thumbnail of Postville: When Cultures Collide
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
What happens when a community looted in cornfields and Christianity is suddenly transformed into a place presumed to have more rabbis per capita than anywhere else in the world. The Jews are not in Israel with Moses anymore. Things changed. So. How does a tiny Iowa town respond when hundreds of Mexican immigrants hit the heartland in search of the American dream. I don't know. You know. I just don't know. What happens to community cohesion when Hasidic Jews people whose religion guides them to steer clear of swine move to a place where the greased pig contest is one of the biggest shows around. How does a once homogenous population react when the promise of the American melting pot seems to go on fulfilled. They don't want to be part of the game.
And what really happens when multiculturalism moves to the most unlikely of places. Yeah. This is Postville Iowa a tiny farming community in the northeast corner of the state 20 miles from the Mississippi River 30 minutes from the nearest McDonald's and light years from the kind of place where multiculturalism usually takes root. The town's big claim to fame is that John Armont winner of the
1946 Nobel Peace Prize spent his childhood here and though few residents can recall exactly what Mr. Motte did. Most everyone knows that he was a Christian and that his actions whatever they were must have been great. Oh. Host Phil is home to the celebrated lawn chair brigade. It rears some of the Midwest's most promising cattle Wranglers. Plus it proudly boasts its own tourist accommodations and while most fake Haitian getaways offer predictable views of city skylines or scenic landscapes the pines motel provides a refreshingly vista of a pan of godes. For nearly 150 years post film was all white all Christian. And all but removed from melting pot America.
The kind of thing that. People would say is. That if you say the Meiers the shredders in the shorts as you said I'm off. And there is some truth in that. Post Phil's located in a state where the population growth is one fourth the national average and the town's last official census recorded just fourteen hundred and seventy eight people. So when 300 Hasidic Jews 400 Mexicans and dozens of Eastern Europeans migrated to this quiet farming community. Well let's just say the residents might have been less surprised if Jesus Christ himself had popped out of the nearest soybean field when they went up the street. Oh my goodness sakes what are we doing here. Wasn't yours in the right place. I think a lot of people are like me. We never seen any you know Orthodox Jews. We've never been around any Eastern Europeans
nor Russians. Mexicans never you know I mean we've just never seen him. It was all just the same Anglo people that we would that we know know our life is the only people we ever seen. I guess I didn't imagine that this is what would happen. And I guess it makes me nervous to see what's going to happen the next 10 years. What's going to happen to our town. Are they going to be you know is it gonna be good for our town are they going to you know bring more jobs. You know is is everything going to change or is everybody going to move out and are they. Yes all that's going to be here. Should be easy to simply dismiss this rural community as a late bloomer in the flourishing field of diversity. What post feel is more than just some provincial meat and potatoes town struggling to appreciate tacos and pita bread. It's a place that reflects the same
ethnic cultural and religious conflicts that plague cities all across the country. But because of its secluded environment and limited population Postville illustrates these issues in a much clearer fashion in many larger cities ethnic grocery stores dot the street corners enclaves like Chinatown in Little Mexico are commonplace and the brisk temple of life often allows the complex issues surrounding diversity to be lost in the shuffle. But here in a town that's just five blocks wide and nine blocks long people from varied backgrounds have no choice but to run into each other in the post office to live in the same neighborhood and to confront the dilemmas of diversity on a daily basis. Because it's void of big city stimuli Postville could very well be the control subject in the 21st century American experiment. It's the kind of place that allows us to examine the limits and the limitations of
multiculturalism. It requires us to re-evaluate what the American dream has come to mean today and to ponder just whose dream will shape the future. I think it's news story. How people deal with differences. I think it's a story about how people are different and how people want to maintain their differences and what we as Americans are going to do. Today to maintain our country our general sense of Americans our Ito's as one people because America isn't one person anymore it's not one group of people. It's made up with so many different kinds of people who don't necessarily have their faith and loyalty directed at America itself. They're directed at their own individual fates their own individual Heritage's. Race is really troubling.
