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Posted 06.26.06

USDA Grant Allows MU Researchers to Examine Latino Immigration

Study to focus on the economic, social and cultural experiences of immigrants in three Missouri towns

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Nationally, the subject of immigration has dominated headlines. President Bush, congressional leaders and civil liberties groups have publicly debated the issue while protesters in cities across America took the streets to denounce reform efforts.

Locally, the topic also is being discussed, although from a completely different perspective. Rather than debate immigration reform, University of Missouri-Columbia researchers are examining ways for Latinos to integrate into the American mainstream - mainly in Missouri.

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MU, through its Cambio Center, which studies Latino settlements and communities throughout the state, has received a $416,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to study Missouri's growing Hispanic population and identify strategies for improving economic and social integration. During a three-year period beginning in October, Cambio Center fellows Anne Dannerbeck, assistant professor of social work in the College of Human Environmental Sciences, and Corinne Valdivia, associate professor of agricultural economics in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, will examine the overall economic well-being and day-to-day livelihood of Latinos in three rural Missouri cities - Milan, Sedalia and Branson. Each town has a distinct economic base, along with private-sector industries, that attract immigrants, Dannerbeck said.

"We're looking at what are Latino immigrants bringing and what are they adding to communities," said Dannerbeck, noting that negative information about economic, social and cultural differences fuels most debates about immigration. "What we are trying to do is look at positive change and integration. This is about understanding livelihood strategies and how people get by and get ahead in their new communities. We want to look at ways to create positive futures and not a new underclass."

During the first year of the study, researchers will examine the community climate for Latino immigration in the three cities. Focus groups will be established and participants will photographically capture the occasional day-to-day difficulties encountered by immigrants. In the second year, Dannerbeck and Valdivia will interview 900 Latinos regarding their financial status, ability to acquire assets and general well-being. Issues such as income, education, health, language proficiency, social and cultural bonding and experiences with financial institutions also will be discussed. Data analysis will be completed the third year. Results will be distributed by the Cambio Center at workshops and special presentations. Researchers will organize a handbook and training manual on integration and community development to share with other states and Midwest cities where Latinos are settling.

Statistics from MU's Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis indicate the combined Latino population in Milan, Sedalia and Branson increased from 345 in 1990 to 2,772 in 2002 and 3,700 in '03. The statewide population of Latinos through '04, the last year figures were available, is 148,201. Dannerbeck said immigrants have migrated to Milan mainly to work at a poultry plant in the area; Sedalia because of its diverse, yet rural, economy; and Branson because of opportunities associated with the entertainment and tourism industry.



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