Americans, there were others suggesting cohesion.  For example, I noted positive interactions between immigrants of different nationalities in each of my three fieldwork locations.  First, in International Link, the resource center for Asheville’s foreign-born population, many activities provide opportunities for diverse Hispanics to interact and spend positive time together.  Second, a Hispanic Pentecostal church was home to Hispanic immigrants from Mexico and many Central American countries and was welcoming to all people, including myself, regardless of culture or ethnicity.  And third, I spent time at a Mexican restaurant/bar/dance club with a group of people that included several Mexicans and a Honduran.  We were able to have a good time together, despite our various nationalities. 

In summary, like the Latin American population in the U.S. more generally, Latin Americans in Asheville are diverse, which leads to both conflict and celebration and a malleable sense of identity.  Context seems to have an important effect on immigrants’ conception of national versus Latino identity.  In a competitive setting such as sports, immigrants tend to emphasize their nationalistic alliances.  Conversely, in social settings such as work, a bar, and a church, they are more likely to transition to their pan-Hispanic identities. 


Brettell suggests a useful typology to distinguish between different immigrants: those who intend to stay temporarily and those who plan to stay permanently (2000).  In this section I will focus on immigrants who come with the intention of returning home in the foreseeable future.  Labor immigrants with little marketable human capital tend to view their stay as temporary and hold tightly to their plans for returning to their home community.  

Asheville presents an interesting situation for immigrants because it is located near to but outside of a relatively high concentration of Hispanic immigrants.  Asheville as a city does not fit the definition of an ethnic enclave because it does not contain any specifically Hispanic neighborhoods.  Most of the recent immigrants in my study group, especially those who envisioned themselves as temporary sojourners, told me they came to the area with or were invited by a single friend or relative, as so arrive relatively alone.  Many Hispanic immigrants here do not enjoy an extensive social network that serves to reduce the initial costs of settlement (Massey and Espinosa 1997).  The network connections among migrants that I observed were generally weak and my participants often chose to talk about their time here in terms of work. 

The world of a recent Hispanic labor immigrant to the United States is fraught with difficulty and uncertainty.  Human capital acquired in Mexico does not generally translate into better employment in the U.S., especially for the undocumented (Massey and Espinosa, 1997).  The secondary labor market may be the only possible destination for unskilled and poorly connected immigrants in Asheville.  Many Hispanic immigrants in Asheville find jobs in the secondary labor market as laborers in factories or construction or in the service industry as housekeepers, nannies, or in restaurants.  As Portes and Rumbaut argue, when immigrants join the secondary labor market outside the ethnic enclave, their rate of assimilation slows (1990).  This is precisely the pattern I observed.  Many immigrants work for small businesses with few employees and very few Hispanics, frequently on a temporary basis.  This form of employment keeps immigrants isolated from one another and hurts the potential for Hispanic community and labor organization.  Perhaps as a defense mechanism, I observed that recent Hispanic labor immigrants in Asheville allocate much energy to earning money and little energy to making social connections with U.S. society and the Hispanic community of the area.  This social isolation slows their adoption of U.S. cultural habits and their receptiveness to becoming a part of U.S. society.

The migrants with whom I interacted did not speak overtly about their desire to have access to a way of life not available in their home country.  Instead, several told me they came here for the opportunity to make money.  The primary element of their discourse concerning their decision to migrate here was the pull factor of economic opportunity.  I noticed a firm resignation to the inevitability of work among these recently arrived labor immigrants that resembles the observations of Kearney made of the worldview of campesinos in a Zapotec community in Mexico.  A central inevitability of life is that hard work must be endured because there is no alternative (1972). 

Because Asheville provides limited opportunities for the creation of a strong Hispanic community, my respondents often spoke about their experiences in the labor market, which is generally “characterized by unstable and unpleasant working conditions, low pay and an absence of opportunities for occupational mobility” (Heisler 1992).  Left with few alternatives, many immerse themselves deeply into their work, despite the difficulties.  My informants tended to take this heavily work-oriented lifestyle as a matter of course.

I interviewed Rafael, a Mexican in his late twenties who has lived in the states less than three years, at International Link during his afternoon break from work at a nearby restaurant.  During the interview, another Mexican man in his twenties, Pablo, who did not know Rafael, chimed in when I asked Rafael why he liked the Asheville area. 

Rafael: Well, (laughs) I don't really like it. 

Pablo: We're not here to enjoy ourselves.  We're here because of the necessity that we have. 

Matthew: If you could be anywhere, where would it be?

Rafael: Would I like? 

Pablo: It doesn't matter.  What matters is the work.


For these newer arrivals, who plan to return home after accomplishing a specific goal, work is a natural part of their lives.  For Pablo, it is the only reason for being here.  The suggestion that he could be here for anything other than work, let alone pleasure, is ridiculous.  He is not concerned with enjoying himself, and so does little to develop a network of friends to help alleviate the loneliness of life in a foreign country.  Such “sojourners,” often but not always Mexicans, come with intention of working temporarily and returning home as quickly as possible.  Pablo continued.

Simply, us from Mexico when we come to the U.S., we come with the idea of work, work, work.  Some people work 60, 70, 80, 100 hours.  It doesn't matter.  The faster we earn money, the faster we can go back home.


Several times Pablo repeated, “It doesn’t matter.”  For him, the conditions of his life here are tolerable, or even insignificant, so long as his stay is temporary and provides enough money for him to accomplish his goals.  Pablo, like many with whom I spoke, immerses himself in long days of work, severely limiting his access to the local Hispanic immigrant community. 

I saw this lack of contact with the ethnic social network lead to a very atomistic strategy of coping.  Instead of looking for assistance, immigrants take sole responsibility for their success.  A main tenet of life for Zapotec villagers, according to Kearney, is “the individual is essentially alone in a hostile world in which nothing is secure” (1972:44).  Struggle and suffering are lifelong companions.  My newly arrived informants in the secondary labor market reflected this defeatist perspective in their insistence on navigating alone a world of work full of villains out to take advantage of them.  One night I was at a Mexican restaurant/ bar on salsa dancing night.  I was sitting at a table drinking and chatting with a 26 year-old Honduran man and three Mexican women, two in their twenties and one in her thirties or forties. 

They talked about work.  There’s work everywhere, Ignacio [the Honduran] said.  Here, there, everywhere, you just have to be intelligent to find it.  One of the younger women said, “All I have is these,” and she pointed to her hands and to her head. 


