Garden City is not what most Americans imagine a "typical" Kansas community to be like mostly white with a few minorities.
A large immigration of Southeast Asians and Hispanics drawn by the meatpacking industry has made Garden City more typical of what many communities will experience in the future, a Kansas University professor said Saturday.
"In the space of five short years, Garden City was transformed from a bicultural community of established Anglos and Mexican Americans to a multicultural community, with the addition of Southeast Asians and Latino immigrants," Don Stull, an KU anthropology professor, told a small gathering Saturday at Elizabeth M. Watkins Community Museum.
Stull reviewed his research work on Garden City's ethnic and racial diversity in a talk, "I Come to the Garden: The New Immigrants, Rural Industrialization and the Changing Face of Kansas."
"Garden City offers a vision of what rural and small-town America is and is becoming," Stull said. "In the 1980s it experienced the industrialization and increased ethnic and cultural diversity that many predict for the coming century."
LAWRENCE could learn much from how Garden City has dealt with its diverse population, he said.
"They've realized ethnic diversity is positive," Stull said. "They can either fight it or they can celebrate it. Many people in Finney County are starting to do that."
The immigration boom in Garden City was created when IBP Inc. opened the world's largest beefpacking plant near Garden City in 1980 and another Garden City meatpacker, Monfort (formerly Val-Agri), doubled its size in the early 1980s.
The meatpacking plants' creation of jobs brought an estimated 6,000 people to Garden City between 1980 and 1985, causing the city to grow by 33 percent, Stull said.
IN 1980, less than 100 Southeast Asians mostly Vietnamese refugee sponsored by local churches lived in Garden City, he said.
"After IBP opened, Southeast Asians began coming to Garden City in significant numbers," Stull said. There are now about 1,000 to 2,000 Southeast Asians, who make up 4 percent to 7 percent of the population.
Also many Hispanics, some undocumented immigrants, came to seek work in the packing houses and feed yards in the area, he said. About 90 percent are of Mexican origin, but Cubans, Central and South Americans have also immigrated as well, he said.
"Although not technically a boomtown, Garden City has experienced major socioeconomic impacts as the results of its rapid growth," Stull said. "The demographic profile of the migrants, combined with their sheer numbers severely strained the community's capacity to provide adequate housing, education, health care and basic services."
BUT THE city has gained a reputation for successfully adjusting to the rapid influx, he said.
"Early and concerted efforts on the part of the clergy, news media, school system, police and social service agents kept negative consequences to a minimum, making Garden City an important laboratory to investigate changing ethnic relations," he said.
One of the keys to Garden City's success has been tolerance and the tendency to leave each other alone, he said.