Friday, June 15, 2012

Last Sunday's Kansas City Star ran a major feature on the southwest Missouri community of Noel. The vacation spot and river floating refuge has become known for something else of late: immigrants.

Hispanics have long worked at the Tyson Foods complex in Noel. Rural McDonald County has also become home for much of southwest Missouri's Hmong population. In the four years, Noel has also seen a major influx of Somalis and their families who had worked at the beef processing plant, Tyson, which closed in Emporia, Kan.

The influx of diverse people has caused changes. School Superintendent Mark Stanton has his comments at public meetings translated into four languages. The mosque set up in a former Mexican restaurant is one of a number of cultural reflections prompting mixed reactions from the local residents.

To its credit, The Star offered a multi-layered account of the situation. Many are impressed by hard working immigrants trying to make a better life for their families. Many don't like the strangers and the cultural ingredients they bring to the community.

Noel is not far from Monett.

Granted, Monett's introduction to a multi-cultural community has not been without its bumps. The brightly colored buildings here and there reflect an expression of vitality unfamiliar to longstanding residents. The language barrier has diminished but still remains.

All of that could quickly become even more challenging if another seriously different culture come to town.

David Young, the complex manager at the Monett Tyson Foods plant, said a sudden migration of a new culture seeking employment by Tyson in Monett was less likely to occur.

"You tend to see significant ethnicity shifts when you do significant ramp-up hiring, where you are looking for dozens of new team members at a time," Young said. "Here at Monett, we are stable and tend to hire one or two team members per week.

"As a business that conducts business with the U.S. government, there are strict guidelines for hiring practices and anti-discrimination rules that must be followed," Young continued. "I can say that our complex does not recruit any specific nationality. The only hiring bias I am currently aware of would be giving our veterans a first look and holding active duty veterans jobs while serving.

"I would agree that meat and poultry processing operations tend to be more diversified," Young added. "Part of that is the culture of acceptance. If you are willing to work and do a good job, we can work through the cultural differences."

The Monett School District has led the way in showing how to educate children from other backgrounds. The formula will continue to work, despite the taxing of resources any small school district faces in dealing with a very diverse population.

Monett has become a multi-cultural community with greater ease than many towns. The residents deserve a lot of credit for proving their neighborliness is sincere. Greater challenges may be on the horizon. With patience and concern, one day at a time, we can continue on that path.