Huron has a population of about 13,000. But it contains the diversity you might expect in a larger city. Almost 40 percent of students in the school system were in an English Language Acquisition program at some point. Many are Karen refugees from Burma and Thailand.
Huron Mayor Paul Aylward says the city went through some tough times. Packing plants shut down, the town lost its university, and the population was declining. Eventually a turkey processing plant opened. To fill the jobs, leaders started recruiting Karen refugees who were living in the Twin Cities.
“I think we had to make a decision as a community, do we want to embrace this and try to make our community survive and thrive,” Aylward says. “Or do we want to just stay the status quo and keep declining? And the turkey plant was really an opportunity and a choice. And I think that’s what the people said is yes, we want to try to grow. And if this is what it takes, if this is what our community is going to look like, I believe the majority of the people are accepting of that.”
Aylward says Huron’s changing demographics bring a few challenges. The biggest, he says, is the language barrier.
John Taylor is an English Language Acquisition instructor at Cornerstones Career Learning Center. He says people from 12 countries come here to learn.
“The students that we’ve worked with have been very kind, very caring, very dedicated,” Taylor says. “They not only want to learn the language, but they want to learn our customs and culture, which we teach a lot of that.”
New U.S. citizen Kaw Zan lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for ten years before coming to the United States. He says there’s lot’s to like about Huron.
“Because it’s a small city, they don’t have much fighting, and quiet, and also have better jobs for the employees here, and also I have more friends here,” Zan says.
English instructor John Taylor says residents have embraced their new neighbors. He says the key to interacting with someone from a different culture is to be kind, show respect, and have patience.