When David Duke goes marching in

Siler City, N.C., was uneasy about an influx of Latinos, but when the former Klansman joined the fighting, some began to worry about the price of hate.

Topics: Immigration,

When David Duke goes marching in

What you lookin’ at?” The words caught me off guard. I was looking at David Duke, former Republican Louisiana state representative and onetime grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Duke was huddled with his supporters in the Golden Corral restaurant in Siler City, N.C., a small town an hour from Raleigh. The words came from one of Duke’s skinhead minions. I ignored him and watched his leader get up with white plate in hand and stroll toward the buffet bar.

Thirty minutes earlier, Duke and his allies had stood in front of City Hall in what can only be described as a Klan rally without the hoods. But instead of attacking African-Americans, this time Duke’s forces had targeted Siler City’s growing Hispanic immigrant community.

“What’s going on in this country is a few companies are hiring illegal aliens and not American citizens because they can save a few bucks,” Duke shouted before a crowd of 400 — roughly 300 supporters and another hundred spectators — in this rural town of 6,000, where poultry is the main industry. “I guess they need someone to pluck the chickens but it’s not just the chickens that are getting plucked.”

Duke didn’t organize the rally. Richard Vanderford, a local man who sports a vanity plate that reads “Aryan,” put it together.

“I’m mad because there ain’t no Greyhound buses here to load ‘em up and send them back where they come from, every goddamn one of them,” said Dwight Jordan, who has been living in Siler City for “41 damn years.”

The mid-February rally was the latest, and most explosive, outburst of local frustration over the growing number of Hispanic immigrant workers and their families, who may now outnumber the white population. Thousands of Latinos have moved to Siler City and most work for two poultry processing plants.

Last August, the local county commissioners wrote to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service asking for help in deporting undocumented workers. Hundreds of white parents, and some blacks, have packed school board meetings to protest the new immigrant children’s effect on classrooms and all-important test scores. And the Sunday after the rally, the Hispanic congregation at St. Julia’s Catholic Church in Siler City arrived to find the church’s sign had been selectively defaced and smashed. Only the side that was written in Spanish had been vandalized. The English side had been left alone.



The clashes show the changing dynamics of race relations in the so-called new South. In many Southern towns, Latinos are experiencing resentment once reserved for blacks. African-Americans are caught in the middle, some of them worried about what demographic change is doing to the region, especially its schools. But others are coming to the defense of their new Latino neighbors, especially now that Duke has jumped into the fray, and some black ministers are planning a counter-rally here this month to show Duke that hate won’t find a home in Siler City.

The town’s changing demographics are directly attributable to the poultry industry. Nationwide, chicken consumption is at an all-time high, the per capita rate rising from 49 pounds in 1980 to 73 pounds in 1998, according to the National Chicken Council. Worker turnover is high in the industry and plants are always looking for replacements. In the past, companies offered incentives to recruit workers or even bused them in. The undocumented status of many workers makes them a pliable and disposable labor force if they get injured or start to organize.

Juan Jimenez, 46, spent 10 years picking tomatoes in Florida before moving to Siler City five years ago to work at a chicken plant. He works in the de-bone area where workers stand all day cutting chickens. “We’re doing 18 pollos per minute,” Jimenez said. The work is hard, cold and debilitating. Jimenez has been cutting chickens for four years and makes $7.40 an hour. This year he got a 10-cent raise.

Despite the hardship and exploitation, families like his are helping to revitalize a once-dying town. Home values are up because of the influx of Hispanics. Three years ago, a two-bedroom, one-bath house in Siler City sold for $39,000, according to Dowd and Harris Realty, the largest real estate company in Siler City. Today, that same house would sell for $59,000.

Wal-Mart is building a superstore in Siler City, which will heavily rely on the buying power of Latinos. Jimenez, who owns his house, has big dreams for his three daughters. “I want them to go to school to learn something so that when they’re bigger they work at something different and not at the [factory].”

But like so many Southern racial clashes in history, the roots of anti-immigrant prejudice can be found in the schools. Siler City Elementary has been most affected by the influx of Hispanic children. White and black parents are afraid their children are not receiving a quality education because many of the Hispanic children do not speak English. This fear sparked an angry school board meeting last September, attended by more than 100 people, that was a first step toward the February rally.

“We’re on the outskirts of Siler City and it’s not affecting our daughter yet, but we know what it’s doing to this school in town and we’re scared it’s coming our way,” said Barbara Hilliard, who was one of the supporters of the Duke rally.

What Hilliard and others fear is a predominantly Hispanic school. Siler City Elementary is more than 40 percent Hispanic and the kindergarten class is more than 50 percent. Parents have complained that too much time is spent helping Hispanic children who lack English skills, known in educational jargon as Limited English Proficient (LEP) students.

