Who are the three racial/ethnic groups in this encounter?
The three major racial/ ethnic groups in Postville were the Anglo-Americans, Hasidic Jews, and, Hispanic Mexicans.
The Anglo-Americans were the native group of people residing in Postville before the in-migration. These Anglo-Americans were of German, English, and Scandinavian origin. This community of Postville, Iowa was majoring based on farming. They enjoyed greased pig contests, parades, and also believed strongly in community cohesion. They practiced Christianity and for approximately 150 years, Postville remained white and Christian. The native group believed in a well-knit social community where everyone waved and smiled at each other.
Hasidic Jews were an in-migrating group. In 1988, a family of Hasidic Jews bought a slaughterhouse on the outskirts of town. Following their religious laws that prohibit the consumption of pork, the Jews opened a kosher meat plant. To supervise the complicated process of koshering meat, the plant employed 30 trained rabbis. The rabbis came along with their families. Their friends and relatives followed. These Hasidic Jew came from New York, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv. Arriving from the big cities like New York, the norms of this small town were quite odd to them. They maintained their individuality and remained separate from the locals. Their religious difference along with the fact that they were amongst a community of people of German origin kept them cautious and they kept their guard up. Although they spoke the language, yet their religion and their need to maintain their identity kept them from assimilating into the community.
The Jews hired immigrants to work on the meat plant. This third group was the Mexican immigrants who came to the United States in search of the American dream. Being Christians, they did not differ from the locals in terms of religion. However, their skin color and the fact that they spoke Spanish separated them from the locals (PBS, 2000).
Who was the established group in Postville before the in-migration? What were their expectations of the new arrivals (both groups)?
The Anglo-Americans were the established group of people residing in Postville before the in-migration. These natives were of German, English, and Scandinavian origin. The established group was a cohesive farming community that expected newcomers to adopt the community norms by assimilating into the established culture. It was a common norm of the established community to wave and smile at each other and the same was expected from the in-migrating Hasidic Jews. They expected Jews to break bread with them to get to know each other. They also expected that the Jews would mow their lawns like everyone in a community as in Postville every yard seemed to be off the pages of a lifestyle magazine. They expected them to be a part of PTAs, bake cookies for the school bake sale, participate in Christmas Pageants, and other community celebrations. On the other hand, they expected the Mexicans to keep to themselves and not hang around in groups on Main Street. They expected them to learn English rather than organize a Saturday night mass in Spanish. In general, the established group expected the in-migrating groups to look and act in a way that suited their society. They expected that these in-coming groups would change and adjust rather than forcing the natives to adjust to their lifestyles (PBS, 2000).
What did the Jewish community expect when they settled in Postville? What did they encounter from both the locals and the “Mexicans/Hispanics”?
The Jewish community arriving in Postville, Iowa expected a life much similar to that in New York. They expected to remain separate from the natives. However, they experienced quite a culture shock. These big-city dwellers were faced with a community of people who practiced rituals like smiling at each other in grocery stores, waving to neighbors in the streets. In a city like New York, no one had the time to do that. These Jews were invited by natives to break bread with them which they declined as their religion taught them certain dietary rules. They did not mix dairy and meat products and considered food inedible if it had come in contact with pots, pans, and, silverware that has touched kosher food. They hired the Mexicans/Hispanics at their kosher meat plant. These immigrants also reveled in the slow pace of this small-town life. But like the natives, the Jews too became cautious. While Jew identified as Americans, they understood that the Mexicans have a whole another nationality, therefore they were hated more (PBS, 2000).
What did the “Mexican/Hispanic” community expect when they settled in Postville? What did they encounter from both the locals and from the Jewish community?
The Mexican/ Hispanic community were immigrants hired by the Hasidic Jews at the meat plant. They arrived in the US in search of the American dream. After arriving in Postville, they reveled in the slow-paced small-town life. They made themselves at home on Main Street and graced the sidewalks in groups. However, they soon realized that the people of Postville have a hard time adjusting to immigrants, especially the ones much less European looking. They were seen to be altogether different as for the natives the racial difference was a greater problem than religious differences. The Mexicans encountered increased caution from both groups. There were increased police patrols and people disapproved of them hanging around in groups. Additionally, the real estate prices were increased to keep these immigrants from renting a place within the town and restraining them to the trailer court. The Postville natives even drove out of town to another church when the Saturday night service switched to Spanish in the Catholic Church (PBS, 2000).
