Faculty Publications

"Latinos Have Revitalized Our Community": Mexican Migration And Anglo Responses In Marshalltown, Iowa

Document Type


Journal/Book/Conference Title

New Destinations: Mexican Immigration in the United States

First Page


Last Page



Marshalltown, Iowa, is a typical new destination community for Mexican migrants in the United States. This midwestern community of twenty-six thousand has been fundamentally transformed and revitalized by rapid growth in its Mexican population over the last ten years. In 1990, there were only 248 people of Hispanic origin in Marshalltown, or 0.9 percent of the total population. In 2000, there were 3,265 or 12.6 percent of total population. The 2000 census figure is probably low because of the reluctance of many undocumented immigrants to complete U.S. census forms. Many Latinos and Anglo community leaders believe the actual number of Mexican and other Latinos in Marshalltown is between four thousand and forty-five hundred. Rapid growth in Marshalltown's Mexican population mirrors that of Iowa and many Iowa communities. The state experienced 153 percent growth in its Hispanic and Latino population between 1990 and 2000. Numbering 82,473 in 2000, Hispanics and Latinos are now Iowa's largest minority population, and outnumber African Americans by more than 20,000. Seven Iowa counties experienced ten-fold increases in their Hispanic and Latino populations in the 1990s, including Marshall County, of which Marshalltown is the county seat. In 1990, Marshall County had 292 Hispanic residents, of whom 201 (69 percent) were from Mexico. In 2000, there were 3,523 Hispanics in Marshall County, of whom 3,115 (88 percent) were from Mexico. Marshalltown makes an interesting case study for understanding the transformation of rural communities with rapid influxes of Latinos. First, the experience of Marshalltown parallels that of many U.S. communities because the main draw for Latinos has been the availability of jobs in a large meatpacking plant. Although most migrants arrived to take jobs in this plant, newcomers have slowly but surely begun working in other sectors of the local economy. They also opened their own businesses, bought homes in growing numbers and their children have bolstered sagging school enrollments. Second, most of the newcomers hail from the same village in Mexico. This gives us an opportunity to present what we call the "unofficial sister city" relationship between a single sending community in Mexico and a single receiving community in the United States. Third, the interesting and important aspect of the Marshalltown experience is the sustained and enthusiastic efforts of Anglo leaders to welcome Latinos and successfully bring the community through an often difficult period of demographic, social and cultural transition. In many respects, Anglo leaders in Marshalltown serve as models for their colleagues in other Iowa and midwestern communities that are dealing with similar influxes of Latino migrants. Copyright © 2005 by Russell Sage Foundation.


Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology

Original Publication Date


This document is currently not available here.