Clash of Cultures

Multiculturalism in Postville, Iowa

A Quick Background on Postville, Iowa

Postville, Iowa, a secluded farming town with an all-white German Christian population, was about as unchanging and stable as a small, all-American town could be. That is, until 1988, when the first of many Hasidic Jews moved to Postville from big cities like New York.

What happens when the once persecuted have to share a town with the people who persecuted them so many years ago? Will heads butt or will they come to accept their new neighbors? And to add to the mix, a group of Hispanics, completely different from the Jews, move in as well.

Will this town survive and learn to thrive or will it crash and burn due to animosity and its cultural barriers?

Assimilation - The process through which people lose originally differentiating traits, such as dress, speech particulars and mannerisms, when they come into contact with another society or culture

Assimilation is often used to describe how immigrants adopt cultures from their new places of residence. Most people that immigrate to a new place end up assimilating in some form or manner. The citizens of Postville all participated in the community frequently. Even the Hispanics that moved into Postville ended up adopting many of the practices of the Postville community. The Hasidic Jews, on the other hand, did not want any part of this. They kept to themselves, didn't want to be incorporated, and, above all, didn't care that they didn't exactly "fit in". A large reason for this is that the wanted to preserve their culture and their practices.

Cultural Barriers - Prevailing cultural attitude rendering certain innovations, ideas or practices unacceptable or adoptable in that particular culture.

There is a religious barrier between the Jews and the Catholics (includes Mexicans and Natives). The different rules of each religion set the people of contrasting groups apart. For example, Hasidic Jews must follow the 613 commandments of their religion, but Catholics are not normally acquainted with the commandments that the Hasidic Jews live by. This may set up for Catholics to think that certain behaviors are odd, when, really, the Jews are just following the rules set out by their religion. Conversely, Hasidic Jews may not know a lot about Catholics and interpret certain unfamiliar actions as unusual. This unfamiliarity with different religions may cause a feeling of uneasiness to be raised when around someone of the opposite culture.

Another barrier is the differences in where the various citizens grew up. The Jews grew up in more urban environments, while the natives grew up in a small town environment. In the larger cities, practices like paying for products in cash often are commonplace, but, in Postville, checks are eagerly accepted. Devoutly managing a lawn is not a popular practice in bigger cities, if a person even has a lawn. However, it is what is expected in Postville. The environments have helped shaped people's habits. The large differences in habits help widen the gap between the different cultures.

The language barrier between the Mexicans and other cultures also thickens the cultural barrier. The congregation of Catholics has now become divided into Spanish-speaking (Mexicans) and non-Spanish-speaking (Germans). Since the majority of the congregation is predominantly Spanish-speaking, the main language in Mass has changed to Spanish. This change has caused many of the Germans to feel resent toward the Mexicans for changing one of the traditions of the church.

Residential segregation - the physical separation of two or more groups into different neighborhoods, or a form of segregation that sorts population groups into various neighborhood contexts and shapes.

Postville residents weren't to happy that the Hispanics, unlike the Jews, were trying to 'invade' their neighborhoods. Postville realtors hiked up the price of houses in the all-white neighborhoods so the Mexicans would be forced to live in poorer areas that were farther away from the Postville residents.

Stereotypes - Characteristics ascribed to groups of people involving gender, race, national origin and other factors. These characteristics tend to be oversimplifications of the groups involved, however.

1. All Germans are bad
One of the Jews that spoke in the video pinned the stereotype that all Germans are bad and want to hurt Jews onto the native Germans. This stereotype is derived from World War II, when Hitler led the attempted extermination of Jews. However, the Germans from Postville had nothing to due with the previous crimes. They pinned actions from the past that are not connected to the native Germans onto them.

2. All Mexicans are dangerous
Both the Jews and the Germans mentioned how intimidating the Mexicans were. They said that they felt threatened when they were in large groups and that they felt that the Mexicans could attack them at any time. This is superimposing the idea that all Mexicans are dangerous onto the recently relocated Mexicans.

Acculturation - The process in which members of one cultural group adopt the beliefs and behaviors of another group.

Unlike the Jews, the Hispanics adopted cultural traits from the community in Postville. They went to church and went to the same restaurants as the original Postville residents. Of course, the old residents still were judgmental to the Mexicans, but the Hispanics still attempted to acculturate.