North Carolinians have traditionally thought of themselves as divided into two populations: black and white, reflecting our history of segregation and of slavery. Both the black and white long term populations reflect a variety of customs and cultures from Europe and Africa that have constituted our immigrant populations over the last few hundred years. Actually, the first Europeans to immigrate here were Spaniards who established mission outposts in the 1500′s in the Cape Fear River area. The migrant and seasonal farm labor population of about 140,000 people who work here every year is now predominantly Hispanic/Latino, and many of these people breaking out of the migrant labor stream to do seasonal farm work plus other jobs outside of the growing season.
Native Americans and persons living in the in the Robeson County – Pembroke area and Swain County – Cherokee areas have been more conscious of the Lumbee and Cherokee populations in our state. In fact, there are an additional 10 smaller registered tribes in the state as well as other significant Indian populations who have immigrated here from other states. Native populations are also migrating to urban areas as people pursue work. (Guilford County has an estimated 3,000 Native Americans – predominantly Lumbee, then Cherokee, and Oglala Sioux who have migrated from South Dakota.)
Refugee resettlement patterns over the last 20 years have heightened our awareness of diversity though these refugees have resettled primarily in urban areas of the State. Guilford County, which has three different refugee resettlement agencies, resettled the largest number of refugees in 2000, a diverse population of 439 persons. Mecklenberg, with two resettlement agencies is second with 426 resettled in 2000. Wake, with a branch resettlement office, resettled 165 that year. Buncombe County, with no initial resettlement office is next, with 59 resettled in 2000, mostly Ukranians and persons from the former Soviet Union who came to join family members. Finally, the Craven County – New Bern area with a small refugee resettlement office received 23 refugees in 2000.
Other areas of the state resettle some refugees or received secondary migrant refugees on a case by case basis but these are typically smaller numbers. A significant exception to this pattern is the Hmong population from Laos. The Hmong, who served with the US military during the Vietnam war, are tribal peoples from the mountains of Laos who came as refugees after the Vietnam war. Most were resettled in California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. However, over 12,000 have migrated to the western piedmont of North Carolina since the mid 1980′s, attracted by the job opportunities and rural mountainous environment reminiscent of their homeland.
The Hispanic/Latino population increase has attracted the most public attention with a statewide 400% increase recorded over the last decade according to the 2000 Census. This has effected most counties and impacts rural areas more than urban because the human service systems and the preexisting populations were unprepared to accommodate the increase numbers and diversity in rural areas.