            I later found out that this woman plans to return to Mexico City to study in a university.  But she knows that first she must focus on work here.  Even though she traveled with a friend and met another friend here, she accentuates her firm conviction that her own hard work and resourcefulness are all she has and all she needs to accomplish her goal of earning money to continue her education.  She does not expect any other Hispanic to help her find a job.  For her, this is a personal struggle and her success depends on her alone.

Even when they spoke little or no English, several of my informants did not seem to prioritize the opportunity to work with other Spanish speakers when they chose a job.  Rafael was working at an Asian restaurant with mostly Chinese workers and living with them as well.  He told me, “In the restaurants where I've worked, I've worked in about 4 Chinese restaurants.  In three of them more or less,  [can’t understand a sentence] the chefs rarely know English.”  Rafael was very isolated from the Hispanic and American communities alike, due to his job working 60 hours a week in a Chinese restaurant with mostly Chinese speakers.  He came here alone through a job placement agency in Atlanta.  The pay was good, he told me, and housing (with his Chinese coworkers) was provided, so he took the job. 

For Rafael, as for many other Hispanic immigrants, the main criterion for choosing a place to live in the U.S. is money.  During our interview, he did not speak of any significant connections he had with anyone in the Asheville area.  When I asked him about his friends in the area, he said, “On occasion, yes, on occasion, I chat with friends for a bit.  But there's almost no time.”

            I met Andres, a young man in his mid twenties from La Ceiba, Honduras, at a Hispanic Pentecostal church.  In an informal conversation, he gave a similar account concerning his access to other Spanish speakers at work.  He works making furniture, with just two other Spanish speakers, which he said is very difficult. 

            Because Asheville has a low concentration of Hispanics in the population, the opportunities to work with other Spanish speakers are limited.  This means that immigrants have the chance, or the obligation to learn some English.  More often than not, my participants framed this as an obligation, not an opportunity.  To them, language acculturation is not easy, although sometimes desirable.

            Jose is another member of the same church.  Jose, who is in his mid twenties, has been living with his wife and five or six-year old daughter in the U.S. for five years.  He holds a small worship service at his home every Saturday evening.  I attended one such gathering.  There, Jose spoke of a challenging work experience of his own, and was seconded by a Honduran man who had been in the U.S. for about six months.

He looked at my English Bible and read a passage, asking about several words.  He told me the only English he learned was when he was working with one or two other Hispanics and the rest spoke English so he had to learn.  The other guy chimed in that yes, that’s difficult. 


            Jose showed an active interest in practicing his English skills with me.  As he said, he learned all of his English at work with few other Spanish speakers.  It appears that labor migrants in Asheville who work outside an ethnic enclave establish more contact with Americans than Hispanics at work.

The demanding work schedule of temporary immigrants not only makes it difficult for them to take advantage of social capital that derives from relationships with others in their ethnic group.  It also often restricts their access to the legitimizing elements of U.S. society.  These problems are compounded in the case of the undocumented.  The undocumented immigrants in Leo Chavez’s study “weren’t free to enjoy life” (1991:261).  Although I met Pablo and Rafael at International Link, where they were taking English classes, learning a second language can be a very difficult endeavor for people past puberty, and they may never be able to speak English without an accent (Rumbaut 1997).  Despite the fact that he is making an effort to acculturate linguistically in order to gain greater social mobility (i.e. assimilate), Pablo acknowledged the difficulty of escaping the liminal space in which he was entrenched, not firmly established here. 

Pablo: But the weather, we can't deny that it's pretty in many cities and places in the U.S.  But it isn't our custom.  Not our ideas.  Not our language.  Not our [?]. 

Rafael:  We don't adapt.

Pablo:  We don't adapt. 


            Pablo and Rafael’s purported struggle to integrate may be a function of their inability to break away from the hegemonic stereotype imposed upon them as undocumented immigrants or “illegal aliens.”  Undocumented immigrants can be “endowed with mythic qualities” by the larger society that characterize them as unwelcome (Chavez 1991:262).  An ethnographic study by Leo Chavez of undocumented Mexicans and Central Americans revealed that they think “cultural differences [are] hard to transcend; their beliefs, behaviors, and languages kept them apart” (1994:62).  This rejection by the core society of immigrants inhibits the two-way process of assimilation.  While immigrants may or may not choose to “adapt” to life here, the dominant society may choose to ostracize them and hinder their approach toward assimilation.

Additionally, it is very difficult for the undocumented to access some of the amenities that make life easy for people with papers or citizenship.  For example, undocumented workers can’t get a driver’s license.  They also have no bargaining chips with which to deal with people who want to take advantage of them. 

            Rafael told me about his experience working for an employer in Ohio who took advantage of his undocumented status.  His story demonstrates his conviction that he is surrounded by an antagonistic environment where people are untrustworthy and actively pursuing his downfall.

I don't have a driver's license.  When I had to travel, I had a cousin with a license, so I traveled with him, but... [My cousin and I] didn't receive a salary every 8 days or every 15 days.  We worked with an American.  The salary was very sporadic.  We worked in construction.  After we finished a house, we got paid.  Sometimes once a month.  And when it was time of cold weather, work on the house doesn’t advance because of ice, snow, or failure of materials.  No, my boss wasn’t very fair.


Raphael’s story emphasizes the role he has taken as a subject of adverse conditions beyond his control.  By stating that his boss was a North American, he is reinforcing the power relationship that employers have over undocumented workers, especially those like Raphael who speak very limited English.  The work was often out of Raphael’s control due to adverse weather.  Raphael blames his boss, though, for using weather that limited construction progress as an excuse for not paying him regularly.  Raphael’s story shows how his limited store of social and human capital prevented him from being an active actor in one of the most important areas of his own life, work.

Ignacio, a 26-year-old Honduran man, has lived in the U.S. for nine years.  He immigrated to the U.S. illegally with the intention of returning home, but has since acquired papers.  Like many of the settled undocumented workers Chavez interviewed in San Diego, Ignacio made frequent reference to his life before he became legal (Chavez 1991).  Once, when I visited his apartment, he told a story similar to Rafael’s about a bad work situation.

I asked him what was the worst job he’d had in the states, and he said road construction, which was the job he had just gotten.  He’s done this work before.  The black bosses treat the Hispanics worse, he said.  Especially if you don’t have papers, because what are you going to say?  He said that even though you actually worked 48 hours, they’ll only pay you for 40.  This has happened to him multiple times in the past.  The white bosses aren’t as bad, he said. 


