Governing a Diverse Community: The Effect of Experiential and Cross-Cultural Learning on Georgia Local Government Offcials

AuthorNicole G. Sanders,Peter L. Gess
Date01 March 2008
Published date01 March 2008
Subject MatterGeneral Interest
V40-1 2008 State and Local Government Review State and Local Government Review
Vol. 40, No. 2 (2008): 75–83
General Interest
Governing a Diverse Community: The Effect
of Experiential and Cross-Cultural Learning
on Georgia Local Government Officials
Peter L. Gess and Nicole G. Sanders
The rapid growth in the Hispanic With demographic changes come both
population in the southern United
in creased opportunities and challenges for
States over the past few decades
Georgia communities. In October 2005, fac-
has important implications for immigration
ulty at the Carl Vinson Institute of Govern-
policy. Winders (2005) reports that the His-
ment at the University of Georgia led a group
panic population in Arkansas, Tennessee,
of local government officials from Georgia
North Carolina, and Georgia grew by at least
on a trip to Mexico with the intention of
278 percent from 1990 to 2000. The Latino
fostering cultural awareness and enhancing
population in Georgia (primarily Hispanic)
understanding of immigration issues. The
has almost tripled over the last decade; the
purpose of this study was to determine the ef -
number of Latinos in the state has increased
fectiveness of such experiential cross-cultural
to almost half a million. As of 2000, nearly
pilot programs on participants’ views, values,
20 Georgia counties had Latino populations
and attitudes toward immigrants and immi-
over 3,000; in 12 counties, the number of La-
gration. The findings offer insights into the
tinos had grown by at least 500 percent (U.S.
role of local government in addressing im-
Census Bureau 2000).
migration challenges and have implications
Immigrant workers are in great demand
for policy making.
in Georgia. Traditionally, the state’s carpet
manufacturing, poultry production, and agri-
culture industries have relied heavily on low-
wage, low-skilled workers. More recently,
Beliefs and Attitudes toward Latino
wide spread corporate expansion has attracted
high-paid, highly skilled workers to the state
who demand new houses, better roads, and
Immigration has been a topic of concern and
more schools, which in turn has boosted de-
a subject of debate throughout U.S. history.
mand for construction and landscape workers
American attitudes toward increased Latino
(as did the need for infrastructure to support
immigration vary, and government officials
the 1996 Atlanta Olympics). These jobs pri-
and public policy practitioners must under-
marily are filled by immigrant workers (Neal
stand the forces driving the phenomenon in
and Bohon 2002).
order to carry out their jobs effectively in an

Gess and Sanders
evolving society. The social, political, and
of political affiliation relative to attitudes to-
economic facets of immigration have created
ward immigration: 80 percent of Georgians
controversy as immigration has become an
who consider themselves Republican indi-
important national focus for many govern-
cated that they believe immigrants receive
ment officials.
too much government assistance, while only
Societal factors play a critical role in the
57 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of
formation of beliefs and attitudes of Ameri-
independents agreed (Carl Vinson Institute
cans toward immigrants. Education appears
of Government 2006).
to influence public attitudes toward immi-
Economic factors also affect American be-
gra tion: the more educated an individual is,
liefs and attitudes toward immigrants. Finan-
the more likely he or she is to have a positive
cially insecure, native-born Americans are
view of immigrants (Doherty 2006; Haubert
more likely to hold negative views of immi-
and Fussell 2006; Neal and Bohon 2002).
grants and favor stricter immigration policies
Further, “cosmopolitans” (i.e., persons who
(Doherty 2006). A 2005 Pew Research Center
are highly educated, have lived abroad, and
study found that 68 percent of non-Latino
reject ethnocentrism) are significantly more
whites believe illegal immigrants hurt the
likely than persons who lack a cosmopolitan
economy by driving down wages whereas 66
worldview to believe immigrants make a pos-
percent of bilingual Latinos believe illegal
itive contribution in the United States (Hau-
immigrants help the economy by providing
bert and Fussell 2006). Southerners tend to
low-cost labor. Immigrants have contributed
have more negative perceptions of immi-
to job growth since 1990 by occupying an
grants compared with individuals from other
increasing share of jobs overall, taking jobs
regions (Haubert and Fussell 2006). Such
in labor-scarce regions, and filling the types
perceptions are prevalent in Georgia, which
of jobs native workers often shun (Orrenius
has one of the highest Latino growth rates
2003). The underlying debate is whether im-
in the nation. Winders (2005) observes that
migrants do the kinds of jobs minimum-wage
in many southern locales, Latinos have been
American workers are unwilling to do or
accepted as workers but not as community
whether they take jobs away from native-born
Americans. Regardless, immigrants are a sig-
In the political realm, leaders and public
nificant part of the U.S. labor force and con-
officials are broadening their approaches to
tribute to productivity growth (Lazear 2007),
appealing to and communicating with diverse
and the U.S. economy relies on their work.
groups. Politicians have refined their cam-
The state of Georgia relies not only on the
paign tactics to engage non-English-speaking
work immigrants do but also Latino buying
voters who are part of the immigrant com-
power: Georgia was ranked 10th nationally
munity. In the 2004 presidential elections,
in terms of market size and 3rd by rate of
for example, both George W. Bush and John
growth in Latino buying power between 1990
Kerry ran campaign advertisements in Span-
and 2005 (Cowan 2006).
ish (Ling Ling 2004).
These societal, political, and economic fac-
U.S. citizens differ on the benefits and
tors affect the potential impact of the work
costs of immigration. A June 2006 Gallup Poll
of local government officials. The assumption
found that 67 percent of native-born Ameri-
here is that the more culturally aware and
cans believe immigration is, on the whole, a
educated elected officials are, the more they
good thing for the United States. However,
will be able to relay information and share
a poll among Georgians found that only 53
their knowledge with their constituents. In
percent agreed with this sentiment (Carl Vin-
turn, their constituents may become more
son Institute of Government 2006). These
accepting of immigrants and hold more posi-
poll results also highlighted the significance
tive views toward immigration. If immigrants
State and Local Government Review

Governing a Diverse Community
are portrayed in full dimension instead of as
With immigration rapidly on the rise, cross-
merely the cause of various social problems
cultural experiential training programs have
(Short and Magana 2002), people may be
been developed to promote cultural aware-
able to better comprehend the challenges
ness. Ptak, Cooper, and Brislin (1995) found
immigrants face. As intermediaries who are
that engaging in intercultural interactions
closest to the...

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