Published Online:

Immigration's Final Frontier

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

A Hispanic man clad in the uniform of a poultry-plant worker--chocolate-brown shirt and khaki pants--squeezes through the glass door at a local post office.

At the small corner table he pulls out a rumpled envelope, a handwritten letter in Spanish, and a check.

After laboriously printing a Zacatecas, Mexico, address on the envelope, he finally reaches the mail clerk.

He says simply: "Stamp.''

In such places as Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, or New York City, this event would pass without notice. But not at this post office.

Not in Rogers, Ark.

Tucked into the northwest corner of a state that immigration observers call part of the nation's final frontier, this Ozark town is home to 30,000 residents, 97 percent of whom are white. Things have pretty much been that way since the town was settled in 1881 and named for the superintendent of the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, which created a livelihood for local farmers by shipping their apples across the country.

Over the past five years, however, an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Hispanics, mostly Mexicans, have moved into the region, and a number of them--no one knows how many--now live in Rogers.

For the first time, schools in Rogers are grappling with how to educate a population of students who speak little or no English, who may not even be proficient in speaking or writing their native tongue, and who are just as likely to drive in from Los Angeles or El Paso as from Guadalajara or Durango in Mexico.

A community that prides itself on unity is being forced to deal with people who look, speak, and act differently.

The parents come for jobs, mostly as line workers in one of the many poultry-processing plants that dot the landscape--dominated by Tyson Foods Inc., the nation's biggest such processor, run by a local boy turned multimillionaire, Don Tyson. Jobs in the area are plentiful, and unemployment runs only around 3 percent.

In what may be a historic trend, the availability of jobs is helping push immigrant families from more traditional immigration and migration routes into previously homogeneous, mostly rural territory in Arkansas and across Middle America. Andre L. Guerrero, the director for civil rights and bilingual education at the state education department, calls Rogers a "latter-day Ellis Island.''

To an urban eye, Rogers still has room to grow, with fields of cows and horses not just on the edge of town but inside it. But many residents say they feel crowded, that things are outgrowing themselves too quickly.

Rogers is already reeling from a population explosion. It is Arkansas's fastest-growing city--its population has nearly doubled over the past decade--and the Hispanics' arrival is only the latest chapter in that story.

Vestiges of an older Rogers sometimes manage to peek through its newer industrial sprawl; the brick facades of the old downtown have been painstakingly restored. Although the letters from H.L. Stroud's general store (founded in 1899) were removed after it closed last year, nearly a century of sun faded the surrounding brick so that the name is indelible.

Attracted by the state's right-to-work status and a seemingly limitless water supply from Beaver Lake, industry flocked to Rogers from nearby states. Many fields that have not yet been filled by plants and parking lots for such industries as Wal-Mart, J.B. Hunt trucking, Daisy Manufacturing Company, and First Brands Corporation bear signs announcing the arrival of a new housing development or industrial park.

Rogers's prosperity has pulled many of its longtime residents into higher-paying manufacturing jobs, leaving to Hispanics the jobs of killing, stripping, hanging, cutting, and cooking birds.

Officially, from the school superintendent to the Mayor, the town's new cultural diversity is a resource, not a problem. They want the newcomers integrated into the community. But most people in Rogers are just waking up to the reality that their community is in the process of a historical transformation. And some clearly are not ready for it.

Around the 1920's, Rogers had a brief experience with Mexican farm laborers who came to the area to harvest apples. In contrast to the families flocking to Rogers today, those were single men harvesting for a few months and returning to Mexico.

In the late 1970's, after the fall of Saigon, the federal government resettled thousands of Vietnamese refugees in the Fort Smith area, about 70 miles south of Rogers. Some families trickled north to Rogers, but many of them already spoke English and were so few in number--peaking at 24 in 1981--that they were easily served, school officials note.

Such is not the case today.

At the beginning of the 1991-92 school year, the district had 35 limited-English-proficient students. By the end of the year, there were 84. The following year, the figure jumped to 148. This school year, the total hovers around 300, out of a total enrollment of 8,060.

While the L.E.P. students make up a relatively small percentage of the total enrollment, they pose a big challenge to the district.

Schools in the district are already crowded, and officials are considering a year-round calendar. The district is also building at a rate equivalent to one new elementary school a year. It has in place a baffling busing schedule of nearly 60 routes that traverse its 258-square-mile territory, shuffling some students from one side of town to another to comply with the state's maximum classroom sizes. This dilutes the district's already thin services for L.E.P. students by forcing programs to follow students to more places.