And the same time fascinating questions about who you are as a nation. So I think it resonates throughout America. Change may not always be easy to accept but when it shows up in the form of a 10 foot menorah it's certainly hard to ignore. For the people of post fell the first sign of change arrived in 1988 when a family of Hasidic Jews from New York bought an abandon slaughter house on the outskirts of town. In a region where pigs outnumber humans 5 to 1. The Hasidic owners are guided by religious laws that prohibit the consumption of pork opened a kosher meat plant. They posted an exaggerated menorah at its entrance and promptly began processing chickens turkeys cattle lamb everything but hogs. We were always on the kosher and. Business in the York. What was happening is that the supply side slaughterhouses of oil were closing the southern route through the 80s and the idea it was to come to the source where
the cattle are. And produce the kosher meat were shipped out so. This is the only clue and thats the designed and run by people care of a kosher people living closer the other kosher operations of many little while two or three will come through. To oversee the intricate process of kosher and meat the plant recruited nearly 30 trained a rabbi the rabbi brought their families friends and relatives followed and soon Hasidic Jews from New York Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were embracing corn fields cattle farms and backyard barbecues. First impressions. Norman Rockwell. Hold on America. In a small town and I can I you know it really is like the American dream what American small bunch of. US falls on them. And only the American dream but too I think for an Orthodox Jew it's the double American dream because most Orthodox Jewish communities earn are
set right in the middle of major cities you know Detroit Los Angeles New York Chicago. So to be a part of a vibrant Jewish community 99 percent of time you're forced into a major city and this is one of the few small towns in all of America that has a vibrant Jewish community but it has all of the beauty benefits of small town. It's the most unusual observant community I think in America and it's for real though it isn't made up. It's not Hollywood it's not on film it's it's every day. It's wonderful. And now you have a place where you are more. At home with the way we are you know in Israel 2000 years ago it was only when the when all the different groups of you know the countries wouldn't let them on lands for hundreds of years the Jewish people lost their connection to the land
and now you know we have this feeling as if it was like coming home for people who felt like they were coming home. The Jews experienced quite a case of culture shock to these big city dwellers Postville was a foreign land one where the natives practiced obscure rituals like smiling at people in the grocery store. And waving to neighbors on the street. Lock our cars take the keys of the ignition. We are very trustworthy people and when they quote foreigners to ours. It will go a little bit what's going on. From the Postville. I used to live in big cities where nobody has time for you and nobody is interested. Everybody's waving. I mean. I know that person that I forget who it was or something like
you're always wondering til you realize hey this is just what everybody does. Everybody comes and says hello. Because you are another human being and they want to acknowledge your existence whereas in New York you know you're walking down the street someone's coming towards you and they're just like run right past you they say hello and you know that. It's not like it's a new person you know. They're just too busy to take the time to acknowledge that you passed them. Here it's a matter of learning that you can wave to people you know on one hand you want to teach your kids not to wave at strangers on the other hand you know it's a very normal thing you know you're driving in every car you pass your arguments and I think there's something the matter with you know. Some of the Jews came in the post. And. Just used. And some of them had never driven cars before. And there are stories in the early days in late of Jews warring down longer street 40 and 50 miles an hour. Other Jews made made U-turns
downtown that just wasn't done. And when the police chief stopped some of them some of the Jews offered him a bribe and the police chief said You just don't do that here. I'm not sure where you're from if it's done there. We don't do it here. Disregarding a few unexpected traffic tickets the Jews reveled in their version of the American dream and attributed their newfound fortune to divine intervention. The locals on the other hand wondered just what in God's name was going on. I know when they first came to town it was you know it was kind of the talk of Africa out here you know people drive by on Saturdays and people wearing winter hats you know it's July and I don't understand what's going on. I think a lot of people. The big long black coats and the big fur hats in the middle of the summer. Aren't they hot. I suppose they're used to it so their metabolisms different than ours.
