"Rim of the New World"
With Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2002; 1 p.m. ET
According to the 2000 census, 256,563 foreign-born people arrived in metropolitan Atlanta between 1990 and the end of the century, changing an historically white and black society. Washington Post Staff Writer Anne Hull tells four stories out of the thousands in her series "Rim of the New World." It is based on in-depth reporting that spanned 18 months, along with interviews with teachers, students, police, prosecutors, social workers, sociologists, public health officials, and demographers.
Hull was online to take questions and comments on her four part series and the people she profiled.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
K Street, Washington, D.C.: Ms. Hull,
Thank you, thank you, thank you! Your series is the kind of journalism that makes the Washington Post such a great resource. There is so much to contemplate within your articles. Really great writing!
Can we hope for a book based on the series that further delves into Atlanta's LA-like metamorphosis?
Anne Hull: Dear K Street, the Post made a big commitment of time and space to explore this phenomenon. Readers made a similar commitment. Thank you.
Fairfax, Va.: After I wake up in the morning, my daily routine started after I visited the redskins section on washingtonpost.com. But for the last 4 days it has been your series. Being an immigrant myself, I had many emotions while reading your columns. I have enjoyed pride when you mentioned the success of the immigrants and also I felt sympathetic when you related the hardships which forced them to come here. I would like to know what was the driving factor in narrating this series? Also, what should a reader deduce from this series, or in other words what is your motive?
Anne Hull: The driving factor was to witness the lives of these young immigrants as they played out over several months. We didn't or couldn't know how each story would end because life interceded and we just followed. Although some might disagree, I had no motives other than to spend as much time as possible with the "characters" and come to know them with some degree of certainty. Some blanks were filled in by their teachers, social workers, bosses, friends, etc., but by and large the stories are focused intimately on the individual lives.
South Carolina: How did you find the people you profiled? Were they surprised by the depth of your reporting? And one last thing, did you go into the men's restroom with Adama, or did he recount the details to you?
Anne Hull: I spent weeks looking for all those profiled in the series, interviewing tons of kids and visiting lots of schools. To watch Adama clean the bathroom, his company closed down the men's room from time to time so that it was just the two of us in there. Otherwise, I loitered at the entranceway, and received many strange looks from the customers.
Washington, D.C.: The stated objective of your series was to provide glimpses into how recent nonwhite immigrants are "changing an (sic) historically white and black society." However, you provided very very little evidence, in my reading, of any impact, apart from taking low-wage jobs, that these immigrants are having on white and black Southerners. Where were the voices of the South's native-born? What do they think? Do they favor ongoing immigration? Do they want a crackdown on illegal aliens? Do they appreciate, or even notice, whatever cultural impact the immigrants are having? From the series, I get the impression that the immigrants live in their own world, mingle hardly at all with native Southerners, and often return to their native country when they have made some money. How is this changing the South?
Anne Hull: We wanted to write about the immigrant experience, not how whites react to immigrants. We wanted the idea of "white" to be something that lingered at the edges, but the central force of the story was a new immigrant's sense of "otherness" - observing and bristling and adapting to the majority. s for empirical data, the 2000 census is the most powerful document going.
Washington, D.C.: Anne -- I very much enjoyed your series that portrayed several personal stories. However, I think the public could have benefited from a mention of the ongoing policy debate over immigration (both legal and illegal). This seems to be something you should have included more of.
Anne Hull: We consciously wanted our stories to be human. The policy debate plays out almost daily in the pages of every American newspaper. Not to discount such stories and discussions, but we wanted the voices of those living something, not those commenting on it.
Reston, Va.: Mrs. Hull,
Great story. How did you choose the persons to write about? Also, I'm intersted to know if you got a chance to find out the non immigrants reactions to all these changes in Atlanta?
Anne Hull: There are some tensions, understandably. The schools have been overwhelmed in unimaginable ways, stressing educators to the limit. There is a backlash against the large numbers of foreign-born. Natives who are used to living a certain way are being forced to accept another, and they had little say in the matter. There are tensions, but I would say that the real bare-knuckled and public clashes happened in the late 1980s and 1990s. Now the tensions play out in more subtle ways, though they are just as real. (Funding for larger classes, expanded curriculums for ESOL and teachers who are bi-lingual, etc.)
Washington, D.C.: In the first installment, you focus in large part on a wise-cracking half-Puerto Rican/half-black kid. How does this support your apparent thesis about "immigrants" changing the South, since Puerto Ricans are American? One doesn't, say, "immigrate" from Ohio to California. I think the same semantics apply to people moving from Puerto Rico to other parts of the United States. Care to comment?
