In the late 1980's, there was a big strike at the chicken plants over in that town where I go to the doctors office. To break the strike, Fieldale, Perdue, ConAgra and the other big companies brought in Hispanics from Mexico. They broke the strike alright, and now all those plants employ primarily Hispanics instead of the black or white Southerners who once worked in them. The people who came to work in the plants were decent enough, but at this point there are almost 100,000 Hispanics in that county and the young ones don't work in the chicken plants.Many of them are either members of or affiliated with Hispanic gangs. While the gangs run protection rackets, and levy toll on the funds people send home to family in Mexico, their big money maker is the drug trade.
The talk today was about the gang problem.
It seems that recently our local Sheriff's department stopped a carload of these individuals and one of them was some sort of honcho in one of the drug cartels, wanted by the FBI. No one is thrilled that we have that kind of visitor going through here. I suppose he must have been associated with meth in some way, because the first thing the Hispanic gangs did as they moved in was kill all the hillbilly meth cookers and take over that business. If I had to say how the guys I was talking with felt, I would say it was a mixture of anger and anxiety. People see where this is taking us but have no idea what to do about it. There doesn't seem to be anything you can do to influence events and that frustrates the men I was listening to.
Times are tough enough for everybody in this part of the mountains without drug trafficking. I think the truth is, though no one would admit it, that people are afraid of the gangs. The only thing the average person here knows about gang violence is what they see on the news and that's not calculated to inspire confidence. There have been drug related arrests here before, and often they are people who are in the U.S. illegally, from South of the border. I don't think that has raised eyebrows much, but the magic word "cartel" sure gets peoples attention.
We've been down this road before. It just took us to where we are now, so how will amnesty "fix" the problem? Quite aside from the impact the influx of Latino immigrants has had on politics, social services, education and health care, what about crime?
For the people here, this isn't just a political discussion. I don't think most people in these mountains ever have political discussions just for the sake of discussion. This change in the environment is seen as potentially having a big negative impact on the way life is lived here. They look at that town I was talking about, where now the store signs are in Spanish and the teachers are taking Spanish lessons to keep their jobs. People here wonder what this place will be like in ten years. They like it as it is, so changes to the demographics and culture they know are not particularly welcome. That doesn't mean those changes aren't going to occur though, and I think people know that, too.