I would say probably some of the or the pioneers of the opals were people probably felt strange. You know walking down the street and seeing their young boys there with their beanies I think the change in scenery and the change in just walking down the street. Sometimes I see I go down a block and I see maybe six eight nine ten different people that I go to you know see. So this is what's strange. You don't see hijo you know. Jack I. Just don't do that anymore. It's the strange people people are asking you know what do I say when I come to your door and say hello you know. Pretty basic but you know I guess if you. Ask people you know where you're from They'd say I'm not from here where you from from you know 10 miles down the road. Oh you're not from here. One time I went to one merchant and I got to be very friendly with me and he said you know the minute I ask you a
personal question. So. Go ahead. So he said the Jewish people use banks. And I was like stunned by the question. But I said well yes why do you ask that question so I said well of the Jewish customs that ever came in here give us cash and I burst out laughing because he had the kind of a business that in L.A. or New York he tried to give the guy a check. He would call the police right away and have it carried away. Some Nobody had it in you know I mean you come to a place like I when you can write checks for your gas you can dream to do that in California or New York nobody would even think to accept that kind of idea. So instead of thinking about big city small city you know automatically thought about Jews and banks and all these other things but. It's cute now. In Postville Nothing brings out gossip quite like a stack of pancakes in a bottomless cup of coffee. So with a yarmulke suddenly surfacing in this inherently Seedcamp community the local cafe began brewing more dialogue than decaf.
I think everybody was just a little bit. You know I like you you. See a bear coming toward you you know like. Your first. Reaction is. Going to take to one another. Or my born days of ever thinking anything like this would be impossible. It was kind of like when we joined the Lutheran church and it was it was really German background. I was Norwegian. You know I was. Just. A little. Change. It's almost like you're invading my country so I. Think. Technically the majority of the town's new citizens were Labatt which are Jews members of a prominent Hasidic movement started in LA Bobbitt Russia. For the Baba daily life revolves around the 613 commandments found in the Torah among them a series of strict dietary rules. Acidic Jews are forbidden from mixing dairy and meat products and do not consider food edible if it has come in contact with pots pans
plates or silverware that have touched non-kosher food. In the beginning though the only thing the locals knew about these Jewish newcomers was that they refused to join the rest of the community for a bite to eat at the popular but non kosher Postville bakery. There were lots of people that when these people first came said you know what's the deal with these strange people walking around. Some of our people you know would speak to these people want to include them in their coffee klatches so to speak those type of things because that's the way we are and northeast of us with a strong German background that we should you know greet our neighbor take them coffee and cookies and whatever and these people weren't into that so that part I think was was real tough. I think often times in America and throughout the world breaking bread is the way people get to know each other but that you know in Postville because there are too many strictures and rules that require a certain way of preparation. So there was no way for the Jews to get to know
the locals who were dinner. One man I interviewed wanted so badly to meet a Lubavitcher. That he went up to that person and he's going to come over to my house for Kool-Aid and cookies. And the Lubavitcher just walked by him and said no I can't do that I could never do. So I think what happened was right from the beginning the stringent. Of the Jews and. They are. Getting to know the locals. It seems like we're conforming to their ways more than than they are because I know years ago when somebody new would come to town you'd invite a man and or go take something over to them and get acquainted or invite him to church or something. But you can't because they can't go to your church or they can eat your food or drink from your cup. And that's hard it's hard when you're used to being so sociable.
In no time the standard café talk of soybean prices and high school sports was replaced with newly discovered tidbits about the town's newest residents. I like the fact that Hasidic Jews are forbidden from working from driving and even from turning the electricity on or off during the Sabbath. That out of modesty all married females wear wigs to conceal their natural hair. And that Hasidic men and women generally don't interact unless they're married to one another. That idea of segregating the sexes really got people riled up from the men at the men's table to the women at the women's table they just couldn't stop talking about those confusing Jewish customs. It was. To their dismay the locals found the Hasidic children no less baffling. In these parts a kid wasn't a kid unless he lived on good old pork hotdogs. Yet these Jewish youngsters couldn't even eat animal crackers that were
shaped like pigs. And as if that wasn't strange enough. These kids instead of answering questions with a standard you betcha insisted on responding with a perplexing Yes. Thank God with the Jewish people because their religion is so different. They're not Christians. This type of thing they didn't you know they didn't send their children to public school they didn't. They didn't worship in one of our houses of worship we had we had problems with that question for as long as anyone here could remember. Newcomers to post feel had always assimilated into the community. They join the PTA and beautifully whipped up cookies for the school bake sale. Their children start in the church Christmas pageant and they're fierce competitors in the annual Easter egg hunt. But when the Hasidic Jews moved to town the ritual of integration came to an abrupt halt. I think the locals on their part were surprised because every newcomer to Postville
whether it was Catholics or Presbyterians are aliens. They all want to be folded into the local society. The Jews did not see the Jews in post girl. I really don't care what the locals think. They just will operate the same way they have operated whether it's in Crown Heights Brooklyn New York or whether it's and post. It really doesn't make any difference. People have to understand their rules and their procedures. They're really not terribly interested in feeding him. You don't want to feed them. The truth of the matter is in order to be kosher you have to be somewhat separate by its very nature we can't eat the foods that they. And it isn't that we don't want to like them or be with them. It's that we just can't be with them. And
we have to maintain some separateness. And even to protect our own children from assimilations. What we have to keep them separate. And that's just a fact and a way of life. If you are to keep this thousands of year old tradition going you have to be somewhat separate. The one thing that's really different between the two groups is this long long sense of anti-Semitism. And that's just different and so people have already been taught. That there is something you know fearful enough about the Jews that in that's part of a German other coming to a German community and during World War Two Jews weren't particularly well treated in Germany you know. And so it's I think sometimes even though those things are not expressed or even thought about they're just there.
