Garden City offers a vision of cultural diversity that has made it one of the most cosmopolitan communities in Kansas, a Kansas University anthropologist said Tuesday night.
Don Stull, professor of anthropology, outlined social and cultural changes in some small towns in rural America that have seen an influx of thousands of immigrants drawn to the meat-packing industry.
Garden City, the home to two large meat-packing plants, was the fastest-growing community in Kansas between 1980 and 1985, he said.
Stull and other researchers spent two years on a project studying the ethnic and cultural diversity there.
As part of the project, researchers stayed with host families, worked at local businesses and conducted interviews with hundreds of Garden City residents.
An attempt to capture the spirit of the town's diversity has taken the form of a museum exhibit featuring photographs, dress and other items from the populations of Garden City.
The exhibit, titled, "I Born Again in America," will run through Dec. 16 at the KU Museum of Anthropology.
Stull outlined his research in a talk Tuesday in the Kansas Union.
Garden City's population increased about 33 percent from 1980 to 1985. The growth coincided with expanding job opportunities offered by two large meat-packing plants, IBP and Monfort.
Traditionally, the meat-packing industry has lured immigrants because of relatively good wages and because high levels of technical knowledge and education generally are not required, Stull said.
The meat-packing industry has brought large populations of Mexicans, Vietnamese and Laotians to Garden City, he said. About 40 percent of the population are ethnic minorities.
Stull said that although the town has experienced some racial tensions as the population of minorities has increased, it has been surprisingly free of serious racial problems.
"Garden City offers a vision of what small-town America is and is becoming," he said.