The basic structure of Tennessee’s population was set during the colonial era, when most of its residents were British settlers and African slaves. Other Europeans immigrated then and during the nineteenth century, but their numbers were never great. During the last decades of the twentieth century, the state began undergoing a transformation, as substantial numbers of Asians and Hispanics began entering the state.
The earliest European settlers of Tennessee were primarily of
Other immigrants sought more bucolic attractions. During the 1840’s, dozens of German and
Substantial foreign immigration to Tennessee has been largely a late twentieth century development. Indeed, much occurred during the 1990’s and first decade of the twenty-first century, particularly during the economic boom of the 1990’s. In contrast to earlier eras, many of the new immigrants have been nonwhite–a trend that has challenged Tennessee’s image as a predominately white and black society.
A large portion of Tennessee’s most recent immigrants have been Asians. Skilled and well-educated
An increasingly diverse city, Nashville has become noted for its
As in earlier times, most of the growth in immigrant populations has been in Tennessee’s large cities. However, there have been exceptions to this pattern. For example,
During the first decade of the twenty-first century, Tennessee also had one of the nation’s fastest-growing Hispanic populations. Indeed, between 1990 and 2000, the state’s 278 percent increase in Hispanic residents ranked it fourth in the South in the rate of increase. Most of Tennessee’s Hispanic immigrants have been Mexicans, but representatives of other Latin American nationalities have also come to the state. Most Hispanic residents have been employed in agriculture, the construction trades, and in the distribution and service sectors. The increase in the Hispanic population has been especially evident in some rural areas, in which the immigrants have found agricultural work. For example, Hamblen County in east Tennessee saw its Hispanic population triple between 1990 and 2000. By 2008, Hispanic residents constituted 5.7 percent of the country’s total population. The largest concentration of Hispanics, however, has been in Middle Tennessee, around the Nashville-Davidson County Metropolitan Area. A large but unknown number of these immigrants are undocumented.
Berkeley, Kathleen C. “Ethnicity and Its Implications for Southern Urban History: The Saga of Memphis, Tennessee, 1850-1880.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 50 (1991): 193-202. Dykeman, Wilma. Tennessee: A History. New York: W. W. Norton, 1984. Ray, Celeste, ed. The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Vol. 6. Ethnicity. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007. Van West, Carol, ed. The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Nashville: Tennessee Historical Society, 1998.