Mexicanidad in Ohio: Identity and stress in Columbus.

Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, Department of Anthropology
Rank at time of award: Associate Professor


The Latino community in Columbus, Ohio has increased rapidly since 1990, growing to 4.1% of the city's population by 2006 (ACS 2006). The growth of Columbus' Latino and Mexican population is part of the larger movement of Latinos toward new gateways in the Midwest (Durand, et al. 2000; Guarnizo et al, 2003; Itzigsohn 2004; Reitz 2002). Mexican immigrants traditionally have engaged in agricultural work, however, recent immigrants who are part of this new influx are settling in urban areas and increasingly working in nonagricultural labor including the local service sector (Johnson-Webb 2002; Johnson-Webb 2003; Zuniga & Hernandez-Leon 2001; Suro & Singer 2002). With the increase of Mexican migration, urban and rural areas of the Midwest are experiencing demographic, social, and economic transformations. These changes are often ignored or are inadequately addressed by policy makers and service providers, which has led to increased tensions and conflicts between the new immigrants and local native-born residents (Johnson-Webb 2003, Torres et al. 2006; Studstill & Studstill 2001).
As a new destination for immigrant workers, Columbus witnessed rapid growth as Mexican immigrants settled in the city. While economic opportunities are a major factor driving immigration, low cost housing and access to educational opportunities for children also influence the decision to settle in Columbus. Nevertheless, Mexicans also face open hostility from local native-born residents, heightening tensions between the two groups. One factor fueling antagonistism is the common misconception held by the larger Columbus community that Mexicans immigrants are undocumented and therefore living in Columbus illegally, despite their actual legal status, residency, and work histories. The Mexican community is challenged to negotiate its identity (or Mexicanidad) in response to an unsettled and problematic local legal landscape.
In this project, we will examine the growth of Columbus' Mexican population and focus on the reception of the Mexican community in Columbus. Specifically, we will conduct ethnographic research with Mexicans from a variety of backgrounds including community leaders, recent immigrants and Mexicans who have settled long-term in the city. We will also collect, track and compare physiological stress indicators (cortisol and blood pressure measures) with recent immigrants and long-term residents through bi­ weekly meetings over the course of our fieldwork.
We will combine methods and interviews to define first, how Mexican immigrants organize and create a sense of Mexicanidad in Columbus; second, the perception of Mexican immigrants of their reception by the larger Columbus community; and third, physiological evidence of stress to compare and contrast with cultural perceptions. This study is an important opportunity to build upon OSU's strengths in biocultural anthropology and apply cultural and biological perspectives to the investigation of Mexican immigrants to Ohio, their identity, and their reception by the larger Columbus community. The project will serve as a foundation for further investigations (with potential targets including the Russell Sage Foundation, NIH and NSF).

Publication resulting from this seed grant

2013. Cohen, Jeffrey H. and N Merino Chavez. "Latino Immigrants, Discrimination and Reception in Columbus, Ohio." International Migration, 51(2):24-31. PMCID: PMC4119753