Back in World War 2 when Hitler had the camps people were taken as groups and exterminated. I think that has something to most of our people are Jewish people. Yeah I think that sometimes people worry that in every time there's always a bad person that could come along and do something. Maybe that's why they keep their guard up a little bit so that they don't get somebody who is bad. When you get trained from little on to that you are a group that people are afraid of and are willing to kill in mass numbers to kind of be a little bit hesitant about how you relate with other communities and I think that's when in my estimation of the Jewish community is so closely knit the way they are because they're going to keep their integrity by being very bonded in a very
specific and rigorous about how they do serve. Though the locals wouldn't have dared to contest the theories behind the Jewish community is isolation. They couldn't help but find this social segregation hard to swallow to the people of Postville. The spirit of community is as sacred as any religious practice. And to hear the natives tell it committing blasphemy could be as simple as foregoing the annual agg Days parade. The desire to endure sporadic rain showers to see a next door neighbor to a bloated bovine down Main Street may seem in comprehensible to many urbanites but rural America revolves around the concept of community. When drought threatens area crops residents pull together for moral support when a farmer falls ill. Neighbors pitch in to finish his harvest in Postville a place known for brutal
winters blistering summers and around the clock far more interaction is essential for survival. So when newcomers don't honor the civic bond it's a startling violation of the small town code of ethics. Well I'm Jewish really don't participate in anything. I mean I don't think they want to communicate with us. It is frustrating because you think that when they come they want to be part of it. But when they don't want to it's hard to understand why they don't want to be part of. Also they shouldn't came here. I back doors a Jew. I don't know because we have not been. They have their way and right. BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD. Them small. Iowa. Town. There's a sense that the town is has a life of its own. It's it's an entity. And if you're going to join into our entity you need to participate in it.
We try to convey the message. That it's important for us to learn about their culture to help celebrate those cultures. It is equally important for them to learn our culture. And to help us celebrate our culture. I think the postal people. Have been stretched to the limit of tolerance. I think they've done everything they possibly can to embrace these newcomers. They've been stung by the Jew's breach of small town etiquette. The locals took solace in the belief that things couldn't get much worse. But that was before these Hasidic newcomers committed one of the biggest sins known to Midwestern man. They didn't take care of their lawn. That was the major thing I would like to see better than people. Ever since I've been here.