            Before he had his papers, Ignacio was unable to defend himself against abuse from unjust employers for fear of being apprehended by the immigration authorities.  It is interesting to note that, after a period of unemployment, he has gone back to the job he described as the worst he has ever had in the U.S., but this time with papers.  His acquisition of such valuable human capital leaves him much less vulnerable to this kind of workplace injustice.

            The difficulties stemming from lack of documentation are evident in many ways that complicate everyday life for recent sojourners.  In our conversation, Rafael spoke of some examples.

Rafael: As illegals we don't have rights to many things that those with papers have. 

Matthew:  For example, what?

Rafael: For example, a person who comes with a passport has many advantages.  Very many.

Matthew: To drive.

Rafael:  Yes, it makes it easier to get a drivers license.

Pablo: Studying.

Rafael:  Other things are it makes it easier to get a car, a telephone.  In Ohio, [can't hear, something about not having a passport or other identification].  Or social security.

Matthew: Do you think that immigrants without papers feel differently here than those who have them?  [he doesn't understand the question.]... When you are in the street, without papers, do you feel differently?

Rafael: In some places yes, in others, no.  [pause].  When we come to a culture that is so very different like here in the U.S., we come with our ideas, with our circumstances, with what we bring.


            The systematic exclusion of which Rafael speaks reinforces the widespread popular view of undocumented immigrants as unwelcome “illegal aliens,” “outsiders,” “foreigners,” and “strangers” (Chavez 1991:262).  Rafael, a stigmatized target himself, participates in this exclusionary ideology when he calls himself an “illegal.”  A self-perpetuating cycle begins to appear as society discriminates and alienates undocumented immigrants, which influences them to accept and unconsciously reproduce this marginality (Portes and Rumbaut 1990).

I noticed that temporary immigrants often have to postpone their return home.  This can happen because the reality of life here does not meet immigrants’ expectations.  Rafael heard a rumor at home in Mexico that he could make $800 per week in the U.S.

At first I said no, I don't want to go, but when I thought about how they pay $800 per week, I know that the checks would be 1500 pesos a day.  Three months, more or less, four months, and I return.  It seemed easy to me.  It seemed easy to me.  So I came.  And the thing wasn't like that.  I saw more than anything that I was tricked. 


            An exaggerated tale economic opportunity drew Rafael to the U.S. two years and four months ago.  His expectations not met, he told me he has no plans to return home.  Instead, he will continue to work toward his goal.  As short-term stays become longer residences in the U.S., some immigrants try to find new ways to cope with the demands of living and working in a foreign country.          

            Recent Hispanic labor immigrants to Asheville who do not participate in an ethnic enclave become isolated from other Hispanics and often reject and are rejected by American society (to varying extents).  Instead of spending energy on building social capital, they immerse themselves in an often-treacherous work environment.  This leads to highly individualistic coping strategies, where immigrants rely on themselves before they turn to the help of others.  Often their stories revolve around the struggles and difficulties they experience as a result of their isolation and lack of human capital with which to defend themselves.  These immigrants may experience high exposure to the dominant society in the workplace, which can act as an agent of acculturation. However, their mode of incorporation, which is characterized by isolation, limits their assimilation.  Some immigrants may never experience anything other than this reality, and others may find different ways to cope with the demands of living and working in a foreign country.


I identified a Pentecostal church as a significant Hispanic social organization that helps buffer the settlement burden for new immigrants to the Asheville area.  Religion becomes more important for migrants as they are exposed to greater risks and circumstances beyond their control (Hagan and Ebaugh 2003).  As a rapidly growing religious movement in Latin America (Garrard Burnett 1992), the Pentecostal church may be attractive to more and more new immigrants in Asheville.  By providing an overtly welcoming environment for new immigrants and a communal Spanish-speaking setting for established immigrants, this church provides a social network that was not readily apparent in other settings of immigrant life.  In this section I will focus primarily on the ways that the church welcomes new visitors.

Churches, along with most notably sports organizations, provide one of relatively few Spanish-speaking ethnic communities available to immigrants in Asheville.  This community can be very valuable to people who have recently left their friends and family behind in another country and who feel isolated from English-speaking, primarily Anglo American society.

One important function of immigrant churches is to provide social services (Min 1992).  These services are offered in two forms.  One is formal programming, which ranges from cultural activities to practical services such as housing and job information.  The church’s small size and limited financial resources limited the availability of formal programs for its members.  The other type of social service offered by immigrant churches, according to Min, is on an individual basis and involves information transfer and counseling, often in informal settings, between church leaders and other members (1992).  This type of service was more prevalently available in the Pentecostal church where I did my fieldwork.

The church is in a small building with a sanctuary that holds about eighty chairs.  I attended the Sunday evening service on four occasions.  Each week no more than half of the seats were filled.  The congregation is highly multinational, with people from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and other Central American countries in regular attendance.  I wrote down some of my first impressions after my first visit to the church.

The walls were painted sky blue and draperies covered the windows.  The front of the room was raised and held the podium with flowers on either side, and some expensive-looking and loud speakers.  There was a band, with drums (a twelve-year-old boy was playing), bass, and guitar.  There was a sign for the church with the name and a dove in a blue circle.  A message painted there read (my translation from the Spanish), “Where all are disciples.” 


            The declaration that “All are disciples” indicates to me an immediate official welcome to all Spanish speakers.  Mere attendance confers a sense of belonging in the church community to all newcomers.  As a relatively unusual visitor to the church, I received a warm welcome from the beginning.  I met a Mexican member of the church casually at International Link, and he gave me the contact information of the pastor.  I then contacted the pastor, who offered to meet me at a shopping center I knew to lead me to the church.  When we arrived, the pastor, a Salvadoran man in his late thirties or early forties, greeted me warmly and introduced me to several members of the church.  When the service began, I was handed a tambourine and encouraged to participate from the beginning.

            The services are highly participatory in this Pentecostal church.  All of the service, outside of the sermon, is spent with the congregation on its feet singing, clapping, sometimes dancing, and praying out loud, or speaking in tongues.  An amplified band plays constantly, accompanying songs and prayer alike.  Everyone speaks in tongues at once and the collective energy that is produced is often palpable.  Myers (2000:776) notes that strict and conservative churches view religion as a public behavior where “religious goods are collectively produced.”  Each new visitor is able to become an active participant in the collective prayer.  The sense of belonging produced can be very alluring to newly arrived immigrants who feel isolated and alone.

            I noticed several rituals in the service that seemed directly intended to formally bring new people into the church community.  The first time I attended the church, the pastor gave an invitation for anyone to accept Jesus as his or her personal savior.

