Crete - A City of Contrasts
Crete is a community of about 6,500 people, located in Saline County about 20 miles southwest of Lincoln. Founded by Germans from Russia, it later became home to an influx of Czech immigrants, who influenced the community with their culture, foods and religion.
Crete has been home to Doane College since 1872; Doane is a private liberal arts and sciences college known nationally for high-quality education. Crete is home to a progressive public school system known for excellence in academics and sports.
It's also home to Farmland Foods, which has changed the landscape of Crete since it opened its doors for business in 1975. Farmland processes pork products, and this Farmland facility is both a slaughtering and manufacturing plant. The plant employs about 1,800 workers and many travel long distances to work there, according to Tom Crisman, Mayor of Crete and a longtime Farmland employee. In the last 20 years, the Farmland plant has attracted immigrant workers from many countries - chiefly Mexico and countries in Central America. But, Crisman said, the plant has employed large numbers of Asian workers in the past, and currently employs smaller numbers of workers from other countries. Seventeen languages and dialects are now spoken in the plant, he added.
Latino-owned restaurants and other businesses dot Crete's downtown district, which is a change from the past. Many longtime Crete residents remember the locally-famous Czech restaurant that closed its doors a few years ago and miss its ethnic foods, but evidence of change is everywhere. A new fire station gleams downtown. Infrastructure is being improved; new middle school was built nearly four years ago; there's a new hospital.
Crete Public Schools is a few blocks down the street, changing to meet the needs of its ever-changing student population, and teaching Spanish to students as early as kindergarten in addition to its thriving English Language Learners (ELL) program. Kyle McGowan, Superintendent of Schools in Crete, is one of many Nebraska superintendents who believe students who know two languages well will have an advantage in the job market, and that a language is easier to learn for children than it is for adults.
The Crete News, located on a downtown corner, continues to churn out a weekly newspaper, as it has since 1872. Doane College stands on a hill in a park-like setting, old buildings aside new, continuing to recruit students from all over the country to this small community.
Jonathan Brand, President of Doane College since 2005, hopes to expand associations between the college and the rest of the Crete community; the college already hosts many educational and social activities in Crete. Many years ago, more than 80 percent of Doane's faculty and staff lived in Crete; today only half live there. Part of that is because Lincoln has grown in that direction, and the conveniences of a larger city are attractive to some people. However, Brand would like to increase the number of faculty and staff who live in Crete, and has introduced an incentive program to persuade more Doane employees to live there.
Community Division - Real or Perceived?
Crete's mix of ethnicities, combined with the presence of both a nationally-ranked college and a meat processing facility, creates a dichotomy in this community; it is all the more apparent because of the community's small population.
Statewide, Strategic Discussions for Nebraska researchers found a variety of opinions regarding the reasons for divides in communities, real or perceived. While some voices indicate it is a race issue, others - including Latino leaders - say it isn't so much an issue of race as it is a divide between people who are educated and people who are not; people who work in manufacturing facilities as opposed to people who work as professors, doctors or lawyers; people who are poor compared to people who are not.
Still, there are people in every community - including Crete - who say the workers should leave, and that the school system shouldn't spend tax dollars teaching Spanish in the public schools. The majority, however, say the Crete economy would crash if those workers left, and that teaching Spanish to native English-speakers and English to native Spanish-speakers can have only positive results.
Learning and Communication
McGowan believes the process of acculturation begins in the schools, as children learn languages and cultures of their classmates. McGowan is implementing programs to be sure the Crete schools continue to move in a positive direction. One example is the schools' diversity plan, designed to help more kids succeed, he said. It also helps students understand the culture of Crete.
"Our premise is that the system works, but you have to be able to access it. Osmosis doesn't work.
Nearly four years ago, the schools hired a bilingual counselor. "Our premise is that the system works, but you have to be able to access it. Osmosis doesn't work," McGowan said. That counselor also serves in outreach and advocacy roles.