We I think took pride in our yard mowed nicely and this is the hardest to get used to because. To the untrained eye nearly every yard in Postville seems straight off the pages of Better Homes and Gardens. What do the natives people who battle it out for the coveted lawn of the Month Award and who proudly uphold the city's grass no longer than 4 inches ordinance. The place was in shambles. People mourning the lawns and small towns. It's a very big issue. You know they have a lot of people who are retired and they can mow the lawn 12 times a week. The average Jewish member of the community is a young person with a number of kids working hard to keep food on the table. So probably going along as lower on the list. Of course the Jews were dealing with more than just a militant gang of green thumb others in this area most everyone knows that the first sign of a city's demise is when people stop caring about its appearance. And with so many of America's small towns struggling no one here dared tempt
fate. If you are a midwestern American you know that you mow your lawn once a week whether it needs it or not. If you grew up in a place where they don't have lawns you don't know that. And by the middle of May the grass is knee high and your neighbors are looking down their noses at you and you don't know why. In a town where denim is thought to enhance the beauty of flowers and wear shrunken replicas of beloved grandparents graced front yard the line separating revered landscapes from questionable ones could seem a touch vague. But in this land of dubious lawn art one thing was clear. The townsfolk knew a good yard when they saw it. The Jews it was said did not a lot of these people huddle involvement with flowers and grass and a lot of people here are from city people and we need help from them how to adopt the same way the West moves a little from the rules. And I think that. That there is some under the surface. So when you don't want to talk about big
issues or small. Talk about small issues if you feel uncomfortable to a neighbor and you don't really know how to approach them. And maybe maybe you don't want to approach them but you want to get up some of your call it let off some steam you can focus on the lawn. In reality the problems in Postville probably weren't the type that can be solved with a good hedge trimming and though it was hard for the locals to concede their frustration may have had less to do with green lawns than I did with greenbacks. Postville 15 years ago was a city on the skids. I think some of the postal people were miffed that these outsiders from Brooklyn New York came in and made this place home and made it really work. So I think there was a sense of. Well why can we make it work. Why can some of us WHY COULDn't Iowa and make it work. Why did these people have to come in from a thousand miles away. And now
it's really successful. In a town sustained by Midwestern pride. It was the New Yorker's with the foreign customs and the penchant for separation who brought economic stability. In addition to creating 400 new jobs buying up long vacated real estate and expanding the town's tax base the Jews became Postville savior in the ongoing war against America's decline. During a time when banks were foreclosing on family farms retail stores were being forced to shut their doors and small town residents were fleeing for the big city Postville Iowa became an unlikely boom town. Every other community has people going out without people coming in. I can take you to a town 20 30 miles from here and 10 15 20 houses for sale. If you find a house for sale in Postville you better buy it because tomorrow won't be there. I think it's a growing community probably one of the few that is boring right. Our town is not dying you know. It's not needing exactly what everybody
wanted. But put it there is a vitality to post. You know you see people walking you see people talking you know new people who are coming in and for a long period of time. Did he have any of that. All we have is you know such and such a place is going to close and this is going to close and it's not that way anymore. You know so I I think this the Talladega bike ality part is as for me has been really great. I know all of that you know going to survive it isn't that just dry up and be gone. I think there's a separate piece that has been made. I think the Jews brought wealth. Brought power. And. Brought a special kind of influence to this tiny town. I think the locals on one hand feel that their economic plight is much much sounder. But there are issues to contend with. As it turned out some of the most controversial issues in Postville didn't have to do with that. Use
it all. But rather with whom the Jews were hiring. Like processing plants across the country. Post Phil's kosher operation relies on immigrant workers people more than happy to endure such harsh conditions for a shot of their American dream. But post has had a hard time accepting the modern day face of immigration. One much less European looking than the one that settled this German town. Granted the Jews hadn't exactly been the new neighbors this town had hoped for. But take away their distinctive facial hair and their aversion to pork tenderloin. And they would have made final Iowa. There's another breed of newcomers now. They were altogether different. I don't think the. Religious differences is a problem it's more so racial I would say. And part of that's our own fault I mean this area has been largely white for a good many years. I think I was perhaps
in high school before I probably saw my first black person. Unfortunately there are some people who are afraid to say oh I you know they just this there is a Mexican girl preg out a knife and that name any names but I wish some of you town would lighten up a little bit. It's kind of hard there's a lot of prejudice in this town that kind of makes me sick at times. While the Jews seemed in a perpetual hurry and rarely stop to chat the Mexicans reveled in the casual pace of small town life and like the locals made themselves at home on Main Street. Yet somehow when the Mexicans graced the sidewalk it just didn't have the same charm as when the guys from the feed store gathered on the corner to chat. I hoped that it would be like it was then where you could the little kids could play on the street and not be scared but I know they're scared now you don't let them walk home after a ballgame or after church or after anything. You are
there to pick them up and take them make sure they get home ok because it is. Scary. And that's like you know people. Like that and also a different culture. Like we're still American They're like from a different country. So it's different. I don't see any Americans that are friends of Jewish people. I think the Mexicans are dissipated more. While living around Hasidic Jews encouraged the locals to learn the basics of Judaism living around Mexicans provided a different kind of inspiration. For starters it inspired the police to patrol the streets more often. I know one of the complaints everybody has is how they hang around in groups. The citizen is a little bit afraid. We increased our patrol and to protect the citizens that are concerned about that.