Katy White, the principal of Lowell Elementary School, where many of the first Hispanic students showed up, recalls her first thoughts.

"My first worry was just getting the kids home, finding out where they lived, and getting them off at the bus stop,'' she says.

To do that, she called a local woman who spoke Spanish, who came armed with a Rogers map. But other issues were a bit more complicated. "Do we have to pay attention to them having a green card or not? We really just had to familiarize ourselves with the law,'' White says.

Since that time, the district has held a few English-as-a-second-language seminars, offered some basic-Spanish classes to staff members, and bought software to translate written English into Spanish.

Theoretically, something is in place at every grade level to provide at least some special help for L.E.P. students, although the state education department has raised questions about the program's overall efficacy. Since the numbers of students with limited English are still relatively small, district officials say, there is no practical way to group students by ability or grade level within those programs.

The district has no means of assessing students in their native language--many students show up to register with no previous academic records--and must rely on the judgment of teachers and principals who admit they have no expertise in such assessment. There is no consensus on appropriate curriculum, no official policy on how to promote students to the next grade, no organized meetings to keep mainstream teachers updated on what students are learning in their specialized pullout classes.

"By no means do we say that we're doing everything we should,'' admits Deputy Superintendent Joe Mathias. "We're just operating on a trial-and-error basis.''

When the district looks to the state for help, it finds that the education department itself has scant resources for districts like Rogers. It, too, is just now dealing with the notion that Arkansas even has an L.E.P. population to serve.

With no certified "experts'' on bilingual education, E.S.L., or multicultural issues, the district relies on a select group of teachers to muddle through how to best reach these students.

Teachers charged with serving the district's L.E.P. students take very different approaches to their task.

One wall of Katie S. Kraner's low-ceilinged classroom in a former National Guard armory displays a world map with red arrows connecting pupils' names and their home countries or states. The names from Mexico far outnumber those from Vietnam, El Salvador, California, and Texas. Kraner's is the only name from Ohio. Next to this, a U.S. map holds a sign saying: "You are here: Rogers, Arkansas.''

Children ages 5 to 13 file through the back door, sliding off winter coats and brightly colored backpacks en route to their desks. They recite the Pledge of Allegiance by heart, then sing "My Country 'Tis of Thee'' as Kraner, clad in a crisp white blouse and wool skirt, beams approvingly.

After they have been drilled on their phone numbers and addresses, it's time for journal writing, and the students whisper softly in Spanish among themselves. Hugo Garcia, a 3rd grader who arrived in Rogers four months ago from Mexico City, pages through his journal, gently fingering the gold chain around his neck. His Oct. 14 entry says: "I am sad when I moved from Mexico.''

Hugo, who counts on his fingers the 16 family members and friends who share a house in Rogers, explains in Spanish that he understands "a little'' of his other classes, but he likes playing soccer during gym class because he does not have to talk.

Kraner speaks almost no Spanish and is not trained in E.S.L., but she once taught an English-immersion class for the wives of Japanese executives brought in by a Honda motorcycle plant in Anna, Ohio. "But they [the Japanese] have a stronger drive than the Hispanics,'' she says.

When she has a discipline problem, she visits the student's home, bringing along a relatively bilingual 7th grader to translate.

Some of her pupils have little proficiency in their native Spanish, which bilingual-education experts say makes it difficult to learn a second language. Yet, Kraner says that learning English is paramount.

"With so many other things to be consumed with, I don't think native-language proficiency should be at the top of our list,'' she says. "The central office has given me a lot of flexibility to do what I think works.''

Kraner's approach is not unusual in the district.

Ron T. Highfill, who teaches high school Spanish, says that when he started his peer-tutoring class for L.E.P. students two years ago, "the district was totally mainstreaming these students. They were just sitting in class staring at the teacher; they couldn't even understand the instructions. I wanted them to at least utilize their time.''

Highfill, who taught English in Mexico for two years, uses his lunch hour, planning period, and time between classes to hunt down some of the students' other teachers to discuss their progress. But there's no way to keep tabs on all of them.

He says he and one of the counselors shepherd the L.E.P. students, looking for classes they can pass with teachers who can handle them. Counselors at other schools report making similar arrangements.

"I haven't gotten any guidelines or restrictions,'' Highfill says. "They just figure I'll use my common sense.''

Like Kraner, Jeanne Couey designs her own curriculum, but she opts for a bilingual approach.

