Immigration in the Shenandoah Valley

By: Lauren McKay
By: Lauren McKay

It's well known that Harrisonburg has a large immigrant population, but what many people don't know, is when these communities started to form. Latinos have been in Harrisonburg for more than 40 years.

Local Cultural Anthropologist Laura Zarrugh has been researching immigration for almost 30 years. She presented her research Monday to the Harrisonburg Rockingham County Intercultural Alliance.

Latinos have been in the Harrisonburg community since the 1960's. "They would have been probably professionals who worked in the colleges and university or married to local natives," says Laura Zarrugh.

Zarrugh says in the 1970's larger numbers of Mexican immigrants started coming to the Valley. She says they came to work in the apple harvest and eventually in the poultry plants.

Refuge resettlement offices and faith communities also recruited immigrants and the population began growing from there. "Once you get a small number of people coming to a community for any reason, they tend to bring friends and relatives and so you have the networks, people's social networks taking over," says Zarrugh.

As the Harrisonburg City School's English as a Second Language statistics point out, Harrisonburg has students from 58 different countries. Zarrugh says with the large diversity in the community she has one wish. "When we talk about Latino Immigrants in the community, I think we need to recognize how diverse a community that actually is, maybe we should be talking about them as communities rather than a unified or homogeneous group."

Zarrugh says we have people here from at least 14 of the 20 countries in Latin America. She hopes folks can get beyond saying "us" and "them" and can talk about everyone being a part of one community.

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