Richmond immigrants face higher levels of exclusion, panel says

Georgia Geen
Managing Editor

Unlike cities with historic immigrant populations like New York and Boston, immigrants in Richmond are often less accepted into the city’s society, according to a Sept. 6 panel.

The Broad — a women’s gathering and workspace —hosted “Immigration as a Womxn’s Issue,” whose panelists touched on themes including immigration in Richmond and issues faced by female immigrants.

Richmond’s Latin-American immigrant population includes a wave of well-established immigrants from Mexico and Cuba who arrived in the 1960s, in addition to newer groups from Central America, said panelist Del. Debra Rodman. Rodman represents the 73rd District in the House of Delegates and has worked as an advocate for Central American immigrants, serving as an expert court witness for asylum seekers.

“When I moved here 15 years ago — even though there was this long-established community of Latinos — the newer wave of Latin American immigration was definitely new for Richmonders,” Rodman said. “And I definitely felt when I moved to Richmond, you could see that there was more fear (in immigrant communities), and I think it became very intensified in the last decade.”

That fear has also increased for immigrants living in larger cities, but the presence of several generations and a broad sense of community improves conditions in those areas.

“I think when you have police forces, when you have communities that have a long history of immigration, it’s different than these non-traditional (locations),” Rodman said.

One of those non-traditional locations is the southern U.S., which saw a 60 percent increase in its foreign-born population between 2000 and 2014, according to data from the Center for American Progress. Additionally, immigrants in the South accounted for about half of the overall change in the foreign-born population across the country.

Panelist Tamana Radmanish — who worked for nongovernmental organizations and as a journalist prior to moving to the U.S. a year and a half ago — is one of a number of Afghans who recently arrived in Richmond. She said she attributes the rise in Afghan immigration to the U.S. War in Afghanistan — the conflict created unfavorable conditions in Afghanistan, and many military workers, such as translators, obtained special visas.

“I came over here because my sister was here,” Radmanish said. “I know 10 more people that came over here because of me. I was here, I could help them.”

Despite the arrival of diverse migrants, faith-based activist Lana Heath de Martinez said she’s witnessed the erasure of the Richmond immigrant community.

“Richmond is the capital of the confederacy and there are a lot of conversations that happen about race and white supremacy and suppression,” Heath de Martinez said. “I have not been to any of these conversations where there’s representation from Latin America or from the Middle East.”

Leonina Arismendi, an Uruguayan-born artist, said she agrees that immigrants are often not heard in the Richmond area.

“But I also see a community that’s resilient and not only loves the community around us, our neighbors and our families, but also really loves Richmond, being here, working here, having friends in the community here,” Arismendi said. “I think there’s a mixture of feeling like this is home, but also feeling like you don’t belong.”

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