Diggs To Focus On Immigrants Hidden In The Heartland

Posted: The Chautauquan Daily, July 22, 2015

By Deborah Trefts

Those who missed Week Three’s lectures and discussions on “Immigration: Origins and Destinations” and are keen to further explore this topic — including its relevance to Chautauqua County — will have an opportunity to do so this week.

As part of the Women’s Club’s “Chautauqua Speaks” series, Nancy Brown Diggs will give a talk with the same title as the sixth of her seven books, Hidden in the Heartland: The New Wave of Immigrants and the Challenge to America, at 9:15 a.m. Thursday at the Women’s Club House.

Diggs, who lives with her husband, Matt, in Dayton, Ohio, is a writer and lecturer who has been interested in people of diverse cultures throughout her life.

As she wrote in its preface, Hidden in the Heartland began with an unwanted summons to jury duty for a case involving two undocumented Latino brothers who had accused an Appalachian boy of assault and robbery. They spoke only Spanish and needed an interpreter in court. The jury found the youth guilty of assault, but not robbery.

The experience left Diggs with questions including, “Weren’t the brothers afraid to express their illegal status in a court of law?”

Diggs also wondered how many undocumented immigrants were living in her area; what living in hiding and being vulnerable to employment, housing and personal exploitation was like; what local governments and communities were doing to meet the challenge of Hispanic immigration; and what Mexico, where most of this hidden population originated, was doing about it.

She decided to find out.

Several of the individuals Digg’s interviewed for Hidden in the Heartland were in Ohio and Chautauqua County.

“I have looked more at the human picture of immigration,” she said. “Surprisingly, my biggest challenge wasn’t getting people to talk to me. I love doing the interviews and research. Everyone has a story. It’s hard on the families left behind in villages; they’re just empty. Among the youth in Ecuador and Mexico, there’s a high rate of suicides, teen pregnancy and alcoholism.”

Not only will Diggs share some of her stories from Hidden in the Heartland, but she will also open the floor to a discussion about citizenship and legal issues, including the executive actions on immigration that President Barack Obama announced on Nov. 20, 2014, and the temporary injunction issued by the federal court on Feb. 16.

Having grown up in Louisville, Kentucky, Diggs is currently writing a book she is calling Leaving Appalachia: The Other Great Migration. Diggs said she has been impressed with the closeness of the families, their non-confrontational attitudes and their strong sense of place. She is also concerned about discrimination against this invisible minority.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in French at Case Western Reserve University and translating French, Spanish and German for many years, Diggs earned a Master of Humanities from Wright State University and a doctorate in East Asian Studies from the Union Institute & University in Cincinnati.

A special interest in Japanese culture led to a number of homestays and some travel within Japan, and yielded three books: Looking Behind the Mask: When American Women Marry Japanese Men, Steel Butterflies: Japanese Women and the American Experience, and Meet the Japanese.

“The best part of writing books is getting all the information in there and molding it into something and getting my message out,” Diggs said. “I do it because I want to know and I’m curious. As a friend of mine said, ‘You’ll never grow old if you have that bump of curiosity.’ I’ve got that bump.”



Posted: Dayton Daily News, 12:00 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015

By Sharon Short – Contributing Writer

“It seems to me that so many books focus on how one’s fate is sealed by the socio-economic role one is born into,” says author and Kettering resident Nancy Diggs. “But what I’ve learned from research, from interviewing subjects and writing about their stories is that our paths are not sealed by the circumstances we’re born into.”

Nancy’s books explore the impact of one’s culture on individual development and choices.

Most recently, “Breaking the Cycle: How Schools Can Overcome Urban Challenges,” focused on Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) and the stories of the students, teachers and administrators; the book was published in 2013 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

“The underlying message of that book was ‘don’t write off inner city kids.’ With the right schools and grit, these kids can accomplish a lot, and that’s what we’re seeing already with DECA graduates,” Nancy says, “many of whom are now returning to the community to help make it even better.”

Two years before her book on DECA, Nancy’s book “Hidden in the Heartland: The New Wave of Immigrants and the Challenge to America” was published by Michigan State University Press.

Nancy is passionate about all of her projects, but perhaps most so about “Heartland.”

“Immigration is so very much in the news,” Nancy says, “So of all my books, this one seems to get the most attention. The book focuses on the lives of undocumented immigrants in our region — the human stories that the numbers don’t show. My goal is to be objective and neutral in my reporting on the issues, but I’m fascinated by the bravery that many of these immigrants show in navigating through life.”

Renowned sociologist and author Richard Alba provided a quote for the book cover: “This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand both sides of a vital national debate.”

Nancy grew up in Louisville and says she had a fascination with foreign languages “even as a young kid.” She majored in French, completing her bachelor’s at Case Western Reserve University. After her husband’s job brought both him and her to Dayton, she earned a Master of Humanities in Eastern Studies from Wright State University, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in the same subject from Union University.

Nancy loves to travel; in fact, she’s visited every continent, and spent several years living in France. Her theses for her Masters and Ph.D. programs focused on Japanese culture, in particular women and how they communicate with their husbands; both theses became the basis for two books.

Nancy also interviewed her 100-year-old neighbor and co-authored her biography.

“I love talking with people and listening to their stories,” Nancy says, “which is ironic because the hardest part for me of any project is to overcome my natural shyness and make that first contact. But once I do, I find that everyone is kind and helpful. While it’s important to respect the privacy of the people one is interviewing, I find everyone has a story, and most are eager to share it once you get to know them.”

