'Counting on Immigration,' Part 1

Immigration has been changing the demographics of Massachusetts for centuries.

Years after the first immigrants landed on the shores of Plymouth, the dynamic population of new residents continues to help define the state.

Currently, one in six of the Massachusetts population was foreign-born. That's more than one million of the six and a-half million Bay State residents.

All this week at this time, our topic will be immigration and its effect on the Massachusetts economy. Today, we focus on the impact of our changing demographics.

DENNIS ROY: My name is Dennis Roy and we're at the Ferry St. gas station... Within the last five years I've seen a dramatic change in this city ...just a lot of immigrants. Maybe 90 percent of my business is non-English speaking...Haitians, some Spanish, but more than anything is the Brazilians. You go five blocks down there's probably fourteen Brazilian stores.

BOB OAKES: And he may not be exaggerating. I'm standing outside the "El Valle de la Sultana" butcher shop on Broadway in Everett. You can see the Brazilian laundry, the Brazilian optometrist, down the street there's the American-Brazilian bakery, the Latino market, and around the corner, a little corner store billing itself "the Boston Market," saying it serves people from the Middle East, Brazil, Spain and ... America.

You can also hear a difference.

BOB OAKES: Since 1990, Everett's immigrant population has more than doubled, and it's still growing.

This city reflects a new trend. A recent national population survey shows that 40 percent of new immigrants are moving to suburban towns and smaller cities like Everett.

But the immigrant population in Massachusetts hasn't always been growing. The number of immigrants state-wide had dropped by half from its peak in 1920, to 495,000 by 1970.

At that time, the number of residents leaving the state was increasing and birthrates were declining. A new wave of immigration in the 1980's, largely from Asia and Latin America, helped offset this population loss, and since then, the number of immigrants in the state's labor force has nearly doubled.

BOB OAKES: Lazarro Arellano came from El Salvador two months ago and opened Mama Blanca Restaurant, where we are now, a few blocks off Broadway here in Everett. He says despite the influx of new immigrants it hasn't been easy to hold on to workers.

LAZARRO ARELLANO: The business right now is tough, you understand, because a lot of problem to the immigration. The people no legal, you know. So, for me, it's very important in this country [to] give chance for people working.

BOB OAKES: This morning, we begin our series on immigration and the economy talking with Andrew Sum, Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

Sum is co-author of "The Changing Face of Massachusetts," a study published in 2005 by MassInc., a public policy think tank. The study, which now has new figures from the 2006 census, highlights the dramatic changes in Massachusetts' immigrant population.

BOB OAKES: More than 130 years ago, a group of immigrant workers found their welcome far from warm in a factory town in the Berkshires:

PROFESSOR ANTHONY LEE: In June 1870, 75 Chinese men, mostly teenagers from Guangdong province in South East China, arrived in North Adams, Massachusetts.

BOB OAKES: Professor Anthony Lee of Mount Holyoke College takes up this lesser-known story of immigration in western Massachusetts.


BOB OAKES: Anthony Lee is Associate Professor of Art History at Mount Holyoke College. He is the author of "A Shoemaker's Story: Being Chiefly about French-Canadian Immigrants, Enterprising Photographers, Rascal Yankees, and Chinese Cobblers in a Nineteenth-Century Factory Town." The book will be published next spring.

Tomorrow on Morning Edition our series, "Counting on Immigration" continues: WBUR's Curt Nickisch reports on the challenges facing immigrant entrepreneurs — and the importance of the goods, services and jobs they provide.

WBUR's Sarah Bush produced this feature on Massachusetts changing demographics. Our series, "Counting on Immigration," was produced by WBUR's Anna Bensted and George Hicks. WBUR's Jesse Costa and Angel Kozeli created and collaborated on our special website for the series.

This program aired on November 12, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.


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