Defining El Sur Latino | Anna Maria Barry-Jester

In 2017, SFA explores El Sur Latino. To approach a multidimensional understanding of this moment in the U.S. South, we’ve enlisted over a dozen scholars, artists, writers, and entrepreneurs to reflect on what “El Sur Latino” means to them. Today, Anna Maria Barry-Jester, a visual journalist and writer focusing on the social and political determinants of health, weighs in.

Norma Greene is the owner of Latino’s Taste, located at 1126 W. Main St. in Radford, VA. Photo by Matt Gentry for The Roanoke Times.

It’s the surge in migration from Latin America to the US South that first comes to mind when I think of El Sur Latino. Latino communities have cropped up in rural areas, small towns and cities over the last two decades, as the South has seen the largest Latino population growth of any area in the country.

It’s impossible to ignore the importance of food in this migration. Though more Latinos in the South work in construction and manufacturing, agriculture and food processing rely heavily on Latinos. Many of the out-of-the-way places where Latino immigration has been most pronounced are home to rural, meat processing plants. There, workers help fulfill the insatiable and growing desire for chicken, beef and pork in the U.S.

Though Miami has long been called the capital of Latin America, immigration from Mexico and Central America to areas further north in the Sunshine state is a recent phenomenon. There, agriculture workers helping to supply the vast majority of the country’s winter tomatoes have fought tough battles for decent working conditions. And where Latinos go for other jobs, so does their food; Latino owned restaurants grew by 50 percent at the end of the 2000s, visible in the food trucks and small restaurants serving pupusas and tacos from Radford, Virginia to Fayetteville, Arkansas.

It’s a reminder that America has always been two continents, not a country.