For 50 minutes, Couey and her students--Hector, Fermin, Claudia, Jaime, Alejandro, and Leslie--speak freely in Spanish and English. Reviewing for an upcoming test, they staple together "three-dimensional study sheets'' that ask for words in both languages.

"If we had kids from Turkey, Greece, and India, we'd have to think about different 'immersion' programs, but we only have one language here,'' she points out. She thinks the L.E.P. students would be better served if the district assigned them all to a few schools rather than bus them across town.

One eye monitoring the students' project, Couey ticks off the different proficiency levels in this class: no written skills in either language but speaks both; low self-esteem but fairly bilingual; well-educated in Mexico but having some adjustment problems here. The list goes on.

Managing the challenge of Rogers's new residents takes its toll on teachers.

Couey has to remain mobile. Each school day, she shuttles between six classrooms in two different junior highs. After classes, she's off to a student's home or yet another school that needs help translating a letter, telephoning, or collecting a signature from an L.E.P. student's family.

Born in San Diego to a Native American mother and Swedish father, Couey worked for three years as an E.S.L. teacher for a community center in Dade County, Fla., although she never was certified in the specialty. The Rogers district hired her three years ago part time to work with L.E.P. students, though she says she never got any formal title.

At first, she visited nearly every student's home to make initial contact. She would write about three letters a day seeking free materials in Spanish--ranging from guides to prescription drugs to information on applying for Social Security--to bring along on those visits. But today there are too many students, and she is tired.

Particularly frustrating are the calls she occasionally gets from a principal asking, "Have my students learned English yet?'' after only a few months of lessons. Many bilingual-education experts say it takes from five to seven years to develop "academic proficiency'' in a second language, although it can take as little as one year for a student to be conversational.

"It's like they want you to 'fix' them and send them back when they're ready,'' Couey says. "It just doesn't work like that.''

Later this day, Couey pulls up to the Quintana home, one in a row of neat, low-slung brick houses, to check in on Leslie, a 7th grader. "I always tell my students never to forget their Spanish,'' Couey says, slinging her bloated briefcase over her arm. Above the door is a sign that says "La Familia Quintana.''

The Quintanas, originally from El Salvador, moved to Rogers in 1991 from Los Angeles on the advice of Nelson Quintana's half brother. Leslie's father says Los Angeles was "jail-like'' and he feared for his daughters' safety around the gangs in their predominantly Hispanic neighborhood.

Both parents got jobs with local poultry plants and today live in a predominantly Anglo neighborhood. Mr. Quintana says being in a more "American'' environment will help daughters Leslie and Mirna, a 3rd grader, learn English more quickly.

Still, Leslie says her first day of school was a shock.

"I just saw white faces everywhere,'' she says.

Teachers have relied on the girls to tutor other Hispanic students in their classes as part of the district's "buddy system.'' Both help translate for their mom, Gloria, who speaks little English, when they go grocery shopping or do other errands.

As the Quintana parents talk with Couey in Spanish, Mirna climbs onto the teacher's lap.

"I wish there were more people like Senora Couey here, good people,'' Gloria Quintana says in Spanish. "I see that she appreciates my daughters a lot and for that I appreciate her.''

Without a set game plan for dealing with its new Hispanic children and families, Rogers relies heavily on the personal interest of teachers and others active in the community to manage its newfound diversity.

For the 13 families she gets paid to work with, and the 15 to 20 more she does not, Efigenia Jett, a native of Panama, is a lifeline to the schools and community.

The school district pays her to help prepare Hispanic children for kindergarten by teaching parents to teach their children school-readiness skills using the Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY). Roughly 10 percent of Rogers's kindergartners are Hispanic.

Jett has also been called at 2 A.M. to accompany a pregnant woman to the delivery room, and stayed with her all night and the next day until she gave birth. She has been asked to mediate marital problems, translate letters, order pizza, and, sometimes, just to give advice. Those are the tasks for which she does not get paid.

"They don't like to go to just anybody,'' Jett explains en route to a home visit. "They're very proud, but they trust me.''

Passing the carbon-copy brick homes of Rogers's newer developments, she pulls off the smooth black pavement onto a gravel road, stopping in front of a dull-white wood house. The closest neighbor on one side is a Tyson plant, white smoke billowing over the houses' roofs. The car parked outside still has a California license plate.

Teresa Guzman answers Jett's knock, a smile spreading over her face as the two women hug and walk through a sparsely furnished living room.

At the kitchen table, Jett opens her binder and begins the lesson, pulling out bags of crayons, plastic shapes, and plastic tableware because most of the families she visits do not have such things.

