Sometimes our own neighborhoods can provide the inspiration for our research. This is the case with Franklin & Marshall Research Associate FlorenceMae Waldron, who is intrigued by the migration of Spanish speakers into Lancaster County and surrounding areas.
Waldron, a 19th- and 20th-century U.S. social historian, has long been intrigued by immigration history. After moving to Lancaster five years ago, she became aware of the large number of Latino and Latina immigrant residents and some of the tensions associated with their arrival.
Having previously studied the migration of French Canadians into New England, she noticed certain parallels: “The thing that really struck me when I moved to Pennsylvania is the extent to which a lot of the discourses surrounding Spanish-speaking migrants to Southcentral Pennsylvania really overlap with a lot of the concerns people had about French-speaking migrants in New England a hundred years ago. Both groups have Catholic roots, whereas the surrounding populations do not, so they have different traditions, they have different rituals. There are a lot of nativist concerns about whether they’re here to take our jobs, they don’t belong here and things like that.”
This interest led Waldron to apply to the American Immigration Revisited Summer Institute, where she is working as a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar this summer. She is taking classes with national experts on immigration at American University while conducting research in the Library of Congress for her next book project, Spanish Speakers in Pennsylvania Dutch Country: Researching and Teaching (about) Latino and Latina Newcomers to Southcentral Pennsylvania.
Her working hypothesis is that Latin American cultures tend to be conservative when it comes to gender roles. She is exploring whether the culturally conservative Pennsylvania Dutch climate is one reason that this population has found this region to be a suitable destination. She also hopes the knowledge she gains will foster greater understanding among natives, students and newcomers to Lancaster County and Lancaster City.
“Whether students are from this area or whether they’re from somewhere else, when they encounter these populations at Central Market or downtown, I think it’s important that they have some understanding of who these people are and where they came from, based on information and not merely stereotypes, which are often negative.”