Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tension between ethnic communities in non-metropolitan Nebraska

A front-page story in today's New York Times tells of tensions between Somali workers and Latina/o workers at JBS USA, Inc., in Grand Island Nebraska. Kirk Semple's story, "A Somali Influx Unsettles Latino Meatpackers" tells how the situation intensified recently when the Somali workers sought 15-minute breaks for the prayers that are obligatory for devout Muslims. (Photo by Barrett Stinson for the Grand Island Independent, via AP).

Grand Island, with a 2000 population of 42,940, is micropolitan, bordering on metropolitan. It is the county seat and comprises the vast majority of the population of Hall County, with a total population of only 53,534. About 16% of the city's population was Hispanic in 2000, while less than one-half of 1% were Black at that time. (See the 2000 Census data on race here). As the story indicates, most of the Somali workers were recruited in just the past few years, in the wake of a 2006 ICE raid at the Grand Island meatpacking plant, then owned by Swift. For the most part, the Somalis are in the country legally.

But Grand Island is not the only place where these tensions are flaring, and many of the places are rural or non-metro. Mentioned in the New York Times story are Greeley, Colorado (population 76,930) and Shelbyville, Tennessee (population 16,105), among others. Here's an excerpt from Semple's story:

[T]his newest wave of immigrant workers has had the effect of unifying the other ethnic populations against the Somalis and has also diverted some of the longstanding hostility toward Latino immigrants among some native-born residents.

The story discusses recent litigation initiated by Somalis and other Muslims regarding working conditions and provides an overview of the federal laws at stake with regard to religious practices and employment. But the issues described in the story are not only legal ones. They also go to the struggles of a once racially and ethnically homogeneous community to be tolerant in the face of great change and increasing diversity. Here is just one representative quote from a Grand Island resident:

“I kind of admire all the effort they make to follow that religion, but sometimes you have to adapt to the workplace,” said Fidencio Sandoval, a plant worker born in Mexico who has become an American citizen. “A new culture comes in with their demands and says, ‘This is what we want.’ This is kind of new for me.”
The Grand Island mayor acknowledged her own struggles to adjust to the Somalis, calling the women's hijabs "startling."

The story closes with a quote from a union official who characterizes the plant as "a real kindling box." His statement suggests the enhanced challenges that unions face in representing such diverse workers as they seek to gain better working conditions for all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How could the Muslim Somali immigrants possibly get the idea that America owes them something? will help fill in the blanks. There is a 14 hundred year long tradition to this madness.

I commend the Latinos for their courageous resistance of the stealth jihad. Every such action, by people like Raul Garcia, right there on the factory floor, helps to block the Muslims' intended islamification of America. Each and every individual that resists these attempts as Islamification needs to know that the nation is behind them!

There is an important short film called FITNA that each employee should watch. FITNA has been translated into many languages:

Arabic text only
Consider googling "ACT for America" and get more information on resistance.