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South Dakota cultural contributions

The successful integration of Latinos into the Huron community is due directly to the diligent efforts of the city council, the local school district, the business community, and the religious community. The Workforce Development Task Force produced a comprehensive Spanish video to acquaint newcomers with the community. A seminar titled Understanding, Appreciating, and Communicating

with the Hispanic Population was well attended. The seminar was delivered by Jill Luque, an ELL and Spanish Instructor at Cornerstones Career Learning Center. In order to assist new Spanish-speaking students, the Huron school district translated most registration materials, as well as student handbooks, into Spanish and developed a strong ELL program.7

The Latino community of the Rapid City region has created several businesses, including the Munoz Logging and Construction Company, which has been operating for several decades; Benja’s Mexican Store; and two Mexican restaurants, La Costa and Guadalajara. There is also a Guadalajara Restaurant in Spearfish. Religious life in the community revolves around the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, which holds a monthly Spanish mass attended by a few dozen people. On December 12, 2006, a celebration in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe was organized, drawing some 400 worshippers.

Up to 2006, the Aberdeen Latino community has been very small and primarily composed of medical doctors, professors, and businesspeople. The Overseas Club, an organization for women from outside the United States, has embraced newcomers to the community since the early 1900s. At present, two Mexican restaurants operate in the city, Guadalajara and Mazatlan, and a certified chef, Thomas Perez, operates a catering service called Culinary Inspirations.

Inspired by the proactive measures taken in Huron, Aberdeen mayor Mike Levsen has spearheaded efforts to ensure the smooth integration of Latino workers at the new Northern Beef Backers slaughter and processing plant. Trishna Batra from Absolutely Aberdeen and Lisa Olsen from Presentation College are coleaders of a diversity task force. In October 2006, public schools sent a contingent of educators to visit schools in Huron, Sioux Falls, Storm Lake, Iowa, and Worthington, MN, to prepare for a possible influx of Spanish-speaking students.


1. Another Latino to explore South Dakota was John Thomas Evans (1770-1799), a Spanish citizen from Wales, England. He accompanied John Mackay (1761-1822), a Scottish highlander turned Spanish fur trader, explorer, and mapmaker, on an expedition from St. Louis to the upper Missouri. Mackay remained at Fort Charles in modern-day Nebraska, giving Evans detailed instructions on how to reach the Mandan villages of North Dakota, which Mackay had visited in 1787. During his travels, Evans was guided by the 1795 map made by the St. Louis surveyor general, Spaniard Antoine-Pierre Soulard (1766-1825), based in turn on the knowledge of traders like Jean-Baptiste Trudeau.

2. The rest of the Latinos in Belle Fourche are mainly descendants of agricultural workers who came to work the fertile beet and cucumber fields of the region. The Black Hills region, including Belle Fourche, was a hotbed of Ku Klux Klan activity from the early to mid-1920s. On August 23, 1924, the Klan gathered for a rally in Sturgis, drawing four to eight thousand participants. Another rally was organized in Belle Fourche on July 4, 1925, drawing five thousand Klansmen from 43 states and an estimated crowd of 40,000. As a

result of these activities, which were primarily directed toward Latino Catholics, many Mexican American families felt forced to move from the region.

3. According to this act, heads of families or single men or women over the age of 21 could claim half a section of land for a two-dollar filing fee. So long as they lived on the land, built an eight-by-ten-foot house, dug a well, broke the soil, and grew a crop, they could own the property in five years. While the Homestead Act was a godsend for many European migrants, it was a death blow to the Native Americans in eastern South Dakota. By 1881 most of the First Nations in eastern South Dakota had moved east of the river, forced from their land by wars and treaties.

4. In the early days in South Dakota, the racial climate seems to have been relatively benign. It was only during the Depression that Jim Crow customs crept into South Dakota. The state had a brief flirtation with the Ku Klux Klan from 1922 to 1925, after which it ran out of relevant issues. The anti-Catholic sentiment, however, continued openly into the sixties, often targeting Latino South Dakotans and migrant farm workers. Signs saying No Mexicans or dogs were a frequent sight in the state. One such sign was posted outside The Arrow, a bar in Huron, in the late fifties. While racial slurs like wetbacks, greasers, and filthy Mexicans were commonly cast at Latinos in both the Dakotas, the level of tolerance has increased substantially in recent decades. According to statements from informants throughout the state, racism remains quite prevalent in the region, with widespread reports of police harassment of Latinos in the city of Brookings, consistent with the treatment reported by Native Americans.

5. As a result, names like Gonzales, Sanchez, and Mendoza are found on reservations in South Dakota. The Pine Ridge Reservation, for example, counts 57 Latinos out of a total population of 3,171.

6. Lovey Bliss, originally from Panama, has lived in Sioux Falls since 1974. At that time, she knew of only eight Latinos in the entire city.

7. Despite diligent efforts to serve Latino children in Huron, serious problems persist throughout the state. Parents of Latino children are often told by teachers that their children should only speak English at home, and that it is bad for them to be bilingual. In the worst of cases, Latino children in South Dakota have been deemed mentally retarded by teachers simply because they could not speak English. While this practice continued in parts of the United States until the 1970s, it has not ceased in South Dakota, likely attributable to a combination of prejudice and poor pedagogical preparation.

8. More than 1,800 Aberdeen residents nearly 10 percent of the city’s population signed a petition seeking to prevent the construction of the beef plant, fearing an influx of Latino workers to the community. On April 24, 2007, Brown County voters approved the TIF for Northern Beef Packers 6,902 to 3,471. That is 66.54 percent in favor and 33.46 percent opposed.

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