You see all these Mexicans hanging out or in groups or whatever and that's what a lot of outside people see. And I know that's a sore spot with our local people because we don't want to get their reputation or whatever and get the name of Little Mexico or whatever I guess. Moreover the influx of Mexicans motivated some people to raise real estate prices in hopes of keeping these immigrants in the trailer court rather than having them move in next door. The Hispanic population has kind of a negative connotation about it. Quite frankly there are homes in town which are overpriced plan something. I would assume a legal wage controlled by your home. Perfect place when you go change your mind. Why is that. I don't say to their face because I know it's just their ignorance they don't they don't trust us because we're from another nationality that's what it is. But then you guys you know people around here that rant there are more than happy to rant to you because you know where you only need
somewhere to live. But there's a lot of that racists but it's not a hard race it's not about race to. Nationality. While insurmountable religious differences were blamed for the isolation of the Jewish community it soon became clear that even Jesus Christ couldn't unite the locals and the Mexicans. Unlike the Jews who would establish their own house of worship the Mexicans were delighted to join Postville the Catholic Church. But when Spanish became the primary language of the Saturday night service well let's just say it gave new meaning to the phrase mass exodus as some members of the congregation were appalled by the thought of Bible passages in Spanish. They drove to another town to worship. It threatens their way of life and all of us said What does this mean. Oh my
going to have to change is too scary. Another big thing for the parishes. Well how far will this mass and the Spanish go. Now they have it on Saturday night. It comes the day when they want to happen on Sunday. Now this means they're sitting in my pew. They're sitting in the same place where I usually sign up. And people get real threatened by things like that there because they. They never had that happen to them before. Now it's happening. Then. Although they probably never would have admitted it to the coffee klatch crowd some locals privately confessed that the Spanish mass was the highlight of their week. Others just shook their god fearing heads and wondered why these newcomers couldn't just learn English. Of course if people hadn't been so distracted by the bizarre language echoing through the sanctuary
they might have recalled that up until the 1950s Lutheran Church conducted services in German. It should give other people a chance to form because of our color were much darker and I think they're just not used to us. The Mexicans may not have looked the way the natives expected immigrants to look but the Hasidic Jews certainly didn't act the way the locals expected newcomers to act. In terms of the post will see them. They came as different from the from the traditional rags to riches an immigrant story was possible. They came to post fell they bought homes and pose for the bought a factory and post fell and they were immediately. The ruling class. It's often said that money brings power and around here power means having the ability to
go out and throw your own parade. Word of the Jews march down Main Street rang through town like church bells on a Sunday morning leaving quite a few locals looking to the heavens for an explanation. They remembered the grade school history lessons. Immigrants were to leave their customs languages and distinctive dress behind and blend into the American melting pot. But apparently the Hasidic Jews had missed that chapter. Of course the vast majority of these so-called immigrants were actually full blooded Americans. But that technicality wasn't about to stop the locals from viewing them as full blown foreigners. Foreigners who refused to follow the textbook rules of immigration. And foreigners who many locals feared were intent on taking over this Christian town. It is not our intention to make them Jewish. It's not our intention to reject their religion.
It's simply that we are not interested in what they say. When you celebrate life how could you think that somebody would say this is not good. We just simply don't worry about what they think. They worry about what they say when they have a parade a chorus miss parade. They don't worry about what the local Jewish population thinks. They don't even care. And you know what. So our attitude is enjoy. Have a good time. That's all we we want from them to do for us is just let leave us be and let us enjoy life enjoy it with us. The. Jews are not in Israel with Moses and more things changed. Most of the communities that are here in Postville will come from Germany they came from know from Norway they came from other places. Those things change too. So they didn't have a problem a few generations ago demanding expecting that the
world should accomodate them. So why today do they feel that that's taking away. We're not going to hide ourselves. And there really isn't anywhere to hide. Especially the small town where just doing what we would do even if we were in a ghetto behind a wall and soldiers on the outside we would still have the American system is designed to allow two very different groups to get along and empower each other. I don't have to love each other we have to tolerate each other. That's the beauty of America. Persuading the locals that the beauty of America was centered on individual expression rather than community cohesion would be like trying to convince this county fair crowd that the prize rooster can lay eggs. I used to believe that people would come to America and want to be part of America.