After the sermon, they returned to song and prayer.  There was a segment of several minutes where the pastor called for people to come forward and accept Jose into their hearts.  Nobody did.  A man from Honduras next to me asked if I had accepted Jesus into my heart, and I said yes.  He asked me if I went to church, and I said yes (which is true), but that it's in another state.  He smiled big when I said I had accepted Jesus. 


            I believe that this was an offer directed toward me in particular to make a personal connection, via Jesus, with the church community.  It was not until my third visit when the pastor repeated this invitation.  By that time, I was able to recognize nearly all the regular visitors, and that third visit was the first time I noticed three new faces.  I wrote about them in my fieldnotes.

But these three men were different.  They didn’t clap or sing (except for occasional clapping).  They just looked forward.  I couldn’t see their faces, but I saw the one on the left wiping his eyes as if he might have been crying.  I suspect that they are new to the church, and maybe to the area or even to the U.S.  The next segment of the service was the pastor inviting people to come forward to accept Jesus into their hearts. 


            Just as the Honduran man did for me, these three men each received a visit from a familiar member of the congregation, who presumably asked them the same questions the Honduran asked me. 

I saw the guy next to the new trio talking to the man to his left, just the way that Rico did to me two weeks earlier.  The man didn’t go up.  Then I saw the experienced member, a young man himself, weave through the chairs to get to the young man (he looked maybe less than twenty) on the left side of the trio, and to talk to him also.  He didn’t go up either. 


None of them went forward, but this symbolic gesture provides new visitors, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, or religion, with an open welcome into the congregation. 

            Newly arrived immigrants, thanks to the invitation from this church, receive immediate access to a social network that can decrease the difficulty of becoming established in a new area (Hagan 1998).  Although the congregation was welcoming to all people, most of the people with whom I spoke came from the Pentecostal tradition in their home community.  The Pentecostal rituals and conduct within the service, which differ from Catholic and other Protestant modes of conduct, may be more appealing to people already accustomed to them.  For these reasons, it may be that this church is more attractive and therefore more beneficial to Pentecostal immigrants than members of other denominations.

            By acting as a social network that helps buffer the costs of settlement, the church helps Christian immigrants, regardless of their ethnic or national identity, to take the first steps to establish themselves as residents in the Asheville area.  The church’s inclusive message, rituals designed to embrace all new members, and participatory service directly combat the isolation from which labor immigrants in Asheville suffer.  Although the church does not require or encourage acculturation within its walls, the mere fact that it helps immigrants choose to stay in the area means that the process of assimilation is bound to begin.


Religion and affiliation with an ethnic church affects immigrant interaction with U.S. society.  In this section, I will argue that membership in an Asheville Hispanic Pentecostal church, as a small ethnic enclave, is a forum for attitudes and perspectives concerning immigrant life in the U.S. that are uncommon among isolated Hispanic labor immigrants.  Returning to Brettell’s (2000) typology, this church is available for both temporary and permanent Hispanic immigrants in the Asheville area.

According to Pyong Gap Min (1992), one of the four main functions of minority and immigrant churches is to provide fellowship to people who are isolated from U.S. society.  I have already mentioned the highly participatory nature of the Pentecostal worship services.  In addition to participation within the church, there are numerous opportunities for members to convene outside of a weekly Sunday evening service.  Every week, about four members of the church host a small group “reunion” in their house to provide an added opportunity for worship, especially to those with limited means of transportation.  Each of the four weeks I attended, the pastor announced several of the additional worship and fellowship opportunities.  The church hosts a weekly youth gathering.  On Sunday mornings at 5 a.m. there are worship services.  I thought these early services were for people who had to work on Sunday, but they seem to be popular with people who attend the 6 pm Sunday service as well.

One Saturday evening I attended a small reunion at Jose’ small but comfortable trailer, which is about twenty miles away from the church.  Jose is in his middle twenties and is the bass player for the church band.  At the end of the gathering, which was attended by just two other adults, he invited me to the 5 a.m. service the next day, which he said is “very beautiful.”  I declined his offer, but did see him again the following evening for his second service of the day.  Like many of the members of the church, Jose, along with his wife and child, seemed to take every opportunity he can to attend church events.  His social life was very full with religious connections, which probably interfered with his relationship with the world outside the religious sphere.

Jose and the other church members were quick to invite me to participate in church events.  Evangelizing seems to be very important to the members of the Pentecostal church.  Just before I left the reunion, and just after he told me about the next day’s early service, Jose gave me another invitation.

He also invited me to sing a karaoke praise tune for the church.  He said we could practice together and he would help me.  I told him I wasn’t ready for that yet. 


As church members spend more and more time within their socioreligious group, their location-specific religious capital increases and encourages continued participation in the group.  Participation in this church follows the model described by Iannaccone, where members of conservative churches invest more time into their church and less into secular organizations (Myers 2000).  Jacqueline Hagan (1998) suggests that strong social ties with the ethnic community can interrupt the formation of weaker ties with the outside community.  This factor may be enhanced by the assumption that “conservative denominations may have a stronger hold on their members than any other type of denomination” (Myers 2000:763).  As a result, their opportunities to amass general social and human capital valuable in U.S. society concurrently diminish.  Without the tools that translate into economic and occupational mobility in the larger society, immigrants immersed in the church group are vulnerable to increased marginality and do not assimilate as rapidly as they otherwise might.

Preservation of native ethnic culture and identity is a second function of the immigrant church identified by Min (1992).  Members of ethnic churches tend to use the native language inside the church more than they do outside of it (Min 1992).  The services in the Pentecostal church were conducted almost exclusively in Spanish.  The church provides a rare space where the Spanish language is customary and dignified.  This elevated status contrasts with the marginalization normally attached to the language in the U.S.  I did not speak a word of English with anyone and heard English being spoken only once, by the pastor.  Traditional food is also a way in which they reproduce native culture (Min 1992).  Once every month, on Holy Communion days, the church has a traditional meal after the Sunday evening service.  I was present for one of these meals, which they served with a request for an offering.  We ate Mexican tamales; although, interestingly enough, I had to ask several people what they were called before I got anything but the generic answer of pasteles, which means “pies.”  This is an example of how church members reproduce particular national characteristics but at the same time deemphasize their national differences.

On Easter Sunday the pastor made an overt contrast between the Hispanic Pentecostal style of worship and the predominant American style.

Later he said we don’t celebrate like this.  And he bowed his head and clasped his hands over his microphone and stood quietly with his eyes shut for several moments.  No, this is sad and European.  We celebrate like this, with song and dance and speaking in tongues, he hollered triumphantly to a round of cheering and applause and tambourines.  “We celebrate with joy!” he said.