For her next project, Nancy says, “I’m originally from central Kentucky, which is not part of Appalachia, but I’ve always been interested in Appalachian culture and the emphasis put on the family unit. Yet, over the years so many individuals have had to move away from their Appalachian roots for work. I’m interested in exploring how that affects both the individual and the family unit.”


How does globalization affect immigration?

Editor’s note: Jeff Bourasa, a teacher at Fairmont High School, and his students came up with these questions about migration in today’s world. Published in the The Dayton Daily News, “Opinions”, April 25, 2007:

Nancy Brown Diggs, Ph.D., has published four books on international topics, as well as the forthcoming Hidden in the Heartland: The New Wave of Immigrants and the Challenge to America.

This week’s participants: Beavercreek High School students [Anu Menon, Ben Hoffman, Betty Bai, and Margaret Nevrekar] posed questions to Nancy Brown Diggs, who has published four books on international topics.

Migration in today’s world is closely tied to globalization, and immigration has become a controversial subject in many countries, not just the United States.

Q Recent immigration bills introduced in Congress have included controversial sections that will provide amnesty to some illegal immigrants. What effect does amnesty have on immigration, and why is it such a controversial issue?

A In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act granted amnesty to more than 3 million undocumented immigrants. This encouraged others to come to the U.S. illegally in the hope that they, too, would eventually be granted amnesty. Come they did.

Read more


Kettering Vacationers Achieve ‘Bucket List’ Goal, Matt and Nancy Diggs Share Utah Travel Advice

By Nancy Brown Diggs, Contributing Writer
Published in the Dayton Daily News, April 27, 2007


Books like Patricia Schultz’s “1,000 Things to See Before You Die” or the movie “The Bucket List” urge us to see and do everything while we can.

It’s a message I’ve taken to heart. Usually it’s my husband, Matt, who plans our adventures, he who over 50 years ago promised to love, honor, and push me to do things I’m scared to do.

I’m the one who had always wanted to visit a slot canyon. I longed to leave my Kettering home and travel West to be a part of those luminous sculptures, where sunlight magically alters colors and contours. I wanted to bask in their radiance, I wanted to run my hand along the curving surfaces.

I discovered that there are more than 75 slot canyons in Utah alone, and Escalante is the best location for exploring them.

This remote town, population about 800, has few amenities. Take medical services, for example. When we were there, the clinic was staffed two days a week; those with serious injuries would have to be helicoptered out to St. George 180 miles away.

Read more


Helping in Haiti: Extreme Poverty Hinders Recovery

By Nancy Brown Diggs
This article appeared in the April 2011 issue of “Interchange”

HaitiI thought I’d see poverty before. After all, I’d volunteered in Ecuador and rural Romania, visited Russia with the Miami Valley Episcopal Russian Network, and seen many other impoverished areas of the world, including our own inner cities. Nothing prepared me, however, for the vast misery In post-earthquake Haiti.

Trash lines the street, shacks are cobbled together with pieces of tin or whatever material is available, and miles of crowded and hot tent cities house whole families in miniscule spaces.  Our comfortable rooms at a guest house, while shabby, seemed luxurious by comparison.

With its average life expectancy of 52 years, annual income of around $400 and 50% unemployment, Haiti’s abject poverty translates into little or no medical facilities, let alone dental care.  South Carolina based CHAP—the Christian Haitian American Partnership—seeks to remedy this. Under the leadership of Dr. Jeanne Fourrier, a periodontist from South Carolina, our group of twelve from Arizona, Arkansas, and Ohio, as well as South Carolina, included three dentists, a pharmacist, a nurse, and an optometrist. Anglican bishop Thomas Johnston (“T.J.”) from South Carolina contributed his experience gained from many sojourns in the country.

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Author Analyzes Ilegal Immigration in US

By Adele Koehnen, Contributing Writer
August 8, 2012 by The Chautauquan Daily

Nancy Diggs was on jury duty for a case involving the equal rights of two Costa Rican immigrants, not United States citizens. An interesting experience for any juror, but for writer Diggs it became the theme for a book.

“I wanted to learn more about today’s problem with unscrupulous employers who hire immigrant workers with no recourse to defend themselves against little wages and deplorable conditions. It’s illegal and unfair to companies trying to honestly compete, plus being unfair to American workers,” she said.

The book is titled Hidden in the Heartland; The New Wave of Immigrants and the Challenge to America. It puts a human face on the cold statistics of the 12 million illegal people in our country’s population.

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Undocumented Immigrants Pose Challenges, Bring Narratives to America

By Joanna Hamer, Staff Writer
August 8, 2012 by The Chautauquan Daily

Nancy Brown Diggs is always amazed at how willing people are to tell their stories. An author and co-author of six books, Diggs was particularly surprised by the forthrightness of those she interviewed for her latest book, Hidden in the Heartland: The New Wave of Immigrants and the Challenge to America.

Diggs will present her most recent book at 2:30 p.m. today in the Smith Memorial Library Meeting Room, reading excerpts, giving updates on the situation and participating in a discussion. Her presentation title is “Hidden in the Heartland: A Conversation about Immigration Experiences, Policy and Reform in America.”

She first confronted the topic of undocumented immigrants face to face when she was chosen for jury duty in a case involving two undocumented Costa Rican brothers accusing an Appalachian man of theft.

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Listen to the Interview