How did the “raid” impact various racial/ethnic groups as well as the entire community?
On May 12, 2008, federal agents raided the Agriprocessors’ plant and conducted the biggest raid in the history of the US. They captured around 400 workers. Men were sentenced to five months of imprisonment followed by deportation. While women were fitted with ankle monitors and allowed to stay till a trial. The deportees were not only penniless but also in debt which they could not pay off. The women, on the other hand, had to live off handouts as their status remained uncertain. The raid impacted the town of Postville as it took one-fifth of the town’s population. These workers were vital to the local economy. With the meat plant going bankrupt, the whole local economy crashed. Initially, only 30 to 40 people, mostly Mexicans visited the food bank however, after the raid the number went as high as 165 and now it wasn’t just Guatemalans. The raid resulted in the Deli workers going out of a job too. Overall, the economy took a huge hit as a result of the raid and many locals and Jews were forced to leave Postville as they struggled to survive (PBS, 2009).
How do the concepts of race and Ethnicity apply to Postville?
The concepts of race and ethnicity are often linked to the idea of ancestry. While race is generally associated with biological or physical characteristics such as hair texture or skin color, ethnicity is related to cultural identification and expression (Morin, 2020). In Postville, the largest of the three ethnic groups were the locals who were descendants of German, whereas the Hasidic Jews belonged to Lyubavichi, Russia. The third ethnic group was the Hispanic Mexicans. In terms of race, the Jews differed from the locals based on their “distinctive facial hair and their aversion to pork tenderloin”. Whereas, the Mexicans were considered a whole different breed due to the color of their skin (PBS, 2000).
How do the concepts of Assimilation and Multi-Culturalism apply to Postville?
The concepts of multiculturalism and assimilation can be distinguished based on how social cohesion is achieved. While assimilation is the process of reducing differences between the co-existing social groups whereby the in-migrating group adopts the norms of the locals, multiculturalism seeks to acknowledge and validate these differences (Villotti et al., 2019). In Postville, Iowa, the in-migrating Hasidic Jew maintained their individuality due to religious differences whereas the Mexicans were forced to remain separated due to the prevailing prejudice. As the three groups could not assimilate to achieve social cohesion, the society emerged as an example of multiculturalism, where each group acknowledges the individuality of the other and perform their societal duties (PBS, 2000).
How does the concept of “ethnic antagonism” apply to Postville?
Ethnic antagonism explains the segmentation of the labor market based on ethnic or racial differences. It emerges from a split labor market, where the people from various ethnicities may contend for the same job. However, the wages differ and the cost of employing people from a certain group is significantly lower as compared to that of another group (Bonacich, 1972). This concept of ethnic antagonism can be applied to Postville. Initially, the Hasidic Jews employed 30 rabbis to oversee the meat processing. To work at the plant, immigrants were hired as they were willing to live the American dream while working in harsh conditions and low wages. The labor market was divided as most of the locals relied on farming, whereas the Jews were in the meatpacking and processing business, and the immigrants were factory workers. They were paid $7 an hour. They were also barred from renting real estate which was available to them at higher rates (PBS, 2000).
Bonacich, E. (1972). A Theory of Ethnic Antagonism: The Split Labor Market. American Sociological Review, 37(5). https://inequality.stanford.edu/publications/media/details/theory-ethnic-antagonism-split-labor-market
Morin, A. (2020). What’s the Difference Between Race and Ethnicity? Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/difference-between-race-and-ethnicity-5074205
PBS. (2000). Iowa PBS Documentaries | Postville: When Cultures Collide. https://video.iowapbs.org/video/iptv-documentaries-postville-when-cultures-collide/
PBS. (2009, August 7). FRONTLINE/World Guatemala: A Tale of Two Villages | PBS. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGdvv4dwzIA
Villotti, P., Stinglhamber, F., & Desmette, D. (2019). The Influence of Multiculturalism and Assimilation on Work-Related Outcomes: Differences Between Ethnic Minority and Majority Groups of Workers. Psychologica Belgica, 59(1), 246–268. https://doi.org/10.5334/pb.472