Their pride over their style of worship shows how they in part define their identity as a reaction to the dominant culture.  The pastor of the church in two separate services prayed for the presidents of Mexico and Central America.  He also mentioned the God’s omnipresence.

He said God is a God of all countries; that he can help raise up the people of El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, and Chile.


By mentioning, separately but equally, national politics in the sending region, the pastor reminded his congregation both of their national and their common Latin American and religious identities.  He also emphasized their sustaining connections with their home region.  At the same time, though, the pastor included prayers for the president of the U.S.  While the pastor encourages the congregation to maintain political ties with their home countries, he also invites them to take an interest in the politics of their new home.

The church is a space where immigrants’ ethnic and national identities can be celebrated and maintained in a world where these identities are often frowned upon.  It was not clear to me whether this reverence of native culture in the church has implications on other aspects of immigrants’ lives.  Perhaps, because the church fulfills their need to acknowledge their ethnic identity, members feel freer to adopt American cultural elements outside of the church.  On the other hand, it may be that this celebration of their culture at church allows them to be more proud of their heritage in all realms of their life.  The only thing that is certain is that the church is a location where traditional Hispanic cultural values reign. Simultaneously, through the church’s recognition of U.S. politics, immigrants adapt to their new environment in the U.S. 

Ethnic churches serve the important function of giving social positions to members who often hold low status in the labor market (Min 1992).  The Pentecostal denomination may provide more religious status positions for its members than other churches because of its largely horizontal leadership structure (Berryman 1999).  The most obvious of these positions is the pastor, who unlike the vast majority of labor immigrants is able to keep the same job in the U.S. that he or she held at home (Min 1992).  I observed many examples of people in the church holding lay positions that confer added social status.

I already mentioned some of these.  Jose, for example, carries out respected roles in the congregation.  He plays bass in the church band, which provides positions of status for two other musicians as well (one of whom is the drummer, the twelve year old son of the pastor).  Jose is responsible for hosting a reunion in his own home, where he takes an active leadership role in worship and prayer.  The reunion provides a role for Jose’ wife, Sol, who led us in a Bible study session.  I think I can safely assume that the three or so other weekly reunions hosted by church members provide them with similar opportunities.

  Within each church service there are many more respected positions to be filled by church members.  Each week the service began the same way.

For the first ten to fifteen minutes, the pastor was nowhere to be seen, and the singer from last week took the podium and led some prayers and songs.  Then the pastor stood up from where he had been kneeling at a chair in the front row and took a microphone and began praying at the same time as the other guy.  They both went on together for a few minutes before the singer took his usual place at the back and the pastor went behind the podium. 


            I do not know what official position, if any, the young man who opens the service and sings has in the congregation.  However, he clearly fulfills an important role by calling the group to prayer and worship in place of the pastor.  During the service, there are multiple opportunities for members of the congregation to contribute to the worship of the religious community.  Jose gave his testimony to the congregation.

Then the bass player took the microphone behind the podium and gave his "testimony."  He had opened up the service earlier by talking rapidly in Spanish (speaking in tongues), praying, and pumping his fist up in the air.  He was very full of energy.  His testimony was about a coworker named "Scott" who had cancer.  He asked Scott if he and his wife could pray for him and read the Bible for him.  They asked Scott to say "amen" even though he didn't know much Spanish.  They used some oil on him too.  Scott agreed and they did it.  He said Scott spoke of a fire he felt burning inside, which Jose said was the Espiritu Santo (Holy Spirit) burning away the cancer inside of him.  Later, they lost touch, but after a period apart he found out that Scott's cancer was gone.  Jose then prayed for blessings "spiritual, economic, and material." 


            By sharing a personal story of a miracle, Jose was able to direct the worship of the congregation.  In this case, Jose demonstrated his confidence in the power of his Hispanic religion to provide miracles to members of the dominant culture.  He does not feel that his religion is limited by marginalization, but that it has much to contribute to it.  There were other instances of church members taking the microphone and speaking or praying for the whole assemblage.  These lay leadership positions give established church members valuable social capital.

There are several other capacities in which people can participate in order to gain an enhanced social position in the church.  A weekly rotation of ushers is responsible for collecting the offering.  This gives a number of members a visible role in the service.  Several people are charged with greeting people as they arrive for the evening service.  Rituals in the church require the participation of multiple lay leaders.  Holy Communion is held once every month.  The description in my fieldnotes notes the role of an arbiter in the event.

They sang a few songs and prayed, then drank a dark red liquid from small cups and ate a pinch of bread.  A woman herded the people up there to get them to spread out and not crowd into the corner.  They spoke in tongues and then ate. 


            The invitation to make a decision for Christ, I mentioned earlier, is a way to invite new people into the church community.  It is also open to more established members of the church. 

Three young women, whom I recognized from previous weeks, accepted the offer today and came forward.  The pastor’s wife and Sol, married to Jose, the bassist, went up with them and prayed over each one individually.  Two of the women also went up with a female friend who kept a hand on them the whole time. 


This ritual gives the added opportunity for aides to provide support for those who make the decision.  In particular, it appears that accompanying females who participate in rituals is a role for women, which demonstrates their status within the community. 

 Adult immigrants who are marginalized in the secondary labor market are able to gain positions of social status through their participation in the Pentecostal church.  These social positions in the church are location-specific religious capital, described by Myers (2000) as non-transferable religious goods that are more valuable in the current location than they would be elsewhere.  Although this location-specific religious capital is not transferable to the non-ethnic community, it may still have an impact on immigrant assimilation.  Because immigrants become more invested in the Asheville area as they gain status and respect in their religious community, they are disinclined to leave.  As Hagan argues, incorporation is greater in receiving communities with strong social networks (1998).  The longer they stay, the more possible it becomes for them experience assimilative change. 

The Pentecostal church where I did my fieldwork would be categorized by Berryman (1999:30) as a church of “winners,” of people “who intend to compete.”  The church offers “community amid urban anomie; … moral security; a firm moral code in the midst of relativity; habits of regularity and thrift that are functional in the market economy” (Berryman 1999:33).  The moral code of this church sanctions attitudes that both link and divide members from U.S. society.  Discourse within the church regularly emphasizes the value of thrift as an avenue to prosperity.  The stipulations that determine church member behavior serve to facilitate integration and perhaps upward mobility in the secondary labor market, which in Asheville is outside the ethnic enclave.  The pastor frequently includes a call for economic success in his prayers for physical, emotional, and spiritual guidance.  Financial success is a sign of God’s favor and blessing, and is therefore encouraged and lauded.  As Mol puts it, this is religion acting as a “bridge between cultures” (1971:70).

