Fusing Cultures: Hispanics in Missouri, Pt. 1

Maria Flores has lived and worked in Marshall for two years. She and her family came from El Salvador to find a new life.

"Life here is more comfortable," says Maria. "One could offer nephews, nieces or children a more tranquil upbringing."

More than 115,000 Hispanics have come to Missouri for the same reasons. Domingo Martinez directs Columbia's Cambio Center which provides support Latin Americans new to the area.

"People move from one place to another and people always have moved. They always do it looking for jobs or running away from some injustices. And that's the case in Missouri."

"The Hispanic population in Missouri has increased more than 90 percent in the last ten years. Even though this increase is large, Latinos account for only two percent of Missouri's population."

From 2000 to 2003 the Hispanic population in Missouri increased by more than 12,000. More than 2,700 Hispanics live in Boone County while neighboring counties such as Howard and Callaway have a small number. Some rural counties like Pettis and Pulaski have a very large number of Hispanics living there.

Hispanics in Missouri

Martinez says, "In some areas we do have a huge increase of Spanish-speaking peoples, especially the ones that are coming to work in the agricultural industries, meat-packing plants or in (the) general food industry."

MU Agricultural Economist Corinne Valdivia sees another change. "It used to be that mostly males would come and work and then go back to their place of origin. So there was a lot of seasonal movement of labor. Now families are coming and settling, so that's a big difference from the past."

Maria says she and her family plan to remain in the U.S. "As long as God gives us life, here we will stay. The reason is that it's a good place for business and here you can make it, succeed here."

And that's a good thing, according to the Cambio Center's Martinez. "A smooth integration benefits everybody, benefits the people that live here, you and me, that have lived here for many years and also the newcomers."

Economist Valdivia says Hispanic immigrants are boosting the state's bottom line. "Understanding that they're a potential contributor to our economy and our communities is something that's critical. And the more we create awareness about that, the better off we will all be."

Maria's family moved to Marshall to become part of the U.S. They now own their own Hispanic grocery store. She says, "The people in the community respond to us very well. There are a lot of people that come here and want everything that we offer here."

And when asked if she would ever go back to El Salvador, Maria says she won't go back. "No, no. It's very poor, it's really poor over there."

Reporter: Christine McCarty
Web Producer: Mike McKean
Original Air Date: May 29, 2005

aa Published: May 30, 2005
2005 , KOMU-TV8 and the Missouri School of Journalism. Some information courtesy Associated Press
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