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 [on Appalachia]. 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 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.”

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