DRESDEN — Hispanic newcomers to Sedalia may feel welcome at the hospital, high school or Wal-Mart but not so much at Woods, the license office or the college.
These were some of the findings of a University of Missouri-Columbia research project presented Friday at the West Central Missouri Multicultural Forum at Tyson Foods.
Researchers presented the first part in a three-year study on how the immigrant Hispanic community is adapting to Sedalia.
Among the places the participating Latinos cited as welcoming were Smith-Cotton High School, Wal-Mart and Bothwell Regional Medical Center. The places seen as barriers were the Sedalia License Office, Woods Grocery and State Fair Community College.
“It just takes one person in an institution or a place to make people feel unwelcome,” Sister Eileen Schieber said at the meeting. “One person alone can create that difficult situation. All it takes in one person who reacts negatively, then people feel they’re not welcome there.”
Schieber suggested that employers take more care in training employees in how to deal with cultural differences.
The Cambio Center in Columbia in conjunction with the university is looking at what is helping newcomer families — documented and undocumented — assimilate to Sedalia and barriers exist in that process.
The project started in early 2006, and the coordinators are looking for information on how Hispanics have adapted in Lima, Sedalia and Branson.
“We want to find out about how the community has received (the Hispanics),” said Stephen Jeanetta, one of the project’s coordinators.
The first part of the project was called “photo-voice.”
“We asked the group here to take pictures of people, places that made them feel welcome in this community,” Jeanetta said. “We gave them a week to take the pictures and then had them pick out the three they liked best. We then developed captions for those.”
The Cambio Center asked the respondents to do the same for the places that acted as barriers to assimilation.
For Luis Torres, a retired pastor, the issue goes deeper than people getting treated poorly in public places.
“What I see from those pictures are fear and helplessness,” Torres said. “I’m Puerto Rican, and many Americans look at us like we’re illegal. Why? Because of lack of knowledge and history.”
People born in Puerto Rico are American citizens because the island nation is a U.S. territory.
The second phase of the project will be about identifying more newcomers and conducting interviews.
The photo-voice doesn’t provide concrete information about any specific group, Jeanetta said. It does show the themes of how people think they’re being treated.
“The photo-voice helps us identify issues we might want to explore in the questionnaire for the interviews,” he said.
The next multicultural forum will be March 5 at the Tyson Foods Main Plant. The event will be open to the public, and lunch will cost $5.