The lesson deals with spatial relationships, and the two women laugh as Jett orders Guzman around the room.

"I'm next to the door,'' Guzman says in Spanish. "I'm between the table and the chair.''

Guzman timidly pushes together the pieces of a puzzle, Jett laughing softly when she misplaces a piece.

After the lesson, which Guzman is to use with her 5-year-old daughter Maira for about 20 minutes five times a week, the two women move into the living room to chat.

The Guzman family moved to Rogers seven months ago from Fresno, Calif., where they lived for eight years after leaving Zacatecas, Mexico. Her husband leaves the house at 6:15 A.M. to get to his job at a turkey plant in Springdale. He returns home just in time to kiss his wife goodbye as she leaves for the Tyson plant next door, where she works until around 12:30 A.M.

She calls Jett her adopted family.

On the day of Jett's first visit, Guzman says she was afraid she wasn't going to speak Spanish.

"I didn't want to answer the door because I thought, How am I going to say anything?''

Guzman says her daughter cried all day during her first weeks of kindergarten, but was relieved when Jett comforted her in Spanish.

"I don't know what we would do without her,'' Guzman says of Jett. "I don't know who we would talk to or do anything with.''

While the family's financial situation is tight--both parents make about $6.35 an hour and pay $350 a month in rent--the mother says she likes Rogers because, unlike Fresno, it has no gangs.

But there they lived in a neighborhood where nearly everyone spoke Spanish. Here, she recalls, when her girls ran down the street to play with some neighborhood children, their mother pulled them inside and shut the door before Maira and Elizabeth could get there.

As they say goodbye, Jett makes Guzman promise to call if she needs anything, reminding her that she is her "eyes and ears'' for detecting learning problems in her children.

Over lunch at the rustic War Eagle Mill, Superintendent Roland M. Smith lays out his long-term plan for the district: Beef up the math, science, and foreign-language offerings; update the computer labs; and institute a Saturday Scholars program.

Smith, who retired to the Rogers area after working for 15 years as superintendent in Plainfield, Ill., about 40 miles from Chicago, also wants to start mandatory Spanish classes for students in grades 1 through 6, a program being piloted this year at one elementary school.

But how will that help the L.E.P. students?

"Achievement follows self-esteem,'' Smith says in a still-intact Chicago accent. "I want to see those Hispanics using their resources to help the Anglos, so it's not just the Anglos helping the Hispanics.''

He has delegated much of the policymaking and planning for the L.E.P. students to his deputy. He does not seem fazed by the L.E.P. influx, nor does he seem pressed to rapidly make sweeping changes in the current programs.

Next year, he will deploy an assistant to try to recruit five Hispanic, Spanish-speaking teachers, most likely from Texas.

"We're not crying that we're out of money,'' he says. The district this year will have spent about $109,000 out of a $25 million budget to provide L.E.P. students with special materials and services.

"Give us a few years and this will be in place,'' he says. "We plan to lean on the state for help,'' he adds.

Which may be a problem.

Arkansas has no official policy on bilingual education, nor does it have any money set aside for such programs. Moreover, it is one of 19 states in which English, by law, is the official language.

Only three years ago, the state education department created the dual position of civil-rights and bilingual-education supervisor, which Andre Guerrero holds. There is just one federally funded bilingual-education program in place in the entire state--a cooperative of districts in the towns of De Queen, Horatio, and Wickes, south of Rogers toward the Texas border.

And little federal bilingual-education money is likely to reach Rogers's coffers soon. Eugene E. Garcia, the director of the U.S. Education Department's office of bilingual education and minority-languages affairs, says "it would be a miracle if Rogers got funded now'' by his office. "I'm locked in to fund the Chicagos and Los Angeleses,'' he says.

In addition, the state education department does not endorse E.S.L. certification, and Guerrero knows of no place in the state where a teacher can be trained in the specialty.

All of this places this Mexican-American in a tough position as an enforcer of civil-rights law.

"It's like the chicken and the egg,'' Guerrero says. "Do I require districts to hire people who have no place to be trained?''

Recently, Guerrero got the state $75,000 in federal funds to conduct a home-language survey, which found roughly 4,000 L.E.P. students across the state, speaking a total of 66 languages. Guerrero thinks the former number is an underestimate.

He emphasizes that the state is at "the beginning stages'' in developing instructional guidelines for districts, and that some districts have far to go. One near the Oklahoma border, for example, recently responded to a survey by stating that it had a 100 percent "Native American'' enrollment. Intrigued by what he assumed was an American Indian enclave, Guerrero called the superintendent, who responded: "Yes, of course they're American. They're 100 percent American.''

