MVC exhibit and presentation highlight Latino integration of rural midwest

Thursday, September 10, 2015
An exhibit celebrates National Hispanic Heritage month at Murrell Library at Missouri Valley College, Wednesday, Sept. 9. The exhibit, "Voces Americanas: Latino Literature in the United States," can be viewed in the library's reading room during the month of September. (Aron Hustead/Democrat-News)

"Cambio" is Spanish for "change," and rural communities across the Midwest continue to see a cambio in rural culture.

Saline County, as well as most neighboring counties, have seen a more than 50 percent increase in the Hispanic population from 2000 to 2010, according to the US Census Bureau.

Stephen Jeanetta, interim director of the Cambio Center at the University of Missouri, spoke about the challenges and the progress made my Latino immigrants in rural communities Wednesday night, Sept. 9 at Missouri Valley College's Murrell Library.

Stephen Jeanetta, Interim Director of the Cambio Center at the University of Missouri, discusses the integration of Latinos into rural midwest culture at Missouri Valley College's Murrell Library Wednesday night, Sept. 9. (Arron Hustead/Democrat-News)

During his presentation, "Changing Rural Places, Changing Rural Faces: The Integration of Rural Newcomers in Missouri," Jeanetta said many rural communities in Missouri, like Marshall, have seen a significant increase in Hispanic population since the 1990s. Much of this population change can be attributed to changes in the work force in the fields of agro-processing, manufacturing and the service sector.

"A lot of it had to do with just the change in the agriculture processing, moving out of the cities into the rural areas, and the unions disappeared too, and that was in the 80s sometime," Jeanetta said. "So, you started to see a different kind of labor force working in the agro-processing and so that drove a lot of it, but you also have places like Branson and others where you have this massive influx of business around tourism. And there's all these support industries that need labor, and so we've had a lot of immigrants moving in there."

Though those changes brought about an increase in the residential Latino population, Jeanetta said there is a long-standing history of migrant immigrants working in the area.

"We've always had some migrant immigrant(s) working in the bootheel and then coming up through this area to work in the orchards and stuff and then continuing off up into the Northwest," Jeanetta said.

Jeanetta, along with other University of Missouri professors at the Cambio Center, study the integration process as these newcomers seek to fit into their new communities. The center's integration study project uses a mixed-methods research design to study acculturation as it occurs in both newcomers and long-term residents of integrating Midwestern communities.

"We did a bunch of focus groups," Jeanetta said. "We did life history interviews, and we did a photo voice project -- this was a lot of fun. We kind of gave them a couple of questions about what it was like for them to move in and take picture in the community that kind of represented their answers to those questions."

Surveys have also played a role in the center's project. Their study has found that nearly 70 percent of respondents to their surveys said their life had improved after moving to their new community. However, in many cases there were barriers to the integration process that had to be overcome, such as the language skills and legal status of newcomers. Spanish speaking newcomers also struggled to find information about the community because in these areas there were no newspapers or city information printed in Spanish to keep them informed.

Jeanetta said that newcomers who spoke Spanish and English tended to make more money than those speaking just Spanish.

"They are doing some change in adaptation to the host culture," Jeanetta said. "Some are learning a little bit of English, some are not. Their kids, the younger people, typically do a lot better, easier at that than adults. I mean, if you're working in some of these plants too, which is why a lot of folks come here -- they're working 10, 12 hours a day, six days a week -- you're not having a lot of time, or even if you do have time, you don't have the energy to pick up another language."

As a feature during National Hispanic Heritage Month, the Murrell Library is presenting an exhibit, "Voces Americanas: Latino Literature in the United States," in its reading room for the duration of September. The tabletop exhibit is produced by Humanities Texas and poses a celebratory survey of literary works by those of Hispanic heritage in the past 30 years. Included among the exhibit are many books and movies available for checkout to MVC students.

Library Director Pam Reeder said this was the first time the library had displayed an exhibit for National Hispanic Heritage Month in nearly 10 years.

"I think it's the one about immigration, because that seems to be a very hot topic now -- not just here, but overseas with the Syrian refugees," Reeder said. "That's kind of timely, actually, so if we can kind of focus on the generalities of it, then maybe that will open some eyes."

The exhibit is free and open to the public.

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