The Maya of New Bedford: genesis and evolution of a community, 1980-2010
Editor's Introduction: New Bedford has a long and storied history. Europeans first settled the area in 1652 when Plymouth Colony settlers purchased the land from the Wampanoag tribe. During the nineteenth century New Bedford was one of the most important whaling ports in the world. Today it remains one of the nation's largest fishing ports. Its working waterfront and Whaling Museum attract visitors from around the world.
In the late nineteenth century, New Bedford also emerged as one of the largest producers of cotton textiles and yarns in the country. In 1920, at the height of its prosperity, seventy mills employed 41,380 workers, and the city's population reached 121,217. Today it stands at roughly 95,000, making New Bedford the sixth-largest city in Massachusetts.
In 2007 a raid on a local garmentfactory by immigration agents shone a national spotlight on the extent to which the local fish processing and garment production industries relied upon a largely undocumented immigrant workforce. New Bedford has always had a unique, multicultural, and mixed-race population, with waves of immigrants providing the labor for its ships, mills, and factories.
African Americans, Portuguese, and Cape Verdeans joined Irish, French Canadian, and other European immigrants. Today, however, Latinos are among the city's fastest-growing population. By official census counts (which may underrepresent their true numbers), in 2000 Latinos were 10.1 percent of the city's population; in 2010 they were 15.1 percent and 28 percent of students in city schools were Latino. The Maya community in New Bedford is among the most recent and least well-known. (1)
Drawing on a long-term ethnographic study of Central American communities in New England, this fascinating article explores the formation of the Maya community in New Bedford, examining why the Maya chose to leave Guatemala and the social and economic conditions that drew them to New Bedford. Lisa Maya Knauer is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. She has traveled extensively in Guatemala.
On March 7, 2007, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, along with state and local police, carried out a dramatic assaultstyle workplace raid on the Michael Bianco Inc. factory, one of a small number of garment and textile factories still operating in the former mill town of New Bedford, Massachusetts. With patrol cars surrounding the plant, helicopters swirling overhead, and Coast Guard vessels patrolling the harbor to prevent any escapes by water, ICE agents and other law enforcement officers, many dressed in riot gear, entered the factory. There they encountered a largely undocumented and female immigrant workforce making leather backpacks to be used by U.S. troops; the company had won a lucrative contract with the Department of Defense. Within a few hours, ICE officials loaded 361 employees onto buses and sent them to an immigration processing center at Fort Devens, where other officials collected data and fingerprints. (2) ICE then sent most of the workers to detention facilities, some as far away as Harlingen, Texas--against the protests of New Bedford's mayor, Scott Lang, and Massachusetts governor Deval...