First Trip to Eastern Shore for Migrant Health Research

I made the first trip out to the Eastern Shore to meet with providers who work with migrant and immigrant communities. I started with a stop in Crisfield, a city in Somerset County, Maryland. Crisfield is the southernmost incorporated city in Maryland and has a population of roughly 2,700 people. It’s famous for its seafood and has the only hospital, McCready Memorial Hospital, in Somerset County. In Crisfield, I interviewed folks at the Crisfield Clinic, a full-service family practice.

Crisfield, MD Crisfield, MD

Crisfield Clinic Crisfield Clinic

After an amazingly good seafood lunch in Crisfield, I headed up north to Westover, MD to interview providers at the Somerset County Health Department. From both sets of interviews, I learned that there are two main types of immigrant/migrant communities in the area: 1) a more settled immigrant community whose members work in tomato packing, construction and other types of unskilled day-labor positions and 2) a mobile/migratory population that travels from Florida each season to pick tomato crops on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, directly south of Somerset County. Virginia ranks third in the nation in tomato production, behind Florida and California. Virginia’s annual crop is valued at $60 million – 95 percent of it grown on the Eastern Shore. Tomatoes have to be hand picked.

tomato crops tomato crops

Lunch in Crisfield Lunch in Crisfield

After the interviews, I headed down south to Chincoteague, VA. Chincoteague has a population of 3,000 people and is known for the wild Chincoteague ponies that reside on nearby Assateague Island. Chincoteague is in Accomack County, VA, one of the two counties that make up the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The Eastern Shore counties of Maryland and the Eastern Shore counties of Virginia make up much of the Delmarva Peninsula. The State of Delaware is also part of the Delmarva peninsula.

Wild ponies on Assateague Island Wild ponies on Assateague Island

Assateague Island lighthouse Assateague Island lighthouse

The Delmarva Peninsula The Delmarva Peninsula

After VA, I headed back into Maryland to meet with contacts in Salisbury, MD. What I learned is that I need to understand better the agricultural landscape and history of the lower Eastern Shore. This will help me understand how the agricultural history has shaped migration to the Eastern Shore and how it impacts current immigrant and migrant life in the area. My contacts also encouraged me to spend some time exploring the route from Maryland to southern Delaware where there are many chicken processing plants. So for the next couple of days, I explored this route from Maryland to Delaware.

Mountaire job billboard Mountaire job billboard

Mountaire's poultry plant separated only by a chain link fence from the Indian River School complex. Mountaire’s poultry plant separated only by a chain link fence from the Indian River School complex.

I understand that this is a lot of geography to cover! I am thinking at this point that I am going to focus on 3 counties on the Eastern Shore of Maryland: Somerset, Worcester, and Wimico. Most likely, I will also include Accomack County, Virginia because of its large immigrant and migrant populations who work in the poultry plants and in the tomato picking and packing industries.

A little background on the project: Migration to the Eastern Shore has been driven in large part by employment opportunities in seafood, livestock, and agriculture industries. In the past decade, the population of immigrants on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, particularly those who are Latino, has increased exponentially: 158% from 2000 to 2010, and in two counties the growth rate has exceeded 200%. Based a handful of studies conducted in this region, it seems that this growing Latino community is now establishing permanent roots rather than staying temporarily as seasonal migrant workers. As a result, the demographic makeup of the Latino population in these “new settlement” areas of the South (of which Maryland is included) is different from that of more established Latino communities across the country. Latinos in the Eastern Shore, like those in the South in general, are more likely to be young, male, unmarried, foreign-born and recently arrived; there is also a growing number of Haitian migrants living and working on the Eastern Shore as well. Many of these men (and a growing number of women) do not speak English and are undocumented. Despite the persistence of these issues and the rapid population growth, very little is known about these communities, their health needs, and the availability of health and related social services.

In April 2013, I conducted preliminary interviews with several key informants on the Eastern Shore including university researchers, local clinicians, and migrant health administrators who work directly with migrant health issues. This preliminary work allowed me to build rapport with multiple individuals who work with undocumented immigrants on the Eastern Shore and to gather support for further work in this area. This project builds on my expertise in immigrant health, social constructions of difference, and structural and social vulnerability related to immigration status. My previous work with Latino migrant workers and Haitian immigrants indicates a critical need to advance understandings of the complex relations between rights-based entitlement to health care and moral realm of health-related deservingness for immigrants.

Tomato plants in the fields Tomato plants in the fields

“Advancing Health Through a Racial Lens” Talk Featured in “The Diamondback”

The panel which I was part of “Advancing Health Through a Racial Lens” with Drs. Dorothy Roberts, Mia A. Smith Bynum, and Gniesha Y. Dinwiddie was featured in the University of Maryland’s independent student newspaper, The Diamondback.