"We are growing in our awareness, but there's work to be done in just understanding who these kids are,'' Guerrero says.

Rogers itself is having trouble understanding its newcomers. Not only are the schools struggling, but most bank tellers, gas-station attendants, and grocery-store cashiers also cannot speak Spanish to their new clientele. And some people think they shouldn't have to.

Melody Maines, a senior in Ron Highfill's Spanish class, was drafted last year to tutor in his class for L.E.P. students. She is not pleased with the way some of her classmates have treated the new arrivals.

"People ignore the Hispanic students because they think they can't understand anything, or they make rude comments,'' she says. "You get to know them, and they're not just 'those Hispanics' anymore.''

Her best friend is part Peruvian, but Melody says students have mistaken her for being black or Mexican. "It's pretty prejudiced,'' she says of some of her peers' attitudes.

People such as Betty E. Goodman, the owner of Poor Richard's confectionary shop downtown, question who needs to adapt to whom.

"I don't know why we should have to change; they should make more of an effort to be like us,'' she says. "It's a crime that Miami, Fla., as I understand it, is all Spanish-speaking. It's a crime that they teach that in the schools, here in the United States.''

Other members of the community are trying harder. The local newspaper includes a biweekly column in Spanish, some police officers have taken cultural-sensitivity and Spanish classes, and some area hospitals and law offices now keep handy a list of translators.

Rogers isn't the kind of place where people practice bigotry overtly: It's embedded in jokes about the Wal-Mart becoming "Wal-Mex'' and in a real-estate agent's complaint about so many of "them'' living in one house.

Multicultural-speak hasn't hit Rogers yet. Around town, and in the schools, people mention "speaking Mexican'' or "talking Hispanic.'' They often make distinctions between "the Americans'' and "the Hispanics,'' despite estimates that about half the Hispanics in town are American citizens.

People talk of eventual integration, but today Anglos and Hispanics live in two separate worlds.

At the center of the community's effort to chip away at that divide is the Multi-Culture Forum, started two years ago by RuAnn Ewing, a former Spanish teacher who has lived in Rogers for 23 years. After leaving the schools, she tutored Hispanic adults and children in English and was sufficiently upset by their living conditions to want to start a community network.

Affordable housing is so scarce that some Hispanic families join together to rent homes and take turns sleeping to coincide with their shifts at the plant.

"The influx was like seeing a tornado coming, and you were just glad to see it before it hit,'' Ewing says. "You were the chosen person to tell others about it, and, lo and behold, they listened.''

"They'' are the people at the Office of Human Concern, a private, nonprofit group that coordinates social services in the area.

Starting with a small cluster of groups, the forum now boasts multiple committees and includes organizations from neighboring communities. It meets monthly at Peace Lutheran Church.

On a biting-cold Saturday morning, Reynaldo (Rey) Hernandez, a Mexican-American who works for the local newspaper's advertising department and the forum's chairman, calls the meeting to order. Jeanne Couey, the head of the education committee, is at his side.

One by one, participants stand to share information on their new programs: a health-department official announces a new mobile health unit; a housing official describes a 62-unit, low-income apartment house to open in July; a computer programmer offers to make copies of his Spanish-language software.

Afterward, people mill about the room, sipping coffee.

Hernandez calls the forum a "shining light. It's the one thing that's kept things moving in a positive direction by keeping the community involved in the process.''

But for now, it doesn't seem to be reaching the people who need to hear its message most.

Mayor John W. Sampier has lived in Rogers nearly all his life. He graduated from Rogers High School in 1965 before the population growth went "berserk.''

He knew a few black people at his college in Russellville, about 2-1/2 hours away, but other than that "I've never really been in other cultures. I'm ignorant about it.''

One source of the Mayor's, and Rogers's, pride are the community's six meticulously maintained soccer fields behind the bright-yellow youth center.

A few years ago, a Spanish-speaking youth-center director organized an adult Latino soccer league that now boasts about 12 teams.

The games attract up to 500 fans, mostly Hispanics, and the smell of tacos and enchiladas wafts from the concession stands there. But so did the smell of beer, in this "dry'' county, so people started complaining. The beer is now gone.

Then last year, when the league won a state championship, the Mayor attended their celebration banquet.

He said a few opening words in coached Spanish and the crowd went nuts. It made news in the local paper.