Through the church, people who practice frugal and ethical living are able to reap success as a blessing of the Lord.  This presents an explicit contrast to the fatalistic worldview of labor immigrants who are not connected to a religious ethnic community.  Instead of accepting a life of endless toil, self-reliance, distrust, and exploitation, members of the church look forward to prosperity through their faith and participation in the church community.

Likewise, vice is routinely vilified in the church services.

The pastor told a strange story, saying, “I smoke the best marijuana around.  A guy asked me where I got it, who was selling?  I told him, this marijuana is from the best source.  My drug is the Bible,” and he held up the Bible jauntily.


            Another story the pastor told further emphasizes the church’s condemnation of behaviors that will keep them from God and from success.

He talked about marijuana and beer; how they celebrated Christ instead of those things.  He asked, how many people quit drinking or smoking with Christ?  He asked for a show of hands, and several went up.


In these anecdotes, the pastor delineates a moral behavioral code that condemns the distractions available to immigrants who are trying to succeed.  In contrast to the previous example, where the endorsement of financial accomplishment creates a bridge with the larger society, this strict moral code isolates church members from other members of society who do not adhere it.  By participating in a fellowship community that follows a strict moral code, members of the church construct a reactive identity is based on contrast with the outside world of moral relativity.  Rigorous avoidance of drugs and alcohol obstructs any possible social connections that may otherwise be made through their social consumption.  The resulting and moral and physical segregation from larger society can impede their loss of ethnic uniqueness associated with acculturation and slow the process of mutual acceptance associated with assimilation. 

To summarize, the Pentecostal church where I did my fieldwork serves multiple roles for its members.  These roles have implications for the relationships that members have with U.S. society.  The strong ties I observed within this ethnic enclave reduced their level of interaction outside religious community, which limited their propensity to become more involved with U.S. society.  The church preserves and reproduces native cultural heritage, which has an unknown affect on immigrants’ willingness to acculturate.  In the form of status positions, the church offers great amounts of location-specific religious capital, which is not valuable in the greater society.  However, this religious investment may make an immigrant’s stay in the area more tolerable, and thus longer.  And finally, the church’s behavioral code and value system tend to work in divergent manners.  The value placed on financial frugality is a cultural bridge that encourages members to participate more fully in the labor market and to economically assimilate.  In contrast to labor immigrants outside the ethnic enclave who view life as never ending toil, church members work with the reward of God’s blessing in mind.  On the other hand, the church’s moral code of conduct isolates members from others who do not follow the code.


            Hispanic immigrants to Asheville whose stays become longer than temporary incorporate into local society in different ways.  The previous section described immigrant incorporation into a small ethnic enclave via a local Hispanic Pentecostal church.  As Portes and Rumbaut (1990) observe, immigrants who do not enter an ethnic incorporate into the job market in two ways.  Human capital skilled and professional immigrants may be able to enter the primary job sector.  Unskilled labor immigrants who don’t work in rural agriculture enter the secondary labor market.  These two options, which depend upon the amount of human capital brought with the immigrant, can have a dramatically different effect on their lives and the rate of their acculturation and assimilation.

            Barbara Heisler writes that immigrants who enter the primary labor market, “often members of the so-called brain-drain, do not present a problem for the host society and they are easily acculturated and eventually assimilated” (1992:629).  My observations did reflect this pattern, despite a very limited sample size and short-term observation period.  In conducting my research, I encountered only one person who followed this path.  This is probably for two reasons.  One, I did not conduct my fieldwork in locations that were likely to contain professionals.  And two, the number of professionals among Hispanic immigrants, especially Mexicans and Central Americans, is lower than most other immigrant groups (Portes and Rumbaut 1990).  The likelihood of meeting one of these people in Asheville was not great.

            I met Gloria, a Peruvian woman in her thirties, at International Link.  She was a teacher in Lima, Peru before she decided to migrate to the U.S. to pay off bank debts.  She came here legally as a human capital immigrant.  Gloria wanted to be a teacher here; she had already undergone an above-average amount of “anticipatory socialization” (Mol 1971:65) thanks to the English classes she had taken in Peru.  We spoke after she had spent three months in Miami and less than two years in Asheville.

She was a teacher there and wanted to get a job teaching in the states.  She came to Asheville on a tip from a Peruvian friend of hers who told her the area is safer.  Gloria told me she likes Asheville better than Miami (where she spent her first three months in the U.S.) because the people are more amables and tranquilos (friendly and relaxed) and because she doesn’t feel afraid of being robbed. 


            Unlike labor migrants with little human capital or occupational mobility, Gloria seemed to have more freedom to choose her final destination based on her preference for safety and the personality of the people.  Her human capital, including her documented status, afforded her with high occupational mobility and the ability to leave the ethnic enclave of Miami for a city with few Hispanic immigrants to help buffer her settlement costs.  However, when Gloria chose Asheville, she did not encounter immediate success in her job hunt.

When she came to Asheville, she couldn’t find a job as a grade-school teacher (her English is weak but passable) so she got a job working in a factory. There, she made friends with other migrant women…  She left her job at the factory to become a nanny (with help from International Link).  At this point she met her husband.  He was an electrician who had some Spanish-speaking employees.  He didn’t speak Spanish, but his workers repeatedly introduced her to him.  Eventually, he took her out to dinner, and he was very patient with her English.  She said she was impressed because he was serio (serious) and he respected her and gave her appropriate distance at first.  They ended up getting married.


            Before Gloria was able to find a job that utilized her skills as a teacher, she found an American husband with a professional job.  This would not have been possible if she did not speak any English, because her husband does not know Spanish.  Her “pre-migration English proficiency” (Rumbaut 1997:950) was an important determinant in her life course upon arrival.  Mastery of the English language, after all, is the “litmus test of Americanization” (Portes and Rumbaut 1990:182).  Thanks to her human capital, Gloria was able to rapidly locate a supportive community, first in the form of friendships with other immigrants, and next by marrying a professional native.  And then, within two years of coming to Asheville, she found the job she was looking for.

At home, she said, you work and you gain nothing.  But here, when you work you are able to make something of yourself, to gain some money.  You can better yourself and make economic progress, which just isn’t possible in Peru.  She finally got the job she was hoping for: teaching Spanish at a Montessori school.  She is working now on getting her TOEFL (The Test of English as a Foreign Language) license and getting a Master’s Degree. 


