Receptivity in a New Immigrant Gateway: Immigrant Settlement Geography, Public Education, and Immigrant Integration in Charlotte, North Carolina
Community receptivity expresses the degree of openness within a place to someone or something new. Receptivity is shaped by multiple components, institutions, and structures related to a community's political, economic, social, and cultural spheres. Receptivity also encapsulates how immigrants perceive their reception in their new home. This mixed methods study explores how receptivity plays out in a new immigrant gateway (Charlotte, North Carolina) with a particular focus on its complexity and manifestations within the local public school system. Amid new forms of immigrant settlement geography and integration processes the city's public school teachers and administrators must navigate their response to the growing number of immigrant students and families in their institutions. This research explores the extent to which various stakeholders in the process experience and negotiate these changes, how this is shaped by the context of Charlotte's new gateway status, and advances the perspective that educational institutions play a particularly integral role in shaping a place's receptivity.The research results offer the following contributions: First, receptivity, as a fluid, fickle, and malleable process, is likely distinctive in new immigrant gateways and different from that observed in traditional destinations with long-established immigrant communities. Second, the dynamism of a new gateway affects that place's receptivity, with some places becoming either more or less receptive to such changes over time. Third, beyond the political and economic realms, a social and cultural institution such as a public school system can serve as a critical influencing factor of broader community receptivity especially in a new immigrant gateway. Whereas our thinking about receptivity is typically based on the experience of traditional or more established gateways, immigrant settlement in new destinations provides an opportunity to explore how receptivity is shaped and reshaped as the immigration landscape is emerging. In terms of receptivity, new gateways are at a crossroads. Their journey forward will include decisions that will lead to a direction that is either more or less open to immigrant newcomers. Schools and other community organizations have an opportunity to proactively influence the direction of receptivity in new immigrant gateways. This research illuminates that role in the case of Charlotte. Finally, as places with greater welcome and inclusiveness tend towards more efficient integration and stronger economic and societal resiliency, this study furthers the dialogue about how the warmth of receptivity contributes to an area's degree of regional resilience. Ultimately, offering another thread of understanding to the tapestry of new urban geographies, this research shows that, among the intersections of increased immigration, service provision, community receptivity, and immigrant integration, public education institutions are presented with the challenge and the opportunity to be a vanguard of positive change in their communities. Through quantitative analysis, exploratory spatial data analysis, and systematic content analysis of qualitative interviews, this mixed methods study's major theoretical contribution is that receptivity works differently in new immigrant gateways compared with traditional gateway destinations. Receptivity also occurs differently across geography at both the inter-urban and intra-urban scales. The short history and rapid growth of immigration in a place leads in part to a distinctive form of receptivity that occurs differently than that found in traditional immigrant gateways with longer histories of immigrant settlement, adjustment, and integration.Receptivity, therefore, is constructed in a new immigrant gateway by the various dimensions - political, economic, social, and cultural. Educational institutions, such as public schools, have the challenge and the opportunity to contribute to the construction of receptivity in their communities. Furthermore, while receptivity occurs differently in new immigrant gateways at the inter-urban level, receptivity may also occur distinctively at the intra-urban level across different communities within the same metropolitan area. The varying experiences of the three immigrant clusters in Charlotte/Mecklenburg County and the three case study schools each in one of the three clusters suggest that receptivity is playing out differently in each of those areas. At the same time, however, each area contributes to the city's collective receptivity. With that in mind, teachers and administrators in a school are agents of change constructing receptivity for their school and surrounding community.