Receptivity in a New Immigrant Gateway: Immigrant Settlement Geography, Public Education, and Immigrant Integration in Charlotte, North Carolina


Geography and Earth Sciences

Document Type


Publication Date

May 2013


Community receptivity expresses the degree of openness within a place tosomeone 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 immigrantgateway (Charlotte, North Carolina) with a particular focus on its complexity andmanifestations within the local public school system. Amid new forms of immigrantsettlement geography and integration processes the city’s public school teachers andadministrators must navigate their response to the growing number of immigrant studentsand families in their institutions. This research explores the extent to which variousstakeholders in the process experience and negotiate these changes, how this is shaped bythe context of Charlotte’s new gateway status, and advances the perspective thateducational 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 anddifferent from that observed in traditional destinations with long-established immigrantcommunities. 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 iva public school system can serve as a critical influencing factor of broader communityreceptivity especially in a new immigrant gateway. Whereas our thinking aboutreceptivity is typically based on the experience of traditional or more establishedgateways, immigrant settlement in new destinations provides an opportunity to explorehow receptivity is shaped and reshaped as the immigration landscape is emerging. Interms of receptivity, new gateways are at a crossroads. Their journey forward will includedecisions that will lead to a direction that is either more or less open to immigrantnewcomers. Schools and other community organizations have an opportunity toproactively influence the direction of receptivity in new immigrant gateways. Thisresearch illuminates that role in the case of Charlotte. Finally, as places with greaterwelcome and inclusiveness tend towards more efficient integration and strongereconomic and societal resiliency, this study furthers the dialogue about how the warmthof receptivity contributes to an area’s degree of regional resilience. Ultimately, offeringanother thread of understanding to the tapestry of new urban geographies, this researchshows that, among the intersections of increased immigration, service provision,community receptivity, and immigrant integration, public education institutions arepresented with the challenge and the opportunity to be a vanguard of positive change intheir communities. Through quantitative analysis, exploratory spatial data analysis, andsystematic content analysis of qualitative interviews, this mixed methods study’s majortheoretical contribution is that receptivity works differently in new immigrant gatewayscompared with traditional gateway destinations. Receptivity also occurs differently acrossgeography at both the inter-urban and intra-urban scales. The short history and rapidgrowth of immigration in a place leads in part to a distinctive form of receptivity that voccurs differently than that found in traditional immigrant gateways with longer historiesof immigrant settlement, adjustment, and integration.Receptivity, therefore, is constructed in a new immigrant gateway by the variousdimensions – political, economic, social, and cultural. Educational institutions, such aspublic schools, have the challenge and the opportunity to contribute to the construction ofreceptivity in their communities. Furthermore, while receptivity occurs differently in newimmigrant gateways at the inter-urban level, receptivity may also occur distinctively atthe intra-urban level across different communities within the same metropolitan area. Thevarying experiences of the three immigrant clusters in Charlotte/Mecklenburg Countyand the three case study schools each in one of the three clusters suggest that receptivityis playing out differently in each of those areas. At the same time, however, each areacontributes to the city’s collective receptivity. With that in mind, teachers andadministrators in a school are agents of change constructing receptivity for their schooland surrounding community.