That is happening way more in many instances. The Post for Jews is that they don't really embrace America then room brace Postville. They embrace themselves their own culture their own legacy but they really don't care that much about America. I don't care that much about postdoc. And I think increasingly there are other strident groups who come to America to flourish in America but who also erect. Walls. And don't want to be contaminated by the rest of America. I think it's markedly different from how America used to be because certain ethnic groups truly want to remain apart. From the rest of this nation. If there was one foreign phrase the locals felt comfortable with it was Pluribus Unum From many one. From many people one language from many people one community from many people. One way of life.
I think if you would go to their place you'd have to learn their cultures. So why should they learn arts when they come to yours. When you really press people who are concerns about this what they really want is they want they want linguistic. Assimilation. They want cultural assimilation. But when you really push them about their willingness to accommodate people in terms of social. Assimilation. Then they start to back off. Iowa is a state where immigrants now make up 65 percent of the population growth. It's a state where unemployment figures hover at all time lows. And the governor believes immigration may be the only way to reach Iowa's economic goal. And it's a state where according to a Des Moines Register poll 59 percent of residents disapprove of Iowa's plan to encourage immigration. I'm not sure what percentage of the population really understands that if it were not for the
immigrants Postville would cease to exist. Go go. I lived. In Postville many people talk about how frustrating it is that the public school has to teach English to immigrant children. Fewer talk about how if the immigrant population left town 10 teachers would have to be laid off. Awesome. OK. Many people talk about how the country is supposed to be a melting pot. Fewer talk about just what they really mean by that term. A lot of established residents are asking about well shouldn't this be a melting pot. Or they insist upon an American history which is based on the metaphor of the melting pot. Then you take the next step and ask OK well what would it take for that to happen today. What would it take for a melting pot as you understand it. What would it take for a melting pot to happen today. And that's where people where they either have some pretty hard opinions about that. Well I'm talking about. I mean they have to learn English immediately of
course and they have to take mainstream jobs and they've got to start migrating back and forth to Mexico and they've got to they've got to they've just got to cut off all their ties to their previous culture and become American. The notion of what an American is or what it takes to become an American. Those things are very very narrowly defined. Despite the fact that people insist upon using the metaphor of the melting pot a lot of people have some pretty clear ideas about who is welcome and who isn't. A lot of people take great pride in their ethnic background. I am proud of being Danish I am proud of being me. It's important to people they put their Norwegian flags up on the front porch but Mexicans want to do the same thing on tour and when they do this and then allow one of us. And when those kinds of celebrations. Come up. A lot of angles a lot of white people with European backgrounds are quite uncomfortable with them
down the road. We're going to face these very interesting questions about whether or not the communities which have experience rapid influxes and rapid influx of Latinos and others are those towns going to just their own rituals their own celebrations to reflect the changing nature of their mother or their ethnic composition. In a town centered on tradition the taste of post film festival could be seen as the changing of the guard with multiculturalism replacing the melting pot as the new paradigm for cultural relations. Here Jewish kids took a crack at Mexican made farmers devoured kosher cuisine and people usually wary of the Hispanic community had second helpings of tacos and tamales. If they're called Show Me What You Eat and I'll tell you who
you are is true. Then for one day in August the people of Postville were voracious multiculturalist. It's a good community it's changing. And. Growing problems. And now you're seeing some of the people here. 40 50 years. It's an interesting thing. It's like being world traveling traveling from you. That's never too many locals. This whole idea of diversity seemed far more appealing on a full stomach. But for many of America's minorities multiculturalism is about much more than homemade falafel bean burritos and Chinese takeout. In the past many American immigrants felt so much pressure from the mainstream that they did
everything they could to hide their differences. For others like the Jews history has shown just how fatal identity can be for all of them. Multiculturalism isn't about rejecting America it's about finally having the freedom to celebrate one's heritage without having to fear the consequences. When you say blend together means to lose you're who you are I think a lot of a lot of emptiness has been experiencing in ours in a lot of them for the lack of culture the lack of a person should be this opposition I guess as opposed a person should be able to retain His beauty His culture as as a unit for himself and be part of a of a big thing that's that's the beauty. So what really does happen when multiculturalism moves to the most unlikely of places are. Simply put it reminds us that in this nation of countless immigrants we still struggle with many aspects of immigration. It
