ARCADIA — Growth has been good for the city.
Chuck Timm has owned Up Chucks bar on Main Street in Arcadia for nearly 15 years and has seen companies such as Ashley Furniture Industries expand and new businesses move in. That growth wouldn’t be possible without the large and growing population of Hispanic and Latino residents who call the city home, he said, and who make Arcadia the vibrant community it is.
“I welcome it,” Timm said. “It means more people and businesses on Main Street. It means more people to frequent my business and others.”
In the past five years, the Hispanic population has almost doubled according to U.S. Census Data. Hispanic students now make up the majority of the student population of the Arcadia School District, and the U.S. Department of Justice recently required the city to offer a bilingual ballot to residents in elections due to the city’s demographics.
Fears are also on the rise since President Donald Trump rode a populist wave and concern over topics such as immigration in last November’s election. Trump has promised to crack down on so-called “sanctuary cities,” communities that limit their cooperation with federal officials regarding those in the country illegally, as well as increasing immigration enforcement.
While nearly 60 percent of the city of Arcadia voted for Trump over his Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton, both white and Hispanic residents have taken efforts to point out that they feel there hasn’t been a culture of anti-immigrant or anti-Hispanic sentiment in the community. But that doesn’t mean the Hispanic population hasn’t been following the conversation on immigration closely, changing some habits and wondering what is ahead.
“People came here for the opportunities,” Eric Mora, a 16-year-old Arcadia High School student whose family owns Donjuan Restaurant said. “Now a lot of Hispanics are worried about the future.”
A changing city
When Mora and his family moved to Arcadia from Austin, Minn., 11 years ago, he said the city was a much different place. Like many of the Hispanic and Latino families who come to Arcadia, he said his parents were looking for work and better opportunities.
A decade ago, Arcadia was much smaller, Mora said, and didn’t have nearly the diverse population it does now. At school, he was one of only five Hispanic students in his grade, and the city didn’t boast the amenities it has now.
Today Mora is one of more than 30 Hispanic students in his class, and the city has expanded with new businesses, such as a Kwik Trip gas station, a McDonald’s and a big-box retailer among others. The school district has added new school buildings, and the city has upgraded roads, street lights and civic attractions including public parks.
“One of the main reasons for that is the growth in population from immigrants and Latinos,” he said. “Everything is just growing.”
According to demographic data from the U.S. Census at the DPI, the growth in the Hispanic population has been rapid. Hispanic people only made up about 3 percent of the population of Arcadia in 2000; now the Hispanic population makes up more than a third of the city’s residents and nearly doubled from 569 in 2010 to 975 in 2015, making up a third of Arcadia's 2,974 residents.
The school district has seen an even more rapid shift, with the Hispanic population going from 9 percent of students in 2005 to nearly 53 percent last year. At the school’s elementary/middle school, the population ratios flipped between 2011 and 2015 with Hispanics making up more than a third of the students six years ago and reaching nearly two-thirds of the school’s population last year.
These students and their families have been a blessing to the community, school Superintendent Louie Ferguson said. At a practical level, the students have helped grow enrollment in the district, which has kept Arcadia from having to make cuts or eliminate programs.
Instead, the district has been able to offer more opportunities to students, he said. For example, the district was able to expand its half-day 4K preschool to a whole-day program.
The increased diversity among the student body has also changed the culture of the district, as well as how it does business. Arcadia has had to increase the number of support staff it has hired, as well as emphasizing the ability to speak more than one language in hiring.
Many of the students, especially those who are the second generation, are fluently bilingual in Spanish and English, Ferguson said, which sets them up for future careers as nurses, business owners or even coming back to the district as teachers or staff. The district has also embraced the different cultures of the Hispanic and Latino populations by doing more to celebrate the different holidays and founding an El Sol club, which works to foster leadership skills in the high school’s Latino students.
“This has been such a huge plus to the school district,” Ferguson said. “The Hispanic population has been very supportive of the community and its schools. They are such a great part of the community.”
At Holy Family Parish, the Catholic church in Arcadia, members of the church were raising funds by selling burritos, salads and sweet treats at lunch time on March 26 to help send youth to summer camps. Both white and Hispanic residents were breaking bread together before that day’s noon Spanish Mass.
The Rev. Sebastian Kolodziejczyk, one of two pastors at the parish, said the Catholic community has gone through several demographic changes over the decades. Arcadia used to have both a German Catholic Church and a Polish church in the days when those two groups struggled to get along, he said, before combining as a result of a declining population in the faith community.
The rising Hispanic population has helped turn that trend around. Kolodziejczyk said he oversees as many as six times the baptisms for Hispanic families as he does white parents, and immigrants have become an integral part of church celebrations such as the Fall Fest.
More than 300 people attend the Sunday Spanish masses, he said, and another hundred attend the Spanish mass on Saturday evenings. The Hispanic population has more than doubled the size of the congregation, which is now so big the church couldn’t host everyone at the same time.
“As long as we have these big jobs, more and more people will be coming here,” Kolodziejczyk said. “It is important for us not to be afraid of them. It has been such a good thing for us.”
Making their mark
For many small towns in America, the last several decades have been a struggle for Main Street. Not so for Arcadia, which not only boasts a vibrant downtown but also a strong network of Hispanic family and small businesses.
Taking a stroll down Main Street in Arcadia, one can see the barber shop, diners, banks and city government buildings familiar to any rural Midwest community. But those stores and buildings are complemented by more than a half-dozen Hispanic grocery stores, restaurants, a clothing boutique and even tax and legal service offices.
