Lindsey Tederman knows about outside perceptions of Lexington - she hears them not only because she's editor of the Lexington Clipper-Herald, but also because she doesn't live in Lexington, but in a town several miles away. And countering outside perceptions of this community is one of Lexington's biggest challenges.
She hears about what the community must be like, because people don't know the facts; they believe what they hear. They're judging the community based on the fact that it's a meatpacking town - home to Tyson Fresh Meats, which employs about 2,400 workers. Most of the workers are Hispanic, but there are Asians, Sudanese and Somalis as well.
In fact, Lexington is a positive community, an accepting community, an ever-changing community, Tederman said. "People are people, and they may have an accent, they may be a different color, but I think we're all trying to do the same thing - work, raise a family, live together cohesively," she said. There's a strong core group of lifelong Lexington residents who have accepted the immigrants and have worked hard at keeping Lexington thriving, she said.
There have been legitimate news stories out of Lexington in recent years, Tederman said, but when the stories are picked up by other papers, they can't resist inserting a phrase into the stories about the high immigrant population of Lexington, which may or may not be relevant to the story.
Lexington does have some crime, she said, but it is important to examine the demographics of the community before deciding that the crime is due to the immigrant population. Many of the new workers in Lexington are young, and statistically, most crime occurs in the 18-34 age group, she said. Lexington's sheriff does not blame the crime on immigrants; he blames it on age, she said. "I think if people were to know that, it would really help the image of Lexington."
"Getting the right people in place to help with the communication barrier is a big issue with businesses, the hospital and schools as well.
Communicating with the immigrant population is a challenge Lexington faces, she said. The Clipper-Herald has a monthly summary of stories translated into Spanish for the paper's Que Pasa edition, but with other ethnicities arriving, it is difficult to meet their needs as well. There just aren't people in a town of 11,000 to translate stories into every language spoken by the community's newest residents. Getting the right people in place to help with the communication barrier is a big issue with businesses, the hospital and schools as well, she said.
If communication issues could be solved, acculturation issues would be easier to solve, too. The Hispanic population is similar to the Anglo population in much of its culture, but the Somalis and Sudanese are dissimilar. And because they were not placed in Lexington - rather, they moved to the community on their own - there is uncertainty about who is responsible for acculturating them. The community would like to provide basic instruction on sanitation and using the features of a home appropriately, but there is no specific organization charged with providing this education, and no available dollars to finance such an effort. The community recognizes there are very basic differences in cultures, but these may be unfamiliar to Lexington's newest residents, Tederman explained, and the results arising from simply not knowing how to use these features can widen the divide between cultures.
Lexington has recently instituted an inclusion committee of the Chamber of Commerce, Tederman said, to approach acculturation issues and to unify the community by including Hispanic and other ethnicities into the leadership of the community. A separate Chamber of Commerce was set up by the Hispanic residents several years ago, Tederman said. "Had we set up this inclusion committee five years ago, we wouldn't have two separate Chambers," she said.
If she were to give advice to another small community about to get a meatpacking plant or other large business, she said it would be to assemble a core group of people who have been in the community for a long time, and get them on the same page. "Let them know that it's not going to ruin their city; it's actually going to improve their economy, it's going to grow," she said. "Take the things that are positive and work with those, and be proactive instead of reactive."
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