Oklahoma’s Latinos Join Recovery Effort Amid State’s Cultural Change

Citizenship has become a key factor in people's decisions about whether or not to seek help in recovery.

By Jamilah King May 28, 2013

Back in 2011, CNN reported on the culture clash between Oklahoma’s white residents and its fast-growing Latino population. Like many parts of the country, Oklahoma’s population is growing a lot browner. The number of Latinos in the state has doubled over the past decade, from 179,000 to more than 332,000. 

That cultural shift hasn’t been easy. State lawmakers have passed some of the country’s harshest immigration legislation. Senator Ralph Shortey (R-Ok.) summed up some up the backlash, telling CNN that Latinos "are not assimilating and enriching the culture of Oklahoma. They are invading the culture…Oklahoma is not the melting pot…(Latinos are) not doing their culture any favors when it’s shoved into Oklahomans’ faces."

It’s within that context that NPR’s Code Switch blog looked at how some undocumented Latino residents are fairing in the aftermath of last week’s devestating tornado, which struck just outside of Oklahoma City. Citizenship has become a key factor in people’s decisions about whether or not to seek help in recovery, and even the storm itself has unveiled some of the barriers faced by the country’s millions of undocumented immigrants.

From Code Switch:

"It’s stressful," Amelia says in Spanish.

Amelia cleans offices to support her and her 8-year-old daughter. They lived in a trailer home in Moore that was in the path of last week’s tornado. When the storm came through town, Amelia rushed to pick her daughter up from Plaza Towers Elementary School. They then took cover under a bridge. Amelia says it’s a miracle they survived, but they still lost nearly everything.

"I was desperate," Amelia says, "But also afraid to ask for help."

But she knew she had no choice but to take the risk. It took her three days to build up her courage. Then she got in her car, talked to church volunteers and went to a public health clinic for counseling. She even approached an official and asked how the government could help rebuild her life. She says she can’t imagine having done any of this before the tornado.

Read more about Latinos in Oklahoma’s storm recovery efforts over at Code Switch