An authentic, "mom and pop" style Mexican restaurant in rural Iowa? Si, amigo! Welcome to Denison, Iowa, about 100 miles west of Des Moines, a place that hundreds of Hispanic immigrants now call home. I traveled to Denison last week to learn more about this changing town as part of our series on immigration called "Whose America?"
Correspondent Ron Allen, cameraman Ray Farmer and audio technician Dennis Fry rounded out our team. We went to talk with Denison residents, both native and newly-arrived, and to tour the Farmland Foods meat-packing plant, which is the main attraction for this new wave of workers. Its high-paying jobs rival those in big cities like Los Angeles, and the cost of living in Iowa is obviously far lower.
Upon arrival, Denison seems to be the typical portrait of "small town America." Coming into town, we passed the two biggest motels -- the Days Inn and the Super 8. No Four Seasons here! Drive a little farther, you'll come upon Main Street. Take Main Street a few blocks to Broadway, and you're in downtown Denison. But now, just near the theater which bears the name of Denison's favorite daughter, actress Donna Reed, you'll find tacquerias, beauty salons and other businesses owned and geared toward the growing Hispanic population. Visit the grade school, and you'll hear teachers giving lessons in both English and Spanish. This town is changing rapidly -- it's more diverse than anyone here ever could have imagined.
Yes, the town is experiencing some growing pains. The cultures are slowly learning to accept one another, and there's been some tension along the way. But what I learned on our trip, from talking to community officials, church leaders, and residents -- both Caucasian and Hispanic -- is that we all want the same things. We want to have a good life. We want to provide for our families. We want our kids to go to good schools. We want to feel safe in our hometowns. We want the American dream.
"Whose America?" examines who is or should be entitled to that dream... who takes great risks and travels great distances at the mere chance at achieving that dream... and who in this country wants to extend the dream seekers a helping hand or simply turn them away. I thank the residents of Denison for their hospitality, and I pray the two cultures will continue to grow together, not apart, all the while working to fulfill that sometimes elusive American dream.