            Her pursuit of further education in the U.S. suggests Gloria’s commitment to remaining permanently in the U.S.  Gloria already looks back at her life in Peru with an element of disdain.  Here, she was able to make something of herself that she could not back at home.  Her success story is largely a function of the way in which she was able to incorporate into life here.  Her acculturation began back in Peru, where she took English classes.  This element of human capital allowed Gloria to immediately create a strong social network of immigrants and natives alike.  Her job skills made it possible to find a professional position in a short period of time.  Her respectable labor market situation contrasts starkly with the often stigmatized and marginalized secondary labor market positions held by most Hispanic immigrants in Asheville.  Gloria is able to feel proud of and empowered by her achievements.  Gloria is now conversational in English and rapidly continuing her assimilation.  She plans to remain permanently in the Asheville area with her family.

            During our brief conversation, Gloria touched on some of the ways in which immigrants can be drawn into a less positive situation.  Thanks to her relatively privileged position, she was not personally exposed to many negative elements of U.S. society, outside of poor diet.

She talked about the distractions of life in the U.S.  There are many people caught up in drinking and drugs.  Women can be a distraction, and some men buy a car and then wreck it and end up in trouble.  It seemed clear that she valued diligence and hard work and scorned these people.  She talked also about how the food is different here, and how it can “affect” you, in a negative way, making life here difficult. 


            In this exchange Gloria revealed the value she places on hard work and ethical living.  Gloria saw her success here in the U.S. as a result of her diligence and avoidance of distractions.  Like many Hispanic immigrants in Asheville, she places great value on her work ethic, although she is able to view her labor market position much more optimistically than unskilled immigrant workers.  Additionally, her moral language resembles that of the members of the Pentecostal church where I did fieldwork. 

Portes and Rumbaut (1990) note that the results of acculturation vary.  It is the specific way in which it occurs that matters most.  Negative acculturation is a risk for many labor immigrants who join the secondary labor market outside the ethnic enclave.  The undocumented are especially vulnerable because they have relatively low levels of knowledge and are often funneled into bad neighborhoods (Portes and Rumbaut 1990).  Negative acculturation can take the form of becoming involved in unhealthy lifestyle and dietary habits, drugs, alcohol, and crime.  Rumbaut remarks on some interesting illustrations of this trend.  Studies have shown that newer immigrants have better infant-health statistics than groups that have been here longer or were born here.  Other studies found that foreign-born youth are healthier by a number of measures than the native-born second generation.  And, the longer immigrant children stay in the U.S., the poorer their health statistics become (Portes 1997).

            I met just one permanent Hispanic immigrant who joined the secondary labor market and assimilated outside of an ethnic enclave.  He has undergone many of the experiences that “reflect the formation of linkages that begin to incorporate undocumented immigrants into the new society” (Chavez 1991:274).  He established a family, had a child in the U.S., learned how to “navigate in the larger society,” and obtained citizenship (Chavez 1991:274). 

He was Ignacio, a 26-year-old Honduran, who had been in the U.S. for nine years and the area for seven.  Ignacio was a very friendly and talkative informant over two evenings of informal conversation.  We spent several hours one evening at a Mexican bar and restaurant.  Then, several weeks later, I visited his apartment for about an hour before we went together to the same bar.

Ignacio’s experience in the states is an example of how life can be for a permanent unskilled Hispanic immigrant who is not surrounded by a centralized ethnic community.  Ignacio, who arrived without and since obtained documentation, has worked various manual labor jobs and has enjoyed no upward mobility over the years, despite his accumulation of human capital.  His story contrasts in many ways with the stories I was told my newly arrived labor immigrants.  While they told me mostly about their work experiences and the importance of achieving goals before returning home, Ignacio spoke more of social relationships he has established here and less about his plans for the future.

Over his seven years here, Ignacio’s inventory of human capital has surpassed that of many newly arrived immigrants.  He has learned to speak English, albeit with a heavy accent.  He has also secured legal immigration status.  However, these gains have not provided him with any apparent competitive advantages to help advance his occupational mobility.  At the time of our first meeting, in fact, Ignacio was unemployed.  He had found a job in road construction (which he said was the worst he has ever held in the U.S.) when we met again two weeks later. 

The secondary labor market provides so few opportunities for social mobility to unskilled immigrants that Ignacio’s advances in human capital have not resulted in even minor improvement in employment status.  However, it seemed as if economic advancement was not as important to Ignacio as it was to most of the recent labor immigrants.  He did tell me nostalgically about a lucrative job that he had early in his stay in the area.

He told me about the days he worked in a factory where he worked from 3 pm to 6 am (thirteen hours) doing “production, production, production” making $800 in four days.  It was difficult work, and hard on his back. 


            This story seems to be Ignacio’s way of boasting the hardships he has gone through here, but that this type of heavily demanding work is a thing of the past.  Maybe now that Ignacio has been here longer and has no concrete goals to achieve or plans to return home, he is less willing to endure unsatisfactory working conditions.  He now has more social ties, which require time and effort to maintain and may interrupt the goal-oriented focus on earning money that I observed in newer labor immigrants. 

In contrast with newly arrived labor immigrants who told me they were too busy to have many friends, Ignacio placed great value on friendship.  Ignacio prided himself on all the friends he has here.  His friends were always hanging out at his apartment, he told me, as he gave me his cell phone number.  “Call me anytime, 24 hours,” he said.  Ignacio’s social life emerged as a main theme of our conversations.  During our second meeting, Ignacio reiterated something he mentioned within minutes of our first meeting.

He told me he has many friends, both Hispanics and Americans. 


I did not have the opportunity to meet any of Ignacio’s friends, but he told me several stories and I did get to see him interact with other Hispanics at the bar where we spent most of our time together.  He has a very easygoing, personable manner.  He was gracious to respect my limitations as a Spanish speaker and quick to laugh or to dance, especially with three Mexican women with whom we shared a table at the bar on two separate occasions.  He bought us all a round as well.  Ignacio clearly enjoyed spending time at the bar with other Hispanics.  His stories about his Hispanic friends indicated that spending time with them was very important and enjoyable for him.  This provides an opportunity for him to speak Spanish and to celebrate their common Hispanic heritage. 

As for his interactions with North Americans, Ignacio spoke about two relationships he has had with American women.  The first mirrors some of the concerns that Gloria had about the distractions that women can be for Hispanic men.

Ignacio dated an eighteen-year-old girl (he later said she was sixteen) from Asheville for eight months a while back.  He said she wanted a kid, she wanted sex, but he said she worked the streets and was into marijuana and cocaine.  He said he knew her parents and that they liked him, but they didn’t know she was into such things.  He didn’t have sex with her because he was afraid of diseases. 


