Friday, February 02, 2007

"Chain migration" in Florida and elsewhere.

Just in time for Groundhog Day, today's New York Times marks the annual southward migration of Snowbirds with a report on the striking pattern of "chain migration" in Florida:

It's not exactly regimentation, and there are plenty of exceptions to be found, but Florida's winter arrivals clearly like to settle in clumps. Even in the sunny South, they seem to want to be among their own - occupying turf in the company of their clans, their neighbors, their golf buddies and, in general, people who share the cadences of their accents and the colors of their license plates.

That's why the Miami area is called the Sixth Borough - and why Palm Beach County voters lamenting the weaknesses of the butterfly ballot in 2000 so often sounded like Long Islanders.

It's why Memphis families returning from spring break will be walking around with white sand from the Panhandle town of Destin (not Fort Myers, certainly not Miami) between their toes.

It's the reason two newspapers in French, with a Québécois tilt, are published in the Fort Lauderdale-area city of Hollywood and a big Quebec bank, Caisse populaire Desjardins, has started three branches nearby, complete with French-flashing A.T.M.'s.

New Englanders settle around Sarasota, and Philadelphians camp out nearby in Clearwater. Minnesotans congregate on Sanibel Island; Ohioans on the Gulf Coast east of Panama City. Carolinians find their own in Daytona.

In the beginning, all of this segmentation was a function of the Interstates. From the Midwest, the most direct route to Florida, I-75, goes to the West Coast. From the Northeast, I-95 follows the East Coast straight down to Miami. From Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia, it's a comfortable drive to the Panhandle.

Now, of course, you can board a flight to just about anywhere in Florida. But Northerners cling to the old patterns anyway.

"They're like birds," said John Tuccillo, an economist in Arlington, Va., who serves as a real estate consultant to businesses and government agencies. "They keep to their flyways." Demographers have a name for it: chain migration. "People who live near each other share information about where to retire, where to vacation," said Lance deHaven-Smith, a professor of public administraton at Florida State University in Tallahassee. "They tell their friends and neighbors, and then they end up in the same place."

To read the rest, click here. The story mostly confirms my own ancedotal impressions of the patterns of seasonal migration to the Sunshine State. It also seems to me that the phenomenon of "chain migration" isn't particular to retirees and vacationing families who go to Florida every year to flee the cold but may be applied to migration in general. A couple years ago, while doing some research on my own family history, I was struck by a detail often recorded on the passenger manifests of ships arriving at Ellis Island. One column on the manifest was reserved for each passenger's intended destination in the United States. From this, I got the impression that people very often ended up where they did because other people they knew had gone there before - in the case of my ancestors and relatives, their intended destination often read something like "home of sister, New Bedford, Mass." or "staying with cousin, New Bedford, Mass." At the same time, people from particular towns in the old country tended to congregate in the same American cities. Looking at the places of origin given for passengers on those same Ellis Island manifests, I came to realize that not only my ancestors but a great number of the Polish-surnamed people in the area where I grew up had roots in a single village in Poland, a place called Niebieszczany. I've found evidence of similar patterns in other places I've lived, including here in the Belmont section of the Bronx, the Italian residents of which seem to have common roots in the area around Naples. You may or may not find this whole phenomenon as interesting as I do, but one way or another I submit it to your attention. AMDG.


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