In his bestselling book, Thomas Frank asked the immortal question, “What’s the matter with Kansas?”

As someone who has spent time there I can answer, “A lot.” (Just kidding, all my Kansas friends; go Jayhawks!).

In any case, this story about one Kansas county, and the Hispanics who live there, recently caught my attention. There are so many elements at play in this one tale that I’m devoting a whole post to hyperanalyzing it.

First, the story points out that Finney County (population: 40,998) has just turned majority-minority. This means that over half the residents of this fine heartland community are not white (there is also a large Asian population present). Finney County thus joins the ten percent of U.S. counties to have this distinction – and yes, the number is growing. The gist of the story is that this change is happening in (gasps all around) the middle of the country, and is not just contained to wacky California and big old rambling Texas.

I’ve written before about the changing demographics of America, and what this means for the future. Whole books have been, and no doubt will be, written about what the United States will look like in the future, when the name Rodriguez is considered just as all-American as O’Malley. But it’s worth noting this fresh proof out of Kansas that the process is underway and irreversible.

Also, the article casually mentions that Hispanics have lived in Finney County for “more than 100 years.” This gives some context to the vitriol that Latinos are suddenly swarming into America and undermining traditional values. Sorry, but it’s clear that Hispanics have, for decades now, helped build the country, and this process is only accelerating.

Speaking of that, the fabled Latino work ethic makes an appearance in the story. As I’ve stated before, it’s not always an intrinsically good thing that Hispanics often labor like demons.

In fact, we don’t have to read far into the article before encountering the words “massive meatpacking plants,” which is a phrase inherent in any story about growing Latino populations in small towns. Is it really such a great thing that the shit jobs go to Hispanics, who are only too willing to take them because of their strong drive to work, work, work?


This relates to another topic I’ve touched upon in these posts: the antipathy that too many Hispanics feel toward education. One reason for this is the intense focus placed upon work, especially of the manual type. In fact, one Hispanic resident says that many of his fellow Latinos “tell their kids they don’t need to go to college because this is a good life.” Let’s be blunt: Asian and Indian immigrants don’t say things like that to their kids, and it shows.

Finally, the article touches upon the changes that occur and the tensions that arise when the culture shifts. Or as the article breathlessly states, “This Midwest enclave, home to hamburgers and hot dogs, is giving way to… Mexican tacos.”

Let’s set aside the fact that plenty of Hispanics like hamburgers and hot dogs (I myself am partial to bratwurst, but that’s another story). How are some of the white inhabitants of Finney County adjusting? Well, one resident says, “There were always whispers. Out at Wal-Mart, you hear, ‘Oh, look at how they’re dressed… wonder where they’re from, what they’re doing here?’ Especially if they weren’t speaking English.”

What’s funny is that, apparently, some of the longtime residents of the county don’t appreciate the cliché of an exotically dressed person jabbering away in a crazy language. So their solution is to become an even bigger cliché by whispering, “What are they doing here?” in the Wal-Mart aisle. I can only hope that they spit out a wad of tobacco before adding, “Damn foreigners are taking over!”

But it’s not all angry glares in town, veiled animosity on the street, and awkward moments at the superstore. Another resident says that it’s “nice to have those different cultures.” Another advises to offer “open arms to people that come in your community because they might be the person that’s going to help you when you have times of struggle.”

That same resident says that everyone should “just try to be a good person” to others, regardless of their differences.

His comments amaze me. Who let that radical in?


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June 2009
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