Immigrants to rural Wisconsin find an uneasy welcome in ‘the land of opportunity

A postcard of small-town Wisconsin from any time in the last 100 years could look a lot like this place: lush fields on the outskirts dotted with barns, silos and dairy cows; a well-kept main street with one of those old-fashioned variety stores rarely seen in the Wal-Mart era.

However, snapshots from few towns in this state or any other would include brightly clothed refugees from strife-torn Somalia.

The Somalis — called “Somalians” by seemingly everyone in town — settled here en masse in the late 1990s, dropping, as one resident put it, 500 black African Muslims into the middle of white Christian America, with 300 more likely to come soon, Wisconsin officials said.

Most of the Somalis were lured from nearby Minneapolis-St. Paul, where they settled in the mid-1990s, by The Turkey Store, a huge Jenny-O processing plant run by Hormel. Like a lot of immigrants, they do the dirty jobs, slicing up poultry alongside locals who will take the work.

Barron is not alone. Sometimes it seems like a giant social experiment is taking place in rural Wisconsin, where in the last decade or so blocs of outsiders have moved into small towns whose Northern European bloodlines go back for generations.


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