Growing up in a small Iowa town with a meat-packing plant, intersections of culture would become a theme of my childhood. By the time I was in high school, Columbus Junction, once a primarily white farming community, was home to 13 different Latino cultures. While there were tensions and growing pains, as there are anywhere new populations move in, the town slowly ebbed and flexed to meet the needs of its citizens, adding new social services, a soccer team, and supporting over a dozen Hispanic and Latino stores and businesses within our mainstreet district.
In the early 2000s, the packing plant, now Tyson, began to recruit and resettle Chin Burmese refugees, many of whom were escaping persecution and great hardship. Once again, the town absorbed and accepted change — most notably, the Methodist church gave the entire Chin community space for their services on Sunday afternoons. Even when misunderstandings arose (for example the unexplained red stains in the pews that were eventually identified as leftover spit of betel nut chew), the community found a way forward together. Working it out became a way of life in a place that was constantly evolving.
Columbus Junction wasn’t the only meatpacking town in Iowa, and between seasonal agricultural work and the many processing plants, the Midwest’s immigrant population was growing exponentially. Thousands of new residents each year joined our Iowa communities, and that meant tens of thousands of life stories intersecting, a diverse tapestry of populations and histories woven together across the state.