shows us that some newcomers are more easily accepted than others. That the American dream means different things to different people. That skin color still continues to influence people. That much is expected of immigrants that much is expected of natives and that regardless of all of that small towns need to adapt. To survive. I believe the majority of immigrants who come to this country in the future will come to small towns not to the big cities. What we are going to see continuing in the United States in the small towns is an amplification of what Postville has seen. We're going to see small towns where one group of immigrants finds a comfortable life postals the better for us coming where the better for being here. And I think the postal people will find that once everybody is here long enough. By design will all be good
Americans will all raise the flag. Fight for this country we'll all abide by the laws. But socially we're just not going to fit in the way I feel. We don't own any more than the on of them. We're all here for a purpose and we've got to learn to work together and cooperate. They don't all agree with me on that. That's right. There's still little of them Lou. We just all want to be open minded. Just just think. Go back a couple generations when your ancestors they went through the same thing. And as of now we're just going through it again anytime there's change. You know people have trouble accepting that you know men myself included you know but once you get over all over the the strangeness of it you see that they're not nobody that's come to Paul Sills any different than you know myself you know they they want same things you know they want good
things for their children they want to buy houses and they you know they they want to make a little money. And they're just common ordinary people you know and they're just trying to better their selves and that's basically I think maybe what we're all trying. I do think that Postville is a harbinger for the rest of America where people are going to have to understand the rules the procedures how people live and we're going to have to be much more tolerant of each other. The days are long gone when Postville can just be Lutherans who all work together and pray together in St. Paul with her in church. So I think Postal is going through some of the things that America is and will continue to go through. Diversity asks a lot of people in a small town like Postville and of people in a big country like the United States. Some may resist multiculturalism.
Others may reject assimilation and everyone in between will continue to search for guidepost to help direct them down the winding and often dusty path of diversity. Some of those guideposts may be found in big cities but others just might turn up in little towns like Postville Iowa a tiny farming community 20 miles from the Mississippi River 30 minutes from the nearest McDonald's and a light years from the kind of place where multiculturalism usually takes root. Why. There's no question they're going to be calling us from the Big Apple now. It's. Made a big pumpkin that hurt.
His leg as all you want to the corn. My name is. Victory. Be your wife. And. Five children. I think maybe. That's his. Jewish ones a little bit I've never been to New York but they drive like they're a New York public. That's one thing that doesn't change that I don't know that ever well. We'll just keep bringing the citation here their. Grocery store has all kinds of ethnic foods now. They never used to have before.
Just kind of cool. Then he introduced them to our foods. I think it's a cheeseburger. When I go back now to New York for just waving to everybody and you know it was like where these people from. It was just filled with a mile. And. A. Hundred foot rest under our breath you always say remind us were from Iowa.
Postville: When Cultures Collide
Contributing Organization
Iowa Public Television (Johnston, Iowa)
Public Broadcasting Service Series NOLA
POCC 000000
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/37-913n63cm).
Program Description
A documentary about immigration to the small town of Postville, Iowa, specifically immigrants from Mexico and Israel, and the transition of homogenous (primarily Christian) communities to more a more ethnic and religiously diverse populations.
Created Date
Asset type
Social Issues
IPTV, pending rights and format restrictions, may be able to make a standard DVD copy of IPTV programs (excluding raw footage) for a fee. Requests for DVDs should be sent to Dawn Breining
Media type
Moving Image
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Iowa Public Television
Identifier: (Old Tape Number)
Format: U-matic
Generation: Master
Duration: 00:55:51
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Postville: When Cultures Collide,” 2001-11-02, Iowa Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 14, 2024,
MLA: “Postville: When Cultures Collide.” 2001-11-02. Iowa Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 14, 2024. <>.
APA: Postville: When Cultures Collide. Boston, MA: Iowa Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from