Claiming Space in the “Birthplace of America:” Latin American Immigrants and Struggles for Belonging in Williamsburg, Virginia

April 11, 2024

Jennifer Bickham Mendez
Jennifer Bickham Mendez

Health Humanities Speaker Series

Start time: 4:00 p.m.

End time: 6:00 p.m

Location: Commons Theater (907 Floyd Ave, Richmond, VA 23284)

Register here

Over twenty years ago Greater Williamsburg, Virginia, home to the capital of colonial Virginia as well as the first settlement of English colonizers in the United States, witnessed the arrival of unprecedented numbers of immigrant newcomers from Mexico and Central and South America. This talk will chronicle a series of community-engaged research projects with and about Latin American immigrants, as they and their families have struggled to claim space and belonging in a variety of spheres of community life in Williamsburg, including in the arena of healthcare and public services, housing, and public schools. Community-based, collaborative research with immigrant families as well as schools, service-providing agencies, and community organizations has generated critical insights regarding deeply-rooted forms of social exclusion and how marginalized groups confront, accommodate and, sometimes, push back against them.  Long-term engagement with immigrants and their families in a site long understood as the “birthplace of a nation,” has raised critical questions regarding key assumptions in “immigration studies,” leading me, instead, to a framework for understanding immigrants’ lived experiences that foregrounds belonging, resilience and community-building.


About the Speaker

Jennifer Bickham Mendez, PhD is Professor and Chair of Sociology at William & Mary where she has undertaken her scholarly endeavors and taught courses for close to 25 years. She is the author of From the Revolution to the Maquiladoras: Gender, Labor and Globalization in Nicaragua (Duke University Press 2005), and the co-editor (with Natalia Deeb-Sossa) of Latinx Belonging: Community-Building and Resilience in the United States (University of Arizona Press, 2022) and Border Politics: Social Movements, Collective Identity, and Globalization (with Nancy Naples, New York University Press 2015). Her scholarship has appeared in a variety of academic journals, including Ethnic and Racial Studies, Gender & Society, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Mobilization and Social Problems as well as several anthologies. Her most recent work investigates the struggles of marginalized groups in Williamsburg, Virginia—including immigrant mothers from Latin America, English learner high schoolers, and a community organization dedicated to racial and educational justice—as they contend with global and local forces of exclusion and seek belonging, justice and inclusion.