By: Bobby Roberts
Immigration has increased in the last ten years as much as in the early 1900s before World War II. Factories and the surplus of jobs helped this big immigration push in the later twenty-first century. In the past twenty years, the small town of Ligonier, Indiana has seen many changes in diversity. It had been primarily a small Caucasian community, but as the years passed and industry grew, different people began to migrate to the area. This had partly to do with the fact that it is more or less equidistant from Elkhart and Fort Wayne. The new groups included Hispanics, African-Americans, and Middle Easterners. If industry continues to boom in the Ligonier area, maybe in the next twenty years it will flourish as a center for diversity also.
In the late 1970s, Ligonier used to be a place of Caucasians, like my parents, who had migrated here from southern states such as Kentucky. It was known for being a historical Jewish community and for the landmarks. There is a funny story about the biggest landmark in our town, the clock. It was hit by a car one icy night and was broken. It had to be sent to Maine to be fixed, but the people in Maine did not have the equipment to fix it. The Maine workers sent it to Syracuse, New York. In New York they fixed it and had it working really well. On the arrival back to Ligonier, it was lost in the mail. It is just unimaginable that a fifteen-foot clock can be lost in the mail, and found a whole month later. Eleven months later it was placed in a spot where no cars could touch it, next to a few other landmarks like our fountain; it was easily seen on the way to the world’s largest marshmallow factory.
Since the marshmallow factory and the rubber plant were the only two factories in my town, they needed some more jobs. The city council decided to build an industrial park where they would leave room for expansion after they help build a plastic plant and a sampler plant. From this day on, our town has not been the same. More people in the town meant more business, the need for expansion, and the variety of people coming here to get jobs.
I remember back in elementary school how each classroom had about twenty-five kids. When I was in fourth grade my school had to expand all the school buildings due to the overpopulation. Suddenly, in the span of a couple years, our town was thirty percent Hispanic and seventy percent Caucasian. Many people in my town became bigots and racists due to the fact they were getting scared about their job security. I, for example, was not raised this way nor did my parents think to raise me to think this. My parents taught to love everyone and not to hate. I befriended many new kids that were not white, and if I heard any racial slurs I would just ignore them. My parents knew what teasing felt like because they have southern accents. I am glad they have raised me this way, and now I have a Hispanic roommate here at Ball State, who I knew from Ligonier.
People from Ligonier have a tendency to stay and live there in Ligonier after they graduate or drop out to get a job. My high school principal has been there since my mom was a student after moving from West Virginia. His sons also teach there as well. One teaches geography at the middle school, and one teaches health at the high school. I see more people getting an education now that there is greater technology available. Neither my mom nor my dad has a high school education. The need for an education in Ligonier is much greater since the newer factories have computer training involved. There is a factory called Guardian, which the owner of the Detroit Pistons built. He is known for building factories in small factory towns. Since our marshmallow factory was bought out by another marshmallow distributor, the world’s biggest marshmallow factory has since been turned into the world’s biggest marshmallow storage building. Many jobs had been lost since the marshmallow factory employed at least a thousand people. Guardian brought even more diverse people to Ligonier including Arabs, Asians, and African-Americans. I see the melting pot being stirred even more in the future.
My town is growing more and more everyday. We had a McDonld’s built about five years ago and since then it has given many other food chain restaurants opportunities to come to Ligonier. The bigger restaurants did not overtake the smaller hometown restaurants. Leti’s Tacos and Daniel’s get great business since they serve different kinds of food compared to the regular food chains. Leti’s serves authentic Mexican cuisine, ranging from tacos to fajitas to American food. Daniel’s serves Egyptian food on weekends when a person calls a day in advance. Daniel pays great attention to detail and needs the day before to prepare the meals. During the week he serves regular breakfast food and lunch specials.
The high school and middle school renovated their buildings in the last couple years and have even scheduled more expansion for the next couple years, adding a new cafetorium and stage. The schools and people of Ligonier are getting more up to date. The mayor of Ligonier has primarily been a retired male in his fifties or sixties, with a city council just as old. This past election we elected a former police officer in his early forties and two new council members that were in there late twenties to their early thirties.
I see Ligonier in twenty years as a nicely sized city, with hometown morals. It is still too conservative to think it could change too much. I see my future family and myself staying in this area for awhile when we settle down. If the opportunity arises, I would enjoy teaching at my old high school. I think I could relate to them more than some other outsider could. I would know what it was like growing up in a small, but growing, heterogeneous environment called a melting pot.