            An eight-month relationship with an English speaking American woman represents a serious investment in U.S. society and culture.  Ignacio had strong encouragement to learn English and was bound to make connections with his girlfriend’s friends as well as her family.  This kind of investment has great implications for Ignacio’s acculturation.  In addition to the emotional attachment that Ignacio must have developed, as Portes and Rumbaut observe, more acculturation can lead to more access to drugs and alcohol (1990).  In addition to having a strong incentive to improve his English, Ignacio was introduced to drugs, which have the potential to threaten his positive integration into U.S. society.  Ignacio says he knows better than to use hard drugs, although he has less of an aversion to alcohol.

Cocaine and marijuana are problems for many Hispanic immigrants, he said.  He mentioned something about the workers at another restaurant, that they do cocaine.  Drinking, you can do over and over without any problems, he said, but not cocaine.  That will get to your head. 


            This attitude toward alcohol consumption could be an indication of negative acculturation.  Ignacio admitted that he did not view alcohol the same way before he came to the U.S.

Ignacio, as a Cristiano (a Christian, as opposed to a Catholic), never drank when he was in Honduras.  His only joys were soccer and music.  It was only after coming here that he began to drink alcohol.  His mother still thinks he doesn’t drink. 


Though he claims his alcohol intake is not problematic, the fact that Ignacio has not told his mother about his drinking habits indicates that he feels some shame about his behavior.  I have no way to know whether alcohol has any negative affects on Ignacio’s life, and to speculate would not be fair.  It does appear that social drinking is a way for Ignacio to interact with friends at the bar and at his home, where he offered me a beer when I visited, though he did not have one himself. 

Ignacio’s method of incorporation (remaining in the secondary labor market over a period of time) has allowed him to develop close relationships with North Americans, who have introduced him to both positive and negative elements of U.S. society.  His reactions to these elements have shaped the way in which he has assimilated.

 A second relationship in Ignacio’s life may act as a more positive liaison between him and U.S. society.  Ignacio is now married to an American woman.

He’s married to a Hawaiian woman, and they speak English together because she knows no Spanish and he doesn’t know her native language.  They have a one-year-old child and another on the way. 


            Ignacio and his wife are able to share their common experience as immigrants.  The couple lives in a modest but comfortable apartment.  I did not meet Ignacio’s wife because she was working the night shift the evening I visited.  Having a family and someday putting children through the U.S. educational system give Ignacio important reasons to acculturate and assimilate further in a positive way (Chavez 1991).  This relationship with an American will also further validate his membership in U.S. society, which is an important aspect in the two-way process of assimilation.

            Despite his relatively advanced status of assimilation, Ignacio has not lost his ties with his family.  He still sends remittances back home and has purchased some items in Honduras that ensure his continued financial connection there.  In fact, nine years away from Honduras has not changed Ignacio’s plan to move back there permanently.

About working here, he said he does send money home, and that he has two trucks, two houses, and fifteen cows there.  He hasn’t been back for nine years though.  But he plans to return home (without his family here) in about a year to work there for a month before he returns here.  I asked him if he plans to spend his life here and he said no.  He wants to find a way to bring his family down there. 


In contrast with Gloria, whose professional job provides incentive to stay in Asheville, Ignacio retains hope to someday move his family back to Honduras.  Because Ignacio enjoys such a tenuous position in the secondary labor market with no chances for improvement, he has much less reason to remain here.  He is more willing than Gloria to give up his current modest employment, especially because he has been amassing resources in Honduras.

            At twenty-six, Ignacio has much of his life ahead of him.  If he stays in the U.S., he will probably continue to assimilate, as his experience broadens and as he continues to navigate the challenging and always new world that surrounds him.  Likewise, he is likely to become more accepted by U.S. society.  Just as he will change as he stays here longer, Ignacio will continue to leave his own influence on the people and institutions that he encounters.  His method of incorporation and compilation of human capital have made possible his relatively advanced assimilation.

            The permanent immigrants in Asheville who I met have different situations that are affected by their labor market incorporation.  Gloria, who came as a human capital immigrant, made social connections early in her stay with other Hispanics and members of U.S. society and quickly found professional employment.  She did not experience negative acculturation.  Her strong work ethic and moral discourse resembles that of other Hispanic immigrants.  She has an optimistic outlook and hopes that getting a Master’s Degree will enhance her future economic prospects.  Her social and financial investments in U.S. society made her permanent stay probable.

            Ignacio arrived in Asheville as a typical temporary labor immigrant with a typical work-oriented life.  Over a period of seven years, Ignacio, through a series of life course events that deepened his connections to U.S. culture and society, has transitioned to a more socially oriented existence.  Negative acculturation may have been a consequence of this lifestyle change.  His work ethic does not seem to be as central to his identity as it is to most other immigrants with whom I interacted.  Instead, he has focused on building a significant social network.  His gains in human capital, though, have not resulted in occupational advancement.  For this reason, Ignacio may be more likely to pursue his plans to someday move with his family back to Honduras, where he has retained social and financial connections.



I did this project with the intention of lending an ear to and giving a voice to the voiceless Hispanic immigrants in Asheville.  Their stories are here, as faithfully represented as possible, with an analysis that looks at the ways in which the immigrant experience can differ as a function of the permanence of their stay, their access to social and human capital, and their labor market incorporation.  Asheville’s Hispanic immigrant population is diverse and takes a number of different paths toward incorporation that have important implications for the ways that they assimilate with respect to U.S. culture.  The value placed on hard work and moral living is a common theme among the majority of the participants.  As immigrants’ situations vary, so does their manipulation of this work discourse.

Newly arrived labor immigrants, especially the undocumented, are confronted with a very challenging lifestyle that makes them feel isolated from most forms of social contact and limits their chances to assimilate.  An Asheville area Hispanic Pentecostal church provides a welcoming social network to lessen the stress for newly arrived visitors.  This church continues to act as a small ethnic enclave for more settled immigrants that gives them access to fellowship, a celebration of traditional ethnic ways, and the opportunity to gain positions of social status in an otherwise limited labor market.  The encouragement of fiscal responsibility and ethical living leads to greater labor market involvement for church members.  The church’s moral code of conduct leads to both openness to others through evangelism and segregation from the outside world of moral relativity.  And finally, the primary and secondary labor markets provide different opportunities for advancement and assimilation to long-term settlers with varying amounts of human capital. 



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