Adair County looked very different prior to the establishment of the first settlements in the 1830s and 1840s. The Keokuck Indians were the only inhabitants of this area of Northeast Missouri at the time, and relations between the Native American group and the settlers were fairly peaceful for the first decade of settlement. However, as Maxine Montgomery notes in a Kirksville Daily Express article, “the Keokuck Indians were friendly, but not so their dogs” who “often attacked hog pens.” This was deemed reason enough for the white settlers to drive the Indians off of their ancestral lands and even imprison them.
Today, the inhabitants of Kirksville are still primarily white. However, recent migrations and demographic data show that there are indeed people of other races living in Kirksville. Daniel Lichter’s article in Rural Sociology explains that minority populations tend to be more spatially segregated from the majority population, and thus less noticeable to those who may not be looking close enough. While the Congolese population in Kirksville is by no means invisible, it is interesting to take this into consideration, especially when we look at the spatial assimilation model. This model “suggests that immigrants become integrated residentially with natives as they become economically assimilated.”
While I do believe that the Congolese immigrants have been doing a great job of connecting with the community, this economic separation is something I’d like to look at, especially in terms of limitations on how these families can live. In his article, Lichter specifically focuses on Hispanic immigrant populations in rural communities (which Kirksville also has), but I think some of his reasoning can be applied to the Congolese immigrants as well. He claims “Hispanic growth is linked directly to rural industrial restructuring (especially in nondurable manufacturing, which includes food processing) and, more generally, a rapidly globalizing agro-food system.” This similar phenomenon applies to the Congolese immigrants working at the meat packing plant in Milan. Lichter describes how language and cultural barriers force immigrant populations to take these jobs, whereas many white people would refuse to work them.
I really want to delve into the effects that economy and economic integration have on community integration in regards to the Congolese people, especially since many of them hold college degrees and are simply barred economically by their inability to speak English. How does the economic separation (working at the meat packing plant vs in town at other jobs) affect peoples’ perceptions of them and their perceptions of themselves? What are these working conditions like? What are the implications for social mobility? What about that of their children” Does economic separation really have as much of an impact on community integration as Lichter suggests?
I’m sure we will answer some of these questions once we begin our interviews. I’ll leave you all with another quote from Daniel Lichter (mostly because I am excited to be on the forefront of such studies):
“The shift in settlement patterns among immigrants to new destinations and the continuing replenishment of new immigrants through ongoing migration streams mean that the emerging literature on immigration will have to take a new empirical and theoretical focus. Empirically, it is time to move away from city-based studies in traditional gateways and look at the transformation of the South, the Midwest, and small cities, towns and rural areas, and suburban areas as sites of first settlement… Now is a propitious time to study the new second generation in rural America and its progress in school, relationships with teachers and peers, and links to other institutions (e.g., social services providers and police).”
Montgomery, Maxine. “Pioneer Days in Adair County,” Kirksville Daily Express, September 12, 1979, accessed September 25, 2017, http://www.adairchs.org/history/pioneer.htm.
Lichter, Daniel T. “Immigration and the New Racial Diversity in Rural America,” Rural Sociology, 77.1 (March 2012): 3–35, accessed 25 September 2017, https://dx.doi.org/10.1111%2Fj.1549-0831.2012.00070.x.