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The Changing Face of Virginia: Immigration


The fifth installment in The Changing Face of Virginia series is written by high school student and Blanton Scholar, Michael Saboe. Michael writes about immigration in northern Virginia. The remaining blogs will be posted over the next few months.! Be on the lookout for information about the 2011 Wyndham B. Blanton Scholar program! Enjoy!

~Jennifer Rohrbaugh Nesossis, Outreach Educator

Michael at the 2010 Wyndham B. Blanton Scholars award ceremony.

It’s pretty much common knowledge that Virginia’s population has dramatically changed in the past decade to encompass a much more diverse population of residents. The area of Virginia which has become the epicenter of this demographic phenomenon is without doubt Northern Virginia.

Being a resident of Northern Virginia, I grew up with a multicultural perspective on things, and I never really questioned why the area that I live in was so diverse. In recent years, however, there has been a growing controversy over the increasing population of immigrants in the Northern Virginia area, many of whom are not legal. But to be fair, the reason for immigration is the same on either side of the law. Whether you are illegal or legal, your reason for immigrating is almost always economic opportunity. The controversy over illegal immigration has been especially prevalent in my home town of Centreville and has sparked heated town hall style discussions about the proposed construction of a day laborer center which would provide jobs for legal and illegal immigrants indiscriminately. So what’s the big deal? Well, to be honest, local store owners have expressed concerns about loitering while locals have blamed the rise in petty crimes, such as theft, on the increasing groups of day laborers who tend to gather outside the Centreville Regional Library.

In considering outside factors which have been contributing to this phenomenon, a main region of interest becomes Latin America. In light of abject poverty, political instability, gang violence and a host of other push factors it’s no small wonder that illegal immigration is as common as it is. A country which emblemizes much of this is the Republic of Honduras, a country with no apparent rule of law, poor infrastructure, lack of employment and very little in the way of social services. I, myself, spent a week in Honduras on a service trip in which I gained a tremendous amount of insight into how localized issues can ultimately result in a globalized effect, such as the large population of illegal immigrants in Northern Virginia. Having spent much of our time in a few villages there, speaking with many of the locals and hearing their stories, the demographic changes that I was witnessing in my home town of Centreville began to make sense.  The village that our service group was working in, Villa Soleada, had only been constructed in the past few years, and the residents of the village had originally lived in tin shacks for nearly ten years, having given up requesting the Honduran government’s aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

A small home in Villa Soleada, Republic of Honduras.

So obviously there is a great deal of resentment for the Honduran government as many Hondurans feel neglected.  One of the children in the village actually told us that when he grows up, he wants to illegally immigrate to the US to find work. Another conversation with an adult villager led me to believe that Virginia specifically is widely talked about among Honduran men as a kind of pilgrimage for Honduran immigrants. The reason for this is pretty straight forward as every possible push factor the Republic of Honduras can muster is in contrast with everything that Virginia has had in abundance for the past four hundred years, meaning everything from economic opportunity, rule of law and even social mobility.

A suburban home in Virginia.

In retrospect the demographics of Virginia in the past decade have shifted enormously, but by no means have come to a halt. In short, the demographic changes associated with immigration are unlikely to stabilize in the near future.

Jennifer Nesossis is an outreach educator at the Virginia Historical Society.

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