Constant communication is one of the keys to engaging the various ethnicities, he indicated, and knowing how everyone is comfortable communicating is important. It's not enough to use normal forms of communication with varied ethnicities. For example, if McGowan wants to hire a bilingual employee, he advertises on the Internet.
One of the ways Crete schools are communicating with the Latino population is through a Hispanic Parents Night. "We needed to work on our informal communication network," he said. "Good schools have good, multiple ways to communicate."
"The world has changed," McGowan said, and Crete schools are changing with it.
Bridging the Gap - The Crete News
Josh Wolfe, editor of The Crete News, believes any problems with negativity are few; he occasionally gets letters to the editor and publishes them, but says they are written by very few people. Wolfe is actively involved in bridging the gap of coverage between Crete's ethnic groups, hoping to increase communication and understanding. However, his newspaper has a small staff and can't cover all the events going on in the community. He wants to cover all the news and social events in Crete - not only in the white community, but in the Latino community, as well. The Latino community seems to be surprised that he wants to include them in the Crete News, Wolfe said. He hopes to re-introduce an old custom, in which volunteers covered social events in the community and wrote columns or stories for the newspaper. If he can make that happen, he will be able to include all segments of Crete's population as well as manage his staffing shortage.
Some of the employees at Farmland are undocumented, according to Father Julius Tvrdy, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. The church and St. James Catholic School are very near the downtown district. Fifty percent of the students in St. James School are English Language Learners (ELL), Father Tvrdy said. Most of those are Latino, but there are some Vietnamese students. He said that his goal is for all the kids in St. James School to learn to read and write Spanish - to be biliterate.
He first told SDN researchers of the fear among the undocumented workers at Farmland. They fear being found out, fear deportation, fear for their families if that were to happen, he said. That fear makes people live quiet lives and makes them shy away from community activities. Latinos are usually devout Catholics, and Father Tvrdy, who speaks Spanish fluently, works closely with the Latino Catholics in addition to the Caucasian segment of the population. He continues to try various activities and methods to decrease their fear and increase their involvement in the church. He is reaching out to people who are here legally, encouraging them to serve on committees and become involved in other activities in hopes that others will follow that lead.
The undocumented workers and their families don't like to hide in the shadows, Father Tvrdy said. They would prefer to be here legally. "Our Hispanics are industrial migrant workers," he explained, and it's a "long, impossible process to become a legal resident. Unless there's a green card, there's no way of moving forward, no way they can improve themselves."
But on the state or national level, Father Tvrdy said, "I don't hear anybody addressing any part of this complicated issue."
Opportunities for Nebraska, Volume Three: Food Scarcity is the third annual publication of Strategic Discussions for Nebraska, exploring the importance of University of Nebraska research on the way we live- and on the way the world lives. Read more>>
Opportunities for Nebraska, Volume Two: Energy, Climate and Sustainability is the second annual publication of Strategic Discussions for Nebraska that explores the impact and relevance of University of Nebraska research.
Watch and listen as experts tell the stories of research and innovation at the University of Nebraska- one of the top research universities in the United States. Read more>>
Opportunities for Nebraska is the first magazine in a series that showcases University of Nebraska-Lincoln research. The world population is expected to grow to nine billion by 2050 and this research will result in producing twice as much food with the same amount of land and water. Watch and listen as UNL experts tell the stories of research and innovation at one of the top research universities in the country!
Read More >>
UNL student researchers along with SDN conducted a major research project to study the ways Ord residents communicate about what is happening in the community.
Read More >>
Published in June 2009, Nebraska's Economic Future includes a summary of findings; stories based on individual interviews; summaries of community conversations; and articles written specifically for this magazine. The articles represent varied geographical perspectives as well as perspectives on various parts of the state's economy.
Read More >>
SDN published research on Immigration in Nebraska for the project's initial study in May 2008. We selected Scottsbluff, Lexington, Crete and Omaha and looked at the impact immigration has had on those communities.
Read More >>