Excerpt:
“Social justice advocate Dorothy Roberts, along with other researchers, attempted to explain surprising statistics like that yesterday at “Advancing Health Through a Racial Lens,” an event sponsored by the African American Studies Department aimed at exploring health disparities in a racial context.

“The panel members spoke in Stamp Student Union’s Banneker Room to about 50 faculty, staff and students. And although several of the researchers argued different racial genomes cause health disparities between white and black people, Roberts said differences exist because of social injustice.
“…Anthropology professor Thurka Sangaramoorthy discussed HIV and AIDS issues among racial groups, and family science professor Mia Smith Bynum spoke about her research on the relationships between African-American children and their mothers, explaining why and how mothers teach and react to their kids facing racial discrimination. Gneisha Dinwiddie, African American studies professor, focused on the prevalence of cardiovascular disease among black people and race as a social construct.”

Click through to read the whole article!

Talk: Risky Individuals, Risky Communities–Culture and the Paradox of HIV/AIDS Prevention

Flying in directly from Albuquerque, I gave a talk at Brown University’s Population Studies and Training Center on Thursday, March 20, 2014. I used this opportunity to think through the under-explored and often contentious relations between public health and population health using my work with Haitians and HIV/AIDS prevention as a case study. The demographers were a tough crowd but everyone was welcoming and interested. I’d like to develop this talk into a paper in the near future.

Panel: Health Equity in Anti-Immigrant Times–Impacts and Responses in Key Destinations and Critical Occupations

I participated in an engaging double panel titled, “Health Equity in Anti-Immigrant Times: Impacts and Responses in Key Destinations and Critical Occupations” sponsored by the Society for Medical Anthropology at the Society for Applied Anthropology Annual Meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My talk was in the first panel on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. It was my first time to the Southwest, and it was a trip worth taking. The landscape and art were so different from anything else I had seen. I took a day trip to Sante Fe as well.

Talk: Im/migrant Health during Anti-Immigrant Times–Using Ethnography to Document Experiences of Mobile Populations in the US Southeast

I gave a brown-bag talk on Monday, February 24, 2014 at Center for the History of the New America at the University of Maryland. This talk discussed using traditional and rapid ethnographic methods to document the complex relations between unauthorized migrant labor, mobility, and structural and social vulnerability, in particular, the experiences of im/migrant populations in HIV/AIDS public health prevention efforts. Using ethnographic research conducted with health and social service providers working with Latino migrant workers and sex workers in rural North Carolina and with Haitians and HIV/AIDS experts Miami, the talk will highlight the diversity of im/migrant experiences in HIV/AIDS prevention and document the health needs of mobile populations more broadly. Findings will be used to discuss practical implications for HIV/STD prevention, including calling on public health institutions and practitioners to incorporate the concept of mobility as an organizing principle for delivery of health services.

Talk: Im/migrant Health during Anti-Immigrant Times – Using Ethnography to Document Experiences of Mobile Populations in the US Southeast

I gave a brown-bag talk on Monday, February 24, 2014 at Center for the History of the New America at the University of Maryland. This talk discussed using traditional and rapid ethnographic methods to document the complex relations between unauthorized migrant labor, mobility, and structural and social vulnerability, in particular, the experiences of im/migrant populations in HIV/AIDS public health prevention efforts. Using ethnographic research conducted with health and social service providers working with Latino migrant workers and sex workers in rural North Carolina and with Haitians and HIV/AIDS experts Miami, the talk will highlight the diversity of im/migrant experiences in HIV/AIDS prevention and document the health needs of mobile populations more broadly. Findings will be used to discuss practical implications for HIV/STD prevention, including calling on public health institutions and practitioners to incorporate the concept of mobility as an organizing principle for delivery of health services.

Panel: Advancing Health Through A Racial Lens

I participated in an amazing panel with notable female scholars on the topic of race and health. The panel was held at the University of Maryland on Thursday, February 20, 2014 and featured Professor Dorothy Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights at the University of Pennsylvania. My talk was titled “Treating Difference: Race, Risk, and the Politics of HIV/AIDS Prevention.” I spoke about investigating issues of race and risk in HIV/AIDS prevention using theoretical and methodological approaches from medical anthropology and science and technology studies.

Panel: The Politics of Healthcare Access and Belonging

I was part of a really thought-provoking double panel on healthcare access and belonging at the 2013 Annual American Anthropological Association meetings in Chicago, IL on Thursday, November 21, 2014. It was organized by Ryan Levy (University at Albany) and James Shuford (SUNY Albany) and discussants included Seth Holmes (UC Berkeley) and Jennifer Burrell (University at Albany SUNY & Humboldt University). The title of my talk was “Treating Difference: The Paradox of HIV/AIDS Prevention in Haitian Communities” which was a summary of the book. I also had a great time in Chicago with friends and colleagues, despite below freezing temperatures!