First Trip to Eastern Shore for Migrant Health Research

I made the first trip out to the Eastern Shore to meet with providers who work with migrant and immigrant communities. I started with a stop in Crisfield, a city in Somerset County, Maryland. Crisfield is the southernmost incorporated city in Maryland and has a population of roughly 2,700 people. It’s famous for its seafood and has the only hospital, McCready Memorial Hospital, in Somerset County. In Crisfield, I interviewed folks at the Crisfield Clinic, a full-service family practice.

Crisfield, MD Crisfield, MD

Crisfield Clinic Crisfield Clinic

After an amazingly good seafood lunch in Crisfield, I headed up north to Westover, MD to interview providers at the Somerset County Health Department. From both sets of interviews, I learned that there are two main types of immigrant/migrant communities in the area: 1) a more settled immigrant community whose members work in tomato packing, construction and other types of unskilled day-labor positions and 2) a mobile/migratory population that travels from Florida each season to pick tomato crops on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, directly south of Somerset County. Virginia ranks third in the nation in tomato production, behind Florida and California. Virginia’s annual crop is valued at $60 million – 95 percent of it grown on the Eastern Shore. Tomatoes have to be hand picked.

tomato crops tomato crops

Lunch in Crisfield Lunch in Crisfield

After the interviews, I headed down south to Chincoteague, VA. Chincoteague has a population of 3,000 people and is known for the wild Chincoteague ponies that reside on nearby Assateague Island. Chincoteague is in Accomack County, VA, one of the two counties that make up the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The Eastern Shore counties of Maryland and the Eastern Shore counties of Virginia make up much of the Delmarva Peninsula. The State of Delaware is also part of the Delmarva peninsula.

Wild ponies on Assateague Island Wild ponies on Assateague Island

Assateague Island lighthouse Assateague Island lighthouse

The Delmarva Peninsula The Delmarva Peninsula

After VA, I headed back into Maryland to meet with contacts in Salisbury, MD. What I learned is that I need to understand better the agricultural landscape and history of the lower Eastern Shore. This will help me understand how the agricultural history has shaped migration to the Eastern Shore and how it impacts current immigrant and migrant life in the area. My contacts also encouraged me to spend some time exploring the route from Maryland to southern Delaware where there are many chicken processing plants. So for the next couple of days, I explored this route from Maryland to Delaware.

Mountaire job billboard Mountaire job billboard

Mountaire's poultry plant separated only by a chain link fence from the Indian River School complex. Mountaire’s poultry plant separated only by a chain link fence from the Indian River School complex.

I understand that this is a lot of geography to cover! I am thinking at this point that I am going to focus on 3 counties on the Eastern Shore of Maryland: Somerset, Worcester, and Wimico. Most likely, I will also include Accomack County, Virginia because of its large immigrant and migrant populations who work in the poultry plants and in the tomato picking and packing industries.

A little background on the project: Migration to the Eastern Shore has been driven in large part by employment opportunities in seafood, livestock, and agriculture industries. In the past decade, the population of immigrants on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, particularly those who are Latino, has increased exponentially: 158% from 2000 to 2010, and in two counties the growth rate has exceeded 200%. Based a handful of studies conducted in this region, it seems that this growing Latino community is now establishing permanent roots rather than staying temporarily as seasonal migrant workers. As a result, the demographic makeup of the Latino population in these “new settlement” areas of the South (of which Maryland is included) is different from that of more established Latino communities across the country. Latinos in the Eastern Shore, like those in the South in general, are more likely to be young, male, unmarried, foreign-born and recently arrived; there is also a growing number of Haitian migrants living and working on the Eastern Shore as well. Many of these men (and a growing number of women) do not speak English and are undocumented. Despite the persistence of these issues and the rapid population growth, very little is known about these communities, their health needs, and the availability of health and related social services.

In April 2013, I conducted preliminary interviews with several key informants on the Eastern Shore including university researchers, local clinicians, and migrant health administrators who work directly with migrant health issues. This preliminary work allowed me to build rapport with multiple individuals who work with undocumented immigrants on the Eastern Shore and to gather support for further work in this area. This project builds on my expertise in immigrant health, social constructions of difference, and structural and social vulnerability related to immigration status. My previous work with Latino migrant workers and Haitian immigrants indicates a critical need to advance understandings of the complex relations between rights-based entitlement to health care and moral realm of health-related deservingness for immigrants.

Tomato plants in the fields Tomato plants in the fields

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