Chatham County, where Siler City is located, saw its LEP population increase from 80 students in 1990 to 458 in 1998. There are more than 6,000 students in the system. And nearby poultry counties’ LEP populations have more than doubled, from 3,994 students in 1993 to 9,316 in 1997. In fact, poultry counties like Chatham make up almost a third of the entire state’s LEP population of more than 30,000 students.

Last August, the school failed to meet its all-important state testing requirements, under a statewide school and teacher accountability program that rewards schools that meet their testing goals with $1,500 teacher bonuses. Teachers at Siler City Elementary received no such bonus. White parents blamed the low scores on the Hispanic children, whose scores are below white children’s but generally above those of African-Americans, according to the Chatham County Schools.

So whites are fleeing the school to more predominantly white schools nearby, and the white flight is making it even tougher for the school to do well on the standardized tests.

These issues boiled over at a September school board meeting attended by more than 100 parents — white, black and brown. No one thought to bring translators for the non-English speaking parents. Many Latinos sat in stunned silence as white and some black parents blasted them and their children. “I know there’s a language barrier but that doesn’t mean my little girl is retarded or a slow learner,” said Virginia Tabor, a Latina parent.

Siler City Elementary used to be a great school, said Kay Staley, a grandmother whose grandchildren transferred this year. “Now it’s suffering and it’s because of the problem with Hispanics.” She offered a solution. “Maybe they need their alternative schools until they learn English and then we’d be glad to have them come to this school system. We paid for this school, it’s from our taxes, not from the Hispanics’.”

“I don’t have a problem with the Mexicans or the whites or nobody,” said Annette Jordan, an African-American parent. “But I do have a problem when my daughter comes home from school and says the teacher didn’t have time to teach me or show me how to do my homework because she had to take up all her time to teach those Mexicans because they don’t understand.” Jordan said if she had her way she would pull her daughter from the school, too.

Teachers at the schools pleaded with the school board to end the district’s open transfer policy and stop the white flight. “The bottom line is they’ve allowed for these transfers which has taken away a lot of our white population,” said Becky Lane, who’s been a first-grade teacher at the school for more than 20 years.

The school board took a hard line with the transfer policy. “I don’t think changing the transfer policy is going to make those white parents that are scared to death to have their kid be the only white kid in the classroom stay,” said Susan Helmer, a school board member.

But there are signs that the divisions could eventually be healed. Last fall, Rick Givens, the chairman of the county commissioners, was the man responsible for the commissioners’ sending a letter to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service asking for help in deporting undocumented workers. The letter complained that “more and more of our resources are being siphoned from other pressing needs so that we can provide assistance to immigrants who have little or no possessions.”

The letter was like gasoline on a fire. Hispanics feared they would be deported and pulled their children from schools. The letter seemed to legitimize the townsfolk’s anti-immigrant feelings.

“We just wanted to send a message to let them know we’re going to start looking,” said Givens, a retired airline pilot.

But then Givens and 25 state and local officials went to Mexico for a weeklong fact-finding trip sponsored by the North Carolina Center for International Understanding, a program of the University of North Carolina. Givens felt humbled by the experience and changed his position.

“I still say illegal is illegal, but I found out it wasn’t just a simple black-and-white issue,” he said, promising to concentrate less on immigration law enforcement and more on “how we can work with the people that are here to help integrate them to our way of living.”

The turning point for Givens came when his group visited a ramshackle school 30 minutes from Puebla. There he met a crippled student who desperately wanted to continue his education but could not afford to. Givens pledged to help pay for his schooling on the spot and donated $500. He is also donating 1,000 books for another school’s library.

At the February rally, Duke denounced Givens as a turncoat, and supporters brandished signs asking for the recall of “the traitor Rick Givens.”

Meanwhile, some African-Americans, many of whom worked in the chicken plants and have since moved on to better jobs, decided they wanted to support the Latinos but had no way to reach out to them.

“I found it so hard to put my hands on someone in that community, even with the clergy, to say, ‘This is Rev. Thompson, what’s going on?’” said Rev. Brian Thompson, Union Grove AME Zion church. “I think we’re just so separated at this point and are foreign to each other that there isn’t enough communication.” Thompson is organizing a rally to combat growing anti-Latino sentiment.

Duke did not gain a lot of new local support at the February rally. The crowd’s attention wandered when his speech traveled beyond the sphere of Chatham County to places like Israel.

After the rally, I asked Duke why it was held in front of City Hall and not in front of one of the chicken plants. He flippantly replied, “Maybe we’ll head there next.”

But they didn’t. They headed to the Golden Corral, to have a lunch meeting and celebrate further dividing the town. I showed up, and watched as Duke walked back to his table with a plate full of fried chicken. And I just watched him, thinking that despite the rhetoric, the vitriol and the trumped-up worries about Latinos destroying the town, even David Duke wants his chicken.

Paul Cuadros is an investigative reporter on a fellowship with the Alicia Patterson Foundation, looking at the impact of the growing Hispanic immigrant community on rural towns in the South.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>