Hazleton’s evolution through immigration is a lesson for other cities
By Andrew Selee
Each time I go to Hazleton, I walk away thinking of it as a place of renewal and hope, a city that is slowly fusing its past and present into a new identity that will set it apart from other cities in the region and give it a platform for the future.
But it wasn’t always that way. When I started visiting Hazleton over eight years ago as part of a book project, I saw it as a place of division and dissonance.
The city had leapt onto the frontlines of the national immigration debate in 2006 by passing local ordinances that required employers to check the immigration status of new employees and landlords of potential renters.
Protests erupted for and against immigration, and the national media covered them closely. Finally, the courts struck down the ordinances and ruled that the city had overstepped its authority in passing local immigration enforcement legislation.
Since then, Hazleton has been coming to terms with immigration in less public, often challenging, ways. Between 1990 and today, it has gone from a city that was overwhelmingly white and native-born to a city that is roughly half-Latino, with numerous immigrant families.
The overall outcome has been positive for the city, which is living through an economic revival. But native-born residents and newcomers have had to negotiate a difficult pathway to begin to imagine a shared future.
Like many smaller cities, Hazleton was built on immigration a century ago. Native-born Hazletonians still speak about their European immigrant roots as though their families’ arrival happened yesterday.
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