Rompienda Barreras Juntos
Crawfordsville and Wabash are small places, and we
dont have large programs here to put all this in place. But we have
each other; we can learn from each other.
To find out, he taught a course last fall entitled
Latin American Migration to Crawfordsville, sending his students
into the streets and factories to gather data and anecdotes from employers,
recently arrived workers, and their families. Then professor and students
took their studythrough public presentations and two newspaper columnsto
city leaders and the citizens of Crawfordsville.
Clearly, Crawfordsville has crossed a demographic
threshold, Schlewitz wrote in the local paper. The question
now is whether Crawfordsville will deal with this change as a threat,
an irritation, or a chance to demonstrate cherished values of freedom
and equality for all, not to mention good old-fashioned Midwestern hospitality.
With Indiana showing more than a 250% increase in Hispanic residents since the previous census and Montgomery County showing the second-fastest growing Hispanic population in the state, a less-than-hospitable welcome was likely. Though Schlewitzs students found evidence suggesting that the newcomers were filling jobs native-born workers were not taking, local plants have actively recruited workers from Mexico, hiring them at lower wages with minimal benefits causing resentment and fear of unemployment among long-time employees.
Instead, we may be in the midst of a watershed moment
of cooperation between the College and the community, as Wabash/Crawfordsville
students, teachers, and families reach beyond the politics and economics
of globalization and simply welcome the newcomers and their children.
A fortunate convergence has joined an increased number of Hispanic students,
Spanish-speaking and Hispanic professors along with powerful sense of
civic responsibility just as the town is in great need of skilled and
willing translators, tutors, and leaders for outreach to the growing Hispanic
How all this will play out in an unstable local economy is anyones guess, but there have been some promising beginnings that have benefited both the town and the College.
Robles, the groups Chicago-born president, explains the transformation:
We had meetings, but we were poorly organized, and though the will
to serve was there, we really werent doing anything. I wanted to
get more involved with the community.
So last year, after a College sponsored community meeting about Hispanic
immigration to Crawfordsville, Robles approached county human rights chair
Zoraida Munroy and told her about UpS.
We were looking to help the communitywe just didnt
know where the needs were, Robles explains. Munroy connected UpS
with those needs
But the Spanish radio program was a UpS original. Robles started it,
and Flores soon joined him.
Id never done radio before, but the program was a great idea,
so I asked if I could work with him, Flores explains. Then
he asked me if I could do it on my own most of the time, and I said, Sure.
This fall, Flores hopes to increase the shows on-air time to two
hours per day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, when Wabash airwaves
will again carry the most welcoming sound many of the towns Hispanic
residents have heard since their arrival.
More Than Words
They had picked up this Hispanic guy for trespassing; hed
been walking from house to house, looking through windows, and someone
had finally called the police, Gonzalez recalls. When I met
him, he was real upsethe couldnt understand why he was being
held, and the police couldnt understand a word he was saying.
In a few sentences, the puzzle was solved. The man was new to town and
was looking for his relatives, who had failed to give him an exact address.
Translating also alerted the group to other needs and concerns newcomers
to the town carry.
When I ask these people why they come here instead of, say, a large
city like Chicago, they give me two reasons: higher wages and a safer
place to live, says Robles, who volunteers at St. Clare Hospital,
works as a translator for Manpower, and teaches English and Spanish classes
at the towns Ivy Tech community college extension. The women
Ive talked to say its safer to raise children here than in
cities where there are gangs and violence. Its more peaceful here;
classes are smaller at the high school. They really feel closer to this
community, and they feel more comfortable with its smaller size.
They also realize that, unlike Hispanics in Chicago, theyll
need to learn English to feel like they really belong here.
Robles became even better acquainted with the newcomers concerns
during a cooperative project between UpS and St. Johns Episcopal
Church. Tagged Un Hora de Conversacion, church members and
their Hispanic neighbors met on Wednesday evenings for 10 weeks.
Other places were teaching English and Spanish, but this wasnt
just about language, but sharing cultures, Robles explains. We
played music, asked questions, took risks. The Spanish speakers tried
to speak English, the English speakers Spanish, and the UpS guys would
translate when they got stuck. Im sure they all learned things about
each other they wouldnt have learned anyplace else. We began as
strangers, and finished as friends.
A yearning for more intimate community has led others to Crawfordsville,
but Latino children moving may face the greatest challenge fitting into
the established culture. Their parents believe the town will be better
for their children, but they realize know adapting to their new school
will be difficult. Luis Flores and fellow UpS members Eric Felix 03,
Jesus Campo 03, and Juan Carlo Hernandez 04 know how tough
that can be.
To Make a Friend
I dont want these kids to go through what I went through,
says Flores, who last year taught students in the Crawfordsville schools
ESL program. I was born in Brownsville, Texas, but we moved to Mexico
and I went to school in Matamoros until high school. When I moved back
to Brownsville, I had to learn English there, and that first year I had
I know what its like to have others make fun of you for the
way you talk, Flores says. If I work with these kids, maybe
I can keep them from knowing that feeling of shame.
One ten-year-old girl named Vanity knew that feeling so well that, halfway
through the semester, she refused to go to school. With the help of ESL
Director Amy Carrington, her parents contacted UpS and Wabash sophomore
Juan Carlo Hernandez.
She felt ashamed that she didnt know anything, and she wanted
to study and learn English before she would go back, Hernandez says.
I had to learn English when I was 14, so Im teaching her
the way I was taught, says the son of a former PRI governor in Mexico.
Weve been working every Tuesday and Thursday this semester,
but I explained to her that the only way shell be able to practice
is by going to school. I talked with her teacher, and shes invited
Vanity just to come to class to listen, with no pressure at first. And
Vanity promised me that shell go back to school full-time in the
For Campo, Felix, and Tommy Robol 03, tutoring Hispanic students
at Tuttle Middle School is about more than learning a language.
Its about making a friend, Campo explains. I
came to the U.S. as a kid and had the disheartening experience of seeing
my own Hispanic people looking down on me because I couldnt speak
English. I thank God that Im here now, and I want these children
to feel at home here, like they belong here, so they can be part of the
culture, so they can play with the other kids.
Thats what were trying to do. I hope we can make a better community. Crawfordsville and Wabash are small places, and we dont have large, formal government programs here to put all this in place. But we have each other; we can learn from each other.