Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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March 27, 2011

A city in transition

Data shows Ligonier is the second majority-Hispanic city in Indiana

LIGONIER — Here is this small, northwestern Noble County city, the minority is now the majority.

The 2010 census figures released last month show that Ligonier’s population is 52 percent Hispanic, making it the second majority-Hispanic city in the state (East Chicago is the other).

This is nothing new at either the local or national level. Statewide, the number of Hispanics nearly doubled in the last decade to 389,707. Hispanics now make up 6 percent of the state’s population. But in a town of approximately 4,400 people, the cultural shift is much more noticeable.

So when did the shift begin? According to Ligonier Mayor Patty Fisel, the Hispanic population began increasing as far back as 1992, back when the large industrial area had a thriving economy and jobs were plentiful.

"It was mostly young, single men looking for jobs at that time," Fisel said.

That pattern of young people looking for jobs continued steadily throughout the decade and into the new millennium, as well as Hispanic families moving into the area as well. This meant schools also saw an increase of diversity. Ligonier Elementary Principal Brian Shepherd — whose school population is 53 percent Hispanic — considers that a blessing.

"Diversity is a great thing," Shepherd said. "Having so much culture shows that we can all learn from each other’s differences."

Cultural differences

Margarita White’s family moved to the area in 1976 from Texas because her grandparents, Celia and Domingo Pena, were migrant farm workers. She said the reason her family, and others like hers, moved to Ligonier was because it was seen as a land of opportunity.

"Migrant farm workers don’t make much," White said. "It was considered more seasonal work. But there was a lot of industry around back then to help bring in income, too."

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Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

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