by Luis J. Rodriguez
From: LAPL BLOG
North Carolina has some of the most diverse terrain of any state—from the Great Smoky Mountains, which includes the Blue Ridge peaks of the massive Appalachian mountain range, to the Outer Banks on the Atlantic coast. The state is rich in bio-diversity, history, and people. North Carolina was home to the first English settlement and is one of the original 13 colonies. The Cherokee are among the state’s first peoples. Although many Cherokees were removed during President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 (catapulting the infamous “Trail of Tears”), the tribe maintains a reservation here. The state’s biggest city, Charlotte, is a financial center. And Raleigh-Durham is known as the Triangle, encompassing higher-learning research institutes like Duke University, North Carolina State University, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Tobacco is big here—as are turkey farms, textiles, furniture, processing plants, and more. The state had slave plantations but also a divided legislature during the U.S. Civil War. The state joined the confederacy later than other southern states and only after the attack on Fort Sumter, signaling the start of war that eventually took 40,000 North Carolinian lives.
Although a segregated southern state, in 1960 the first national sit-in for integration occurred in Greensboro, North Carolina.
By the new millennium, an interesting development appeared—a 600 percent rise in Mexicans and other Latinos in North Carolina, leading to tensions between whites, blacks, and the mostly brown migrants. Jobs once held by poor whites and blacks were now going to cheaper labor made up of Mexicans, Central Americans, and South American. While a few communities embraced the new make up, others were up in arms. This is where I come in.
A North Carolina literary consortium, spearheaded by the North Carolina Arts Council, invited me to do the largest writer’s residency in the state’s history called “Word Wide.” I spent 10 weeks in North Carolina during the winter and spring of the year 2000, traveling from one end of the state to the other—I was a “poet in motion.” I spoke, read poetry, or conducted writing workshops in prisons, juvenile lockups, public & private schools, universities, colleges, migrant camps, churches, libraries, manufacturing plants, conferences, and at the Cherokee Reservation—from seventeen to twenty-four events a week.
The audiences were Latino, but also black, white, and Native American. I spoke English and Spanish, although as an “English Only” state, I couldn’t speak Spanish in public schools (even with Spanish-speaking children). California is also an official English language state, but I’ve spoken Spanish in many California schools—a matter of application.
In Siler City, the ex-Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke held a rally against Mexican migration not long before I was scheduled to visit. Some 400 people reportedly showed up (although allegedly 100 of them were shipped in by Duke). He called Mexicans and other Latinos “undesirable.” When I ended up there, most of the community embraced me and wanted to be clear—they had nothing to do with David Duke. Read Rest of Article Here