Anne Hull: The thesis, we hope, was supported in the entire series. We began with the Dairy Queen because it was symphonic and not centered one one-note. It represents change and flow. Of course you are right about Puerto Rico. But I would bet that an "immigrant" from Ohio has more smooth sailing in white America than a young kid from Puerto Rico by way of the Bronx, in Stockbridge, Ga. Cisco's mom had some interesting stories about moving to the South with her kids.
Denver, Colo.: From all the stories their was never any animosity expressed over conditions here in America and their native homelands. Did they ever express any concern over the United States role with helping the developing world. Also I didn't ever get the sense that their was alot of interest in returning to their homeland to build up things there. Did I just miss that? The series was very informative and thought provoking, well done.
Anne Hull: Only the Africans expressed an interest in returning. Maybe because they were older - in their early 20s - than the others portrayed. Amy and Nallely would return to their native countries for vacation, but they consider themselves American. At the same time, the notion of "home" burns brightly inside of them. Amy Nguyen said, "If I don't eat rice every couple of days, I feel empty inside."
Adams Morgan, Washington, Va.: Ann,
In response to an earlier post you said: We wanted to write about the immigrant experience, not how whites react to immigrants. We wanted the idea of "white" to be something that lingered at the edges, but the central force of the story was a new immigrant's sense of "otherness"
Then how come Atlanta? Why not Washington or one of its suburbs for The Washington Post?
Anne Hull: This series could have been written in the Washington area. Many many similarities, in terms of historical identity, white/black society, influx of immigrants in 1990s. Lots of similar dynamics. Yet Washington and the true Deep South are different. For starters, Dairy Queens are in serious shortage up here.
Houston, Tex.: Let me begin by saying how much I identified with Amy. Thanks for opening the eyes of others to what growing up between two cultures mean.
How did you communicate with some of the people who were not fluent in English?
Anne Hull: It was not easy finding a professional interpreter who speaks Bambara (Adama's language) but it was done. We also used interpreters (several times) to interview the parents, most of whom spoke little or no English. The main subjects are all fluent in English.
Albany, N.Y.: As a native Atlantan, I was staggered by the scale of the demographic changes your reports chronicle. What have been the impacts of such a large population shift on local politics and other institutions?
Anne Hull: When I first started reporting this story 18 months ago, there were no Latino legislators in the state house. Now there are three. The traditional power base remains the same but things are changing.
Denver, Colo.: Having lived in Georgia for a year, how do you think this new found diversity is changing the attitudes of the primarily white population there as well as African Americans? Do you still see the sharp divide along racial ties?
Anne Hull: The white and black populations of Georgia have also been transformed in the last 15 years. Lots of non-Southerners live in Georgia, a higher number than ever, due to in-migration from other parts of the U.S. In the 1990s, native-born Americans, like immigrants, moved to the South for jobs and affordable housing.
NW Washington, D.C.: Great series, Ms. Hull.
I'm a little surprised though that many of your subjects chose to use their real names and/or be photographed. I felt this particularly in the case of the Vietnamese college student. As a first generation American, I think my family would have been very upset with my participation in such a project and the "airing of family/personal matters" in such a public venue. Any comments on why/how your subjects were so open to the idea? Did they experience any backlash from the community or extended family?
Anne Hull: As a reporter, it's important to convey to each family that you will be spending a great deal of time with them, tagging along on all sorts of family functions, and what's observed might go in the newspaper. This is something that has to be mentioned often. These subjects are letting the moments of their lives be observed, no easy task. At the same time, there is some level of commitment on their part that acknowleges that there'sa larger story to be told besides their own. They are all living inside something bigger than their individual lives, something historical, and they know this. Still, in return for their letting a reporter follow them for months, they are owed the most dignity (and shards of privacy) possible. All this is a juggling act.
Columbia, Md.: Hi Anne,
I like the idea behind your series, and certainly your stories were well-written and thorough. However, I think you do a great disservice to the South. For one thing, Atlanta is not AT ALL typically Southern. I would agree that immigration has changed suburban America -- in Atlanta, Gaithersburg, and Utah. But to imply that Southerners are more affected by immigration because they are more racist is unfair (and wrong).
Every wave of immigration has reached the South. Irish, Italian, Jewish, Vietnamese, Mexican, and today's influx of newcomers from developing nations. I just think your articles are placing this trend (of immigrants starting out in the suburbs) in the wrong context.
Anne Hull: Hello, we chose Atlanta precisely for the reason you mention. It's a city, it's fairly cosmopolitan, it's physically sprawling and it's cradle of the civil rights movement. To take on another city in the South wouldn't be quite the same. Plus, statistically, the numbers are in Atlanta.
Anne Hull: Thanks all for your comments and questions. Sorry that some went unanswered. My phone number at the Post is 334-5401 if anyone wants to chat the old-fashioned way.
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