Compared to many other states, Mississippi has experienced relatively little foreign immigration over the course of its modern history. Nevertheless, the state does have several immigrant communities whose members have faced unique conditions and problems. Vietnamese and Mexican immigrants began to increase in numbers during the late twentieth century.

Mississippi has always had much lower levels of immigration than most of the rest of the United States. However, its immigrant population began to growing more rapidly toward the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century, particularly along the state’s Gulf coast. Among the earliest immigrants to the state, who began arriving during the first half of the nineteenth century, Germans and Irish figured most prominently. Members of these groups generally entered the United States through the port of New Orleans, Louisiana, and then moved eastward to enter Mississippi. Many of the early German-speaking immigrants were Jews from the Austro-Hungarian Empire[AustroHungarian Empire]Austro-Hungarian Empire fleeing religious oppression in their native land.MississippiMississippi[cat]STATES;Mississippi[03550]

Late Nineteenth Century Immigration

After the U.S. Civil War ended in 1865, Chinese immigrants;MississippiChinese immigrants began entering Mississippi, particularly in the state’s Delta region. As newly freed African Americans;in Mississippi[Mississippi]African American slaves in that region began trying to better their lives during the Reconstruction era (1865-1877), many of them not only attempted to assert their political rights but also started moving among plantations in search of higher wages. Plantation owners sought to reduce their dependence on the labor of former slaves by campaigning to bring in Chinese workers, believing that Asian laborers would be easier to control than their former slaves. However, many of the Chinese workers who came to Mississippi proved less tractable than expected by abandoning agricultural work and establishing small stores.

Manuel, a five-year-old shrimp-picker who understands no English, stands amid a mountain of oyster shells at a Biloxi, Mississippi, company in 1911.

(Library of Congress/Lewis Wickes Hine)

The end of Reconstruction in the late 1870’s also saw the reestablishment of white dominance over black Mississippians, reducing the demand of white plantation owners for Chinese manual labor. This development increased opportunities for the Chinese to become members of what sociologists would later call a “middleman minority”“Middle man minority”[middle man minority];Chinese–people who purchased wholesale goods from white suppliers and resold them to a customer base that included many African Americans;in Mississippi[Mississippi]African Americans. Often these Mississippi Chinese immigrants became caught in the middle in another sense under the regime of segregation, fitting neither the categories of “black” nor “white” in Mississippi society.

Another group of foreign immigrants who began settling in Mississippi during the half century following the U.S. Civil War was Arab Lebanese immigrants;MississippiLebanese immigrants. The Lebanese found work in the state mainly as peddlers, traveling from place to place selling goods. They established communities in some of the larger cities, such as Vicksburg, Jackson, and Clarksdale.

Late Twentieth Century Arrivals

Through most of the years between the end of World War I in 1918 and the twenty-first century, foreign immigration to Mississippi remained extremely low. However, the growth of the seafood industry along the Gulf coast did attract some Italian immigrants;MississippiItalian immigrants, who came mainly by way of New Orleans;Italian immigrantsNew Orleans. During the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Vietnamese immigrants;MississippiVietnamese refugees who had resettled in the South began moving to Mississippi’s Gulf coast, especially around Biloxi, MississippiBiloxi, seeking work in the seafood-processing industry. As these Southeast Asian immigrants settled in the region during the 1980’s, they entered the fishing and shrimping industry, which became an ethnic niche business for them. During the following decade, Gulf coast Vietnamese moved into a new ethnic occupational concentration as Vietnamese immigrants;and casino gambling[casino gambling]casino Gambling;and Vietnamese immigrants[Vietnamese
gambling became a major industry that provided them with jobs. However, at the same time this new industry provided them with employment, it also drove up housing prices within the areas in which they had settled.

The 1990’s also saw a significant increase in the Mexican immigrants;MississippiMexican population of Mississippi, and Mexicans became the state’s fastest-growing immigrant population during the early twenty-first century. Members of this group tended to concentrate in the construction and restaurant industries. Damage wrought by Hurricane KatrinaHurricane Katrina along the Gulf coast, particularly to the Gulfport-Biloxi region in August, 2005, greatly increased the need for workers in the building trades, thereby attracting more Mexican immigrants to the construction industry. The arrival of these new immigrants also brought new problems. An unknown but apparently substantial number of these Mexican immigrant workers were undocumented, and some of the immigrants reported problems in being paid for their work by contractors.Mississippi

Further Reading

  • Bond, Bradley G., ed. Mississippi: A Documentary History. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005.
  • Do, Hien Duc. The Vietnamese Americans. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.
  • Durrenberger, E. Paul. Gulf Coast Soundings: People and Policy in the Mississippi Shrimp Industry. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1996.
  • Herrmann, Denise von, ed. Resorting to Casinos: The Mississippi Gambling Industry. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006.

African Americans and immigrants


Arab immigrants


Chinese immigrants

German immigrants


Mexican immigrants

Mississippi River

Vietnamese immigrants