history of spanish-speaking immigrants IN monmouth, il
By Baylee Evans
Anyone who lives in Monmouth has probably noticed that many of the local residents are Latino, or from Latin American countries. In fact, nearly fifteen percent of Monmouth residents are of Latin American descent, and that figure is ever growing (“Monmouth”). Much of the current Latino community immigrated here for job opportunities at Smithfield-Farmland Foods, which is a large pork-producing plant in Monmouth. However, this is not the first wave of immigration. Many of the Spanish-speaking families of this area have been here for many generations, and they have almost always been a part of Monmouth’s history.
The first Latino immigrants who came to the area in significant numbers were attracted by the railroad. Susan Twomey, longtime resident of Monmouth and former director to The Buchanan Center for the Arts has done extensive research on Latinos in the Warren County vicinity. She states that many Latinos came to Monmouth in the early 1920s to escape the aftermath of the armed struggle of the Mexican Revolution, which ended in 1920 (Twomey). The railroad companies set up recruitment stations on different points of the U.S.-Mexico border for refugees looking for work. According to the documentary Boxcar People, the rail companies also provided a home for these people—in old boxcars (Boxcar People). The immigrants would also set up camps in the area, one of which was in Monmouth (Twomey). There are still descendents of this wave of Hispanic immigration living in Monmouth today, such as the children of Guadalupe Almaguer Smith (hereafter Lupe Smith), who was born in a boxcar herself in 1923 (“Lupe”). These descendants are living proof that, although unknown by many, Latinos have nearly always been a part of Monmouth’s history and growth.
Lupe Smith’s family was one of many who came to Monmouth in the early 20th century. According to an online exhibit of Lupe’s life at the Warren County Virtual museum, her parents were married in Monmouth in 1918, and were given a boxcar to live in by their employer, the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad (“Lupe”). Although her parents had the opportunity to uproot the family and move to Chicago to work in a steel mill, they chose to let their children grow up here in Monmouth, which is also where Lupe chose to spend much of her life and raise her own family. Lupe was a very active member of the community and volunteered as needed to translate and provide several other services for the Latino employees at Farmland Foods, making a huge impact on the lives of many (“Lupe”).
Throughout history, increases in Latino immigration to the United States have been due largely to the combination of American-based employers’ need for hard workers and the willingness of many immigrants to satisfy this need in order to provide as much as possible for themselves and their families (Taylor). In Monmouth, many Spanish-speaking people have settled here to find work at Farmland Foods. Because of this, Farmland is a main contributor to the boom of immigration in the area that started in the 1980s (Twomey). This is the wave of immigration that most people are familiar with. However, many tend to think that it is much more recent than it actually is, which might be due to a short dip in immigration in the 90s and early 2000s (“Monmouth”).
In my interview with Susan Twomey, she explained that she had left Monmouth for a long period of time, and was very pleased to see upon her return that Monmouth had increased in diversity. However, she noticed some resistance and even anger toward Spanish-speaking immigrants in particular. Why is this happening, when some Latino families have been here for a hundred years or more, and have made lifelong contributions to the community? There seems to be quite a lack of knowledge about the full history of these immigrants and their involvement with Monmouth’s development as a whole.
Immigrants from Latin American countries to Monmouth can be traced back more than a century, despite what many may think. They have, in cases like Lupe Smith’s, made many valuable contributions to the town of Monmouth throughout its history and continue to do so.