Greenport, New York, a village on the North Fork of Long Island, has become an exemplar of a little-noted national trend—immigrants spreading beyond the big coastal cities, driving much of rural population growth nationally. In Village of Immigrants, Diana R. Gordon illustrates how small-town America has been revitalized by the arrival of these immigrants in Greenport, where she lives.
Greenport today boasts a population that is one-third Hispanic. Gordon contends that these immigrants have effectively saved the town’s economy by taking low-skill jobs, increasing the tax base, filling local schools, and patronizing local businesses. Greenport’s seaside beauty still attracts summer tourists, but it is only with the support of the local Latino workforce that elegant restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts are able to serve these visitors. For Gordon the picture is complex, because the wave of immigrants also presents the town with challenges to its services and institutions. Gordon’s portraits of local immigrants capture the positive and the negative, with a cast of characters ranging from a Guatemalan mother of three, including one child who is profoundly disabled, to a Colombian house painter with a successful business who cannot become licensed because he remains undocumented. Village of Immigrants weaves together these people’s stories, fears, and dreams to reveal an environment plagued by threats of deportation, debts owed to coyotes, low wages, and the other bleak realities that shape the immigrant experience—even in the charming seaport town of Greenport.
A timely contribution to the national dialogue on immigration, Gordon’s book shows the pivotal role the American small town plays in the ongoing American immigrant story—as well as how this booming population is shaping and reviving rural communities.
The town of Greenport, N.Y., serves as a case study for immigration in America in this well-crafted study. "I do not pretend to be objective about the contributions that Latino immigrants have made to the revitalization of Greenport," the author and Greenport resident cautions in the preface. In her opinion, for small, rural, and suburban towns declining across the United States, immigration may be the answer, not a problem. The book acknowledges that immigration brings challenges around schools, housing, health, employment, and the legal system; however, benefits abound, since immigrant communities boast lower crime rates and density that can revitalize neighborhoods. The schools depicted here welcome an influx of new students that may keep them from closing, and are committed to dealing with varying schooling experiences and language issues. Amid these broader trends, Gordon brings in the stories and voices of immigrants themselves, from a young Guatemalan who has found work as an unlicensed barber (he can't be licensed because of his legal status) to middle-class Colombians who left professional careers in their economically stagnant home country and now work at menial jobs while their children anticipate attending American colleges. In taking on one town's immigration success story, Gordon has created a compelling framework for exploring a complex topic.