"I've never been greeted that way by Anglos in the community,'' Sampier recalls. "I wasn't doing it to be condescending or to be something I'm not, I was doing it to be neighborly, as we say in the Ozarks.''

But it didn't go over so well with some others, spurring negative letters to the editor and charges that the Mayor was catering to the new population.

Sampier says he firmly believes the new residents need to learn English, and fast, but that talking about getting rid of them or closing the door to future arrivals is "fruitless.''

Virginia Vega, owner of La Mexicana grocery store in neighboring Bentonville, knows more Hispanics are coming because her customers tell her of the brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins who are packing their pickup trucks and heading for Arkansas.

Vega's store, which in the three years since she and her family moved to Rogers from California's San Fernando Valley has more than tripled in size, is the unofficial meeting place for area Hispanics. Customers come for the cascabel chiles and guava jelly, as well as for Vega's advice and aid.

The Durango, Mexico, native has lists of church phone numbers, construction jobs, and adult English classes. She scans the newspaper ads for affordable houses to suggest to her customers.

She knows that if she can't help someone, she can refer him to Sister Patricia at the Catholic church, or bilingual lawyer Alene Cox, or the Rev. Manuel Villegas, a Baptist minister who keeps a plastic cup full of $20 bills in his right-hand drawer to help families who can't pay their electric or grocery bills.

"It's especially important to have a close community when people are so far from the places and people they love,'' she explains in Spanish. Certain neighborhoods are becoming solidly Hispanic, she says, and some churches now celebrate Mexican holidays.

She worries that the Hispanic community will one day be blamed for the increased crime and other problems associated with growth.

So far, the reception has been mixed. Vega says her neighbors basically ignore her family. "I can't say that they've accepted or rejected us. They've made no effort to communicate with us whatsoever.''

The owners of a Mexican food store that opened last fall in a shopping center across the street from Katie Kraner's English-immersion classes also came to Rogers via the San Fernando Valley. Juan Guerrero, the owners' son, is running the store today. He likes Rogers's small-town friendliness, but acknowledges that not all the Hispanics who decide to come will feel the same.

"If they come here with an attitude from Los Angeles or whatever, they won't fit in,'' he says, straightening the plastic-wrapped tortillas lining the metal shelf. During his final years of high school in Rogers, he recalls, some of the students "kind of looked at me funny.''

Rogers clearly is not alone in facing an increasingly multicultural future as immigrants begin to flee urban areas on both coasts, drawn to the jobs, space, and fresh air of Middle America.

Late next year, one of the nation's largest pork-packing plants is scheduled to open in Guymon, Okla. The town's population of around 8,000 is expected to swell to close to 13,000 as a result. Most of the new arrivals are expected to be Hispanics and Southeast Asians.

The same thing happened after the world's largest beef-packing plant set up shop in Garden City, Kan., in 1980. Today, Hispanics make up some 27 percent of the city's roughly 25,000 residents.

The number of L.E.P. students has also swelled nationwide in recent years. In 1990, some 6,400 of the nation's 15,000 school districts enrolled students with limited English.

Rogers's population is expected to increase 38 percent by the turn of the century. Today the town's tallest buildings are its churches, but Mayor Sampier foresees a Rogers of skyscrapers within the next 15 or 20 years, "a big, beautiful city like Minneapolis or Seattle.''

For now, however, Rogers seems to be running just to catch up with where it stands today.

You reach Anna Mae Searles' house where the two-lane blacktop of Dixieland Road thins into a bumpy dirt road. Searles, who's lived in this house since she and her husband moved to Rogers in 1939, tutored some Hispanic students after getting frantic calls from Katy White, the principal at Lowell Elementary, when the first Hispanics started arriving.

The 87-year-old Searles has watched the landscape surrounding her modest white house turn from apple orchards into parking lots for industries, the apple wagons replaced by 18-wheelers plastered with the Wal-Mart logo. She saw what was coming, so in 1988 she donated 10 acres of virgin prairie to the state so that local schoolchildren and others could explore her corner of wilderness.

Outside her front window, the prairie grasses rustle gently. Behind her house a developer is building a new housing development. Every so often the quiet is shattered by the sound of a bulldozer.

"I don't know how they're going to cope with the Hispanics, I really don't,'' she says, staring out the window. "We need them to work here, but nobody knows what to do with them.''

Still, Searles remains optimistic. "Things have changed, and they will change again, I'm certain.''

Web Only

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login |  Register
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories

Viewed

Emailed

Commented