Binh Hua (left) and My Nguyen (right), both 18, are best friends, whose Vietnamese parents work at the Tyson beef plant. They finished high school in three years and are hoping to have associate degrees by next year.
For many generations, meatpacking plants in Kansas City were a place where immigrants found a foothold in U.S. society. They worked difficult and dangerous jobs in those slaughterhouses, often with the hopes of securing a better future for their children.
In recent decades, meatpacking plants have continued to employ immigrants and refugees. But the plants have moved out of urban areas, and into rural towns, where there’s less of a support system for those immigrants and their children.
Binh Hua (left) and My Nguyen, both 18, work in the Garden City Community College chemistry lab. The two best friends graduated from high school in three years and after community college, plan to go on to universities.
Credit Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media
Of the 232 students who graduated from McDonald County High School in Anderson, Mo., last year, 154 of them reported they would be attending college.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media
Don Stull, a University of Kansas anthropologist, stands outside the Tyson beef plant on the outskirts of Garden City, Kan. Stull has studied Garden City and other meatpacking towns for 30 years and is co-author of the book “Slaughterhouse Blues.”
Sister Janice Thome’s office is a 2003 brown Ford Focus with a backseat piled high with paperwork and a prayer book.
Thome puts 125,000 miles a year on this car, picking up boxes from the food pantry, finding a mattress for a newcomer, delivering a sick soul to a doctor’s appointment. All the while, she fields emergency calls on her flip phone, responding to her mission to serve the poor of Garden City, out on the plains of southwest Kansas.
This day, Thome is teaching her teen parenting class at the alternative high school.
It’s almost 9 a.m., and Noel Primary School teacher Erin McPherson is helping a group of Spanish-speaking students complete English language exercises. But it’s tough going.
One student in a bright blue T-shirt – 9-year-old Isac Martinez – has not yet picked up his pencil. He’s clearly sick. When McPherson asks him what’s wrong, Isac’s small voice is barely audible in between coughs. He says he threw up four times last night but did not go to a doctor.