Building on diversity

10/12/2013

Summit explores area's multicultural identity.

Summit explores area's multicultural identity.

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

Garden City's multicultural summit got under way Friday morning at Garden City Community College, featuring a number of speakers and culture-related discussions during the day.

Keynote speaker Dr. Vivian Jackson, assistant professor and senior policy associate at the National Center for Cultural Competence at Georgetown University's Center for Child and Human Development, educated attendees about diversity and culture.

"We talk about cultural competence as a layer beyond the celebration of diversity, and it's nice to see that folks here are really kind of moving in the direction of making a difference, and making culture a part of that vehicle," she said.

Culture is learned and shared knowledge that groups use to generate their behavior and interpret their experiences of the world, involving a pattern of behavior that includes communication, rituals, roles, relationships, customs and languages to name a few, Jackson said.

"When you talk about culture, it's beyond the concept of race, ethnicity and national origin. Certainly, as we talk about diversity in this community, those are the three things I've been hearing. Culture takes that and more. It talks about the way groups organize themselves, perceive the universe and define themselves," Jackson said.

Culture applies to any type of group. Each person has roles — spouse, mother, occupation — and each of those communities has its own culture with its own language, rituals, traditions and practices, she said.

The other thing about culture is it is transmitted from cohort to cohort, and generation to generation.

"There's a way that we learn to be the way we be. It's not automatic. In some way, we are taught how to approach someone who is older or younger, how to say hello, all of these manners of interacting," she said.

The most visible things people notice about culture are when something is different than their own.

"We all live that way. We take our cultural lives for granted, and when we encounter someone who is different, we all go, 'You're different.' We don't say, 'I'm different.' And we often want to pull that person to be like us, instead of discovering what it is we can learn from the person who is not like us," Jackson said.

Jackson said cultural competence speaks more to the effectiveness of cross-cultural interactions. It requires organizations to have a defined set of values and principles, and demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, policies, structures and practices that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally.

She said the five elements of cultural competence include acknowledging cultural differences, understanding your own culture, engaging in self-assessment, acquiring cultural knowledge and skills and viewing behavior within a cultural context.

"We're all cultural beings. Not just those folks, over there. We're always operating out of our own cultural lens as we're encountering others who are operating out of their cultural lens," she said.

Donald Stull, a professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas where he has taught since 1975, talked about his research of Garden City's ethnic cultures over 20 years ago, and some of his new research and statistics over the past decade. Stull returned to Garden City earlier this year to study how the educational system is serving the needs of the city's diverse population.

From 1987 to 1990, Stull directed a team of six social scientists in a Ford Foundation study of changing ethnic relations in Garden City. After that, he worked in other communities that are home to beef, pork and poultry processing plants in Nebraska, Oklahoma and Kentucky, as well as consulted with a number of rural communities in the United States and Canada.

Stull said Garden City was the first of the multicultural boom towns to spread throughout the midwest in the 1980s, and to the southeast in the 1990s.

"Garden City is a prime example of what the U.S. Census Bureau now defines as micropolitan communities. Micropolitans are a blend of agricultural economies commonly associated with rural areas and immigration patterns typically associated with urban areas," he said.

Garden City and Finney County's protracted boom started in the early 1980s due to the opening of IBP and the ConAgra packing plants, fueled by migrants, immigrants and refugees who came to find work.

By 1987, Garden City was in the midst of a dramatic social and cultural transformation, Stull said. By 2000, the two local packing plants had a combined 5,300-person workforce, 90 percent of whom were hourly employees.

"As these two plants came on line in the early 1980s, the population of Garden City skyrocketed. Finney County became the fastest growing county in Kansas in the 1980s, increasing by 39 percent, and the second-fastest in the 1990s, at 22 percent," Stull said.

Garden City's population was 18,256 in 1980; 24,097 in 1990; and 28,451 by 2000. The county's population was 23,825 in 1980; 33,070 in 1990; and 40,253 in 2000.

The Hispanic population increased from 16 percent of the county's population in 1980 to 47 percent in 2010. The non-Hispanic white population declined from 82 percent in 1980 to 30 percent in 2010. At the same time, non-Hispanic whites have become more diverse as low-German speaking Mennonites entered southwest Kansas from northern Mexico.

However, Stull said, in December 2000, a fire closed the ConAgra plant, putting 2,300 people out of work, causing a dip in population, workers, average wages, and per capita income that has been slowly trying to recover over the past decade as employment opportunities have increased.

"The Tyson plant remains a magnet for those with little English who are not afraid of hard work. And these latest arrivals provide new challenges for a community with a long history of accommodating immigrants," Stull said.

Garden City schools dramatically reflect the change in demographics, he said.

"Visit the schools, and you'll see Burmese students sitting alongside Somalis and Latinos. Forty-eight percent of district students are English language learners," Stull said.

Hispanics now make up more than two-thirds of pupils, while non-Hispanic whites have declined to a quarter of the student population.

"Yet broad census categories such as 'Hispanic' mask the human tapestry that Garden City has become," Stull said.

The Hispanics counted in the 1980 census were Mexican-Americans with a deep history in Garden City, Stull said. The label "Hispanic" now encompasses those established residents, as well as new immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Cuba.

Stull said that in 1980, one-third of newcomers were southeast Asian refugees, primarily Vietnamese. But that population over time has gotten smaller, replaced by other immigrant groups. He said the first wave of Burmese recruited by Tyson arrived in 2007, and new Burmese families started coming to Garden City this fall following the closing of a plant in South Dakota. In 2006 and 2008, Somalis began arriving.

"Garden City was founded by immigrants. It has always attracted them," Stull said. "Over the past three decades, Garden Citians have shown a willingness to embrace the steady stream of newcomers and the rich heritages they bring with them. It's the willingness to extend a helping hand to all who come that has become a hallmark of Garden City."

Kicking off the summit, Mayor Dan Fankhauser and GCCC President Herb Swender welcomed attendees to the community.

Fankhauser thanked the organizers of the summit, especially the city's Cultural Relations Board, formed more than 20 years ago to promote and foster goodwill among all groups and segments of the population and to eliminate and prevent discrimination, segregation and separation due to race, color, national origin or ancestry.

"You can't talk about Garden City without talking about its diversity. One thing I tell people is in our school district, there are 36 languages spoken. Most people are shocked to hear that," Fankhauser said. "That gives you some idea of our diversity here."

Swender said diversity is a gift that encompasses a variety of cultural, religious, racial, ethnic and gender differences.

"Without contrasting perspectives and experiences, we would all be the same and life would be quite boring," Swender said. "It provides an opportunity to see life with an entirely new perspective and experience the world in a way we haven't before."

Other events Friday included a panel discussion about diversity in the community and concurrent breakout sessions in the afternoon. Today's closing activities will include community tours at 9 a.m. of the Sandsage Bison Range, Lee Richardson Zoo and coffee with Garden City Arts.

The event was sponsored by the Garden City Cultural Relations Board, GCCC, USD 457, Finney County Community Health Coalition, K-State Research and Extension, Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Society of Human Resource management of Southwest Kansas.

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