Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The changing face of the Great Plains



From the New York Times.

For generations, the story of the small rural town of the Great Plains, including the dusty tabletop landscape of western Kansas, has been one of exodus — of businesses closing, classrooms shrinking and, year after year, communities withering as fewer people arrive than leave and as fewer are born than are buried. That flight continues, but another demographic trend has breathed new life into the region.

Hispanics are arriving in numbers large enough to offset or even exceed the decline in the white population in many places. In the process, these new residents are reopening shuttered storefronts with Mexican groceries, filling the schools with children whose first language is Spanish and, for now at least, extending the lives of communities that seemed to be staggering toward the grave...

There has long been a strong Hispanic presence throughout the region, which is rich with difficult work in meatpacking plants and on farms, feedlots and oil fields. But over the last decade, as their population in the rural Great Plains spiked by 54 percent — a figure comparable to gains in metro areas in the region — Hispanic residents have pushed from hubs like nearby Dodge City, Garden City and Liberal into ever smaller communities, buying property on the cheap, enticed, many say, by the opportunity to live quiet lives in communities more similar to those in which they were raised.

The article highlights the cultural challenges this kind of change is bringing to rural America. But there are political shifts likely as well. We have grown to assume that rural America is "red" because that's been the tradition in most places. As Hispanic families settle in these small towns and gain a stake in their new homes, whether or not the Republican Party will make any effort to embrace them is surely a question based on what we're seeing today.

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