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The Next America - Politics 2012 / NEXT AMERICA

The Migration of Diversity Beyond City Limits—PICTURES

photo of Doris Nhan
May 18, 2012

The changing demographic landscape in America is giving way to a growth of diversity that's becoming a familiar song in some rather unexpected places.

In small towns such as Marshalltown and Postville, both in Iowa, communities grapple with a collision of cultures. In the cover story for the first issue of The Next America, an editorial initiative by National Journal, Maribel Hastings takes a look at the effects of diversity in such places that have not historically experienced it.

About half of U.S. Hispanics are concentrated in 10 metropolitan areas, but nearly two-thirds of the past decade’s Hispanic population growth occurred outside of those areas. As a result, diversity is shifting the landscape in places most unfamiliar with it, including small towns such as Marshalltown, Iowa. At St. Mary’s Church in Marshalltown, nearly 70 percent of the parish is Hispanic.(Ralf-Finn Hestoft)

Although the majority of these small Midwestern towns are still largely white, the growth of Hispanic residents in these areas is growing at a faster rate than whites. Over the last decade, Iowa’s white population contracted by 1 percentage point, while Hispanics increased by 2.3 points. The changes, though spread over a decade, are often felt most prominently in the towns’ churches and schools.(Ralf-Finn Hestoft)

The collision of cultures has created connections—and clashes. Even in spite of rising tensions, people in Marshalltown agree on one thing, says Ken Anderson, president of the town’s Chamber of Commerce. “What has evolved over time is the realization of our indigenous population that they [Latinos] are in fact an economic force for everyday living.”(Ralf-Finn Hestoft)


By 2050, people of color will represent a majority of the entire population. Across the nation, reactions to demographic changes have included growing anti-immigrant sentiment and racial profiling. But however high profile these have been, efforts have also been made to fight for better understanding—and acceptance—of the changes. In Marshalltown, community members are actively working to integrate and promote diversity within their town.(Ralf-Finn Hestoft)

One thing is for certain: Interethnic relationships, connections and understanding are absolutely possible. One example is Guatamalan immigrant Rosa Zamora and her family, who befriended Quaker farmer Priscilla Sliwa after they met at a Postville, Iowa, event. Here, the family shares a meal with Sliwa at her farm near Decorah, Iowa.(Ralf-Finn Hestoft)

Zamora has two young daughters, one born in Guatemala and the other in the U.S., both of whom refer to Sliwa as Grandma. “This immigrant story is the story of all of us, and together we are a stronger country,” Sliwa says.(Ralf-Finn Hestoft)

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