Homeland: the documentary

Monday, July 16, 2012

The documentary film "Homeland: Immigration in America," which has been prepared by the Nine News Network in St. Louis, looks at Monett's experience with its Hispanic community. The filmmakers were particularly impressed by how well Monettans and their new neighbors have gotten along.

Coming from another area, the filmmakers bring a different point of view to their subject, no matter how many local people they talk to. The "Homeland" narrative asserts that the addition of the Hispanic community helped fuel a "revival" in Monett.

Generally, a revival represents an upswing after a notable and well documented downturn. Monett never had one of those downturns. The last 20 years have represented rather steady growth in the community, and the housing boom had very little to do with the immigrant community.

However, Monett has had another pattern that supports the revival pattern. Monett's long history of having more jobs than people to fill them created difficulties for industries trying to move forward. There were holes to fill, and ongoing efforts to find people for those spots.

The immigrant population gradually filled the vacancies, bolstered the factory shifts and enabled manufacturers to grow their operations. This represents internal growth rather than recovering from a downturn, something the public as large may never have seen.

Plus, the new immigrants didn't create the empty storefronts downtown. They filled them.

Downtowns have had a tough time in the past 15 years. The quantity of stores in Monett's downtown, no matter what they are, has kept Monett's downtown healthier than every other small town in southwest Missouri, even better than the squares of bigger towns like Neosho and Carthage.

Comparisons of downtowns since the 2008 economic downturn hardly paint a fair picture for anyone. Monett's share of empty storefronts is at a high level these days, which is why the DREAM and Main Street efforts are underway. But it would be worse without the Hispanic businesses. That may not constitute a revival, but it represents a greater strength than we had before.

The people I spoke to on the Nine News team, even an intern who had no great investment in the project, felt Monett came across in a very positive light in the "jobs" hour of the three-part Homeland series. Every community struggles to make a different immigrant population part of the whole community. Monett has done better than many. We're pleased to be able to tell our story.