Meatpacking-town immigrants impact economies
March 16, 2010
by Bryan Salvage
AMES, IOWA – Gerardo Sandoval, Iowa State University assistant professor of community and regional planning, wrote a new book about the revitalization of a downtown Los Angeles immigrant community. Information in the book, however, indicates similar global relationships are at play in rural Iowa's meatpacking communities, according to an Iowa State University press release.
Towns like Perry and Postville, Iowa, which have growing immigrant populations, are on "the cutting edge of globalization," he said. Mr. Sandoval's book, titled "Immigrants and the Revitalization of Los Angeles: Development and Change in MacArthur Park," explains how a distressed, low-income immigrant neighborhood turned a large-scale redevelopment project to its advantage. The book is based on Sandoval's doctoral dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley, which received the 2009 Barclay Gibbs Jones Award for Best Dissertation in Planning from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning.
"The same mechanisms, economic structures and influences bring immigrants to large cities and to small towns," Mr. Sandoval said. "Here in Iowa, it's all on a smaller scale, a microcosm of what I saw in Los Angeles.
"In Iowa, however, these trends are magnified and you can easily see and measure the economic, social and cultural impacts that immigrants have on these towns," he added.
"The people who are reinvesting in these towns are the Latino immigrants. They build their own stores, and open new businesses that cater directly to the immigrants," he continued.
Postville, Iowa, home to the nation's largest, kosher meatpacking plant, was greatly affected in May 2008 during the largest immigration raid in U.S. history. Nearly 400 undocumented workers were arrested. Most were deported; others detained.
Mr. Sandoval is focused on the transnational connection between Postville and two tiny towns in the mountains of Guatemala. El Rosario and Calderas supplied most of Postville's immigrant workers. Last summer, Mr. Sandoval spent three weeks in these towns, interviewing residents, government officials, politicians and others.
"I'm trying to reconstruct a narrative of what happened to the Guatemalan communities," he said. "I'll show the economic, social and political connections, how they were linked with Postville, and what happened when those links were broken so abruptly and completely.”
When Postville workers sent thousands of dollars each month back to their families in Guatemala during the years, the towns changed dramatically. Houses made of the traditional sugarcane were rebuilt of concrete. New businesses opened. The local governments started investing in basic infrastructure. The towns began to prosper.
"Then the remittances stopped over night. And that pretty much decimated the towns," he said. "I don't see them coming back either."
He said that whenever there are immigration raids in the U.S., the "feeder" towns in Latin America also experience the repercussions. "As a case study, everything about Postville is so dramatic,” he added. “It's a small scale, but the impacts are magnified. I think this case could easily provide important lessons to the national discourse on immigration."