One of the first Hispanic business owners to make their mark on Main Street was Juan Mateo, who opened the MM San Juan grocery store in 2004. Mateo, who sits on the Arcadia Chamber of Commerce board of directors, said it was always his dream to own a business and be able to work for himself.
When the doors first opened, Mateo said he didn’t know if he would have any sales at all. Thirteen years later, the store is still there and provides locally sourced meats, produce and Hispanic goods such as spices, juices, sodas, flatbreads and snack foods.
“Local farmers, Ashley Furniture and Golden Plump have hired lots of people,” he said. “Latinos have got money to spend and that means the business is doing OK.”
Many Arcadia business owners and leaders echo Chuck Timm’s sentiments about the importance of the Hispanic community and its impact on the economy. Having a growing population of working-age people has helped anchor businesses such as Ashley Furniture to the community, Timm said, and one of his fears is the city’s largest employer could pick up and move without that labor base.
Chuck and Chris Blaschko, the second and third generation of the family-owned Blaschko Enterprises, which includes commercial printer Supreme Graphics, said having lots of jobs in the community is good for all the businesses in Arcadia, both big and small. Cole Bawek, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, said the city’s diversity is a major component of Arcadia’s quality of life and thriving business community.
“All these things create a nicer community,” Chris said about how vibrant Arcadia is. “It takes all these things to make it attractive.”
Eric Mora’s mother, Adelina Donjuan Govea, brought the family to the United States thirteen years ago. She operated a small grocery store in Mexico City, she said, using Eric as her translator, and more than two years ago she was inspired to open the Donjuan restaurant and a downtown clothing boutique to show her children what the Hispanic community is capable of.
The family, which also includes Eric’s brother Cristian Mora and father Carlos, operates the restaurant which serves a large menu of Mexican and American themed food items from pizza to burritos. Business has been great, he said, and his mother was proud of both businesses’ ability to attract a diverse crowd of patrons.
“I want to make a good name for the Hispanic community,” Eric translated for Adelina. “A lot of us have come here with a dream of doing something for the future and our children.”
Both Eric, a sophomore at Arcadia High School, and his older brother Cristian have plans for higher education, with Cristian currently attending Western Technical College to study marketing. Eric said he has taken accounting classes in Arcadia and has been inspired by his mother to follow in her footsteps.
“Being in business motivates and excites me,” he said. “I want to own one of my own someday.”
Growing fear and worry
Despite its distance from the nation’s capital and our southern border, Arcadia hasn’t been immune to the developing national conversation over immigration policy. President Trump was elected after running a campaign that focused on promises of building a border wall to limit the number of immigrants who enter the country illegally as well as increasing enforcement actions to remove those who are already in the country.
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse history professor Victor Macias-Gonzalez said it is difficult to track the undocumented immigrant population, but said estimates place the number of undocumented immigrants at between 15 to 30 percent of the Latino community. That translates into between 3,000 and 6,000 of the more than 20,000 Hispanic and Latino residents that call the tri-state area their home.
The immigrant community has suffered misunderstandings in the past, he said, as residents of some communities have discriminated against them. Macias-Gonzalez recounted an incident in Sparta when the local Latino community organized a celebration for the people of the city, and instead had Immigration and Customs Enforcement called on them.
Because of this history and the recent tough talk from Republicans in Washington, Macias-Gonzalez said many Latino residents in the region are experiencing growing fear, even if they are in the country legally or are U.S. citizens. Macias-Gonzalez, who is Mexican-American, said he always carries his passport with him just in case.
Superintendent Ferguson, Arcadia Police Chief Diana Anderson and Trempealeau County Sheriff Richard Anderson all said their organizations don’t stop people or ask for proof of citizenship when enrolling kids in school or during routine stops. Richard said the sheriff’s department will notify ICE if there is an active warrant out for someone who is undocumented, while Diane said her department doesn’t check the immigration status of anyone her department comes into contact with.
Neither law enforcement official said they had noticed an uptick in immigration enforcement actions. Richard said ICE did stop in the county a few weeks seeking a couple of people they were actively investigating. Both also said that unlike what some people may think, ICE isn’t coming into the communities and rounding up suspected immigrants.
“People here are treated equally,” Richard said. “We don’t treat anybody differently because of what they look like or where they are from.”
Brian Westrate, chairman of the 3rd District GOP Party, which covers much of Western Wisconsin including Trempealeau County, said he could understand the fear some immigrants and Latino residents have. He was proud of the diversity the immigrant community has created in Arcadia but said those who have come here illegally and especially those who have committed crimes do have a reason to worry.
There are thousands of people waiting to come to this country properly, he said, and those who are here illegally are thumbing their noses at them. He added that it boggle his mind some people could argue against removing violent criminals who are here illegally.
“They shouldn’t be here in the first place and some have done heinous things,” he said.
Westrate did temper those comments by adding that the overwhelming majority of immigrants in the region are here to better their lives, a point that was also made by many in the community. Securing our borders is important to the Republican base that elected Trump, Westrate and others said, but it wasn’t a hot-button issue for Republican voters in the county.
That hasn’t stopped the Latino community from being worried, Eric Mora said. People are staying in their homes more, he said, as his brother Cristian has noticed fewer Latino people making trips to the larger cities in the region such as La Crosse. They’re also being more careful with their money, sending more of it to family and loved ones back home, which has hurt some local businesses.
But that hasn’t stopped members of the community like his family from continuing to stand as examples of what it means to be a Latino in America. Even though they have been a part of the fabric of Arcadia for more than a decade, it still feels like they have to prove themselves in some ways to their white peers.
“Trump is giving Hispanics a bad name,” Eric said. “But Arcadia is a good example of what we can do. We give our people a good name.”