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MU Cambio Center Enhances Missourians’ Welfare by Easing the Transition of Immigrants into Rural Communities

April 27th, 2011

Story Contact: Nathan Hurst, 573-882-6217, hurstn@missouri.edu

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Latinos have been the fastest growing immigrant population in America for several decades. As more and more Latino immigrants move into all regions of the U.S., including the Midwest, local communities face many cultural, political, and economic hurdles when trying to successfully adapt and integrate the newcomers. Now, the Cambio Center at the University of Missouri is researching the causes and effects of these local struggles. Corinne Valdivia, an associate professor of agricultural and applied economics in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, says the goal is to find ways to effectively integrate immigrants into their new communities.

“We are looking for ways to build bridges between the immigrants and the receiving communities so that we can facilitate better integration in these rural communities,” Valdivia said.

Valdivia, along with a team of researchers, has begun the second phase of this research project. The first phase was a four-year project to research the effects of Latino immigration in three rural Missouri communities. Researchers surveyed hundreds of immigrants in the three communities to gain first-hand accounts of their experiences with moving and adapting to a new culture and community. The second phase of the project will involve intensive surveys, interviews, and town hall meetings of receiving members of the same three communities. Lisa Flores, the co-director of the Coalition for Cultural Competence, Training, and Consultation at MU, believes it is important to understand how and why receiving communities accept immigrants into their societies.

“We are looking at immigration from a community perspective with understanding that the ability for immigrants to integrate depends on the willingness of the receiving community to let them in and embrace them,” Lisa Flores, who also is an associate professor of educational, school and counseling psychology in the MU College of Education, said. “We want to understand what the expectations are from the receiving community and if these expectations help facilitate the positive integration and acculturation that is necessary for these communities and the immigrants to thrive.”

Over the course of four years, the researchers will gather both quantitative and qualitative data in each rural community, by engaging in action research through Photovoice and community forums. Photovoice is a community-based participatory research process that uses photography as a tool for engaging people in a critical reflection process around a specific issue. The researchers believe it is a powerful tool for conducting research with vulnerable populations because it allows the participants to share their perspectives on issues in ways in which they can more directly relate. Photovoice helps participants visualize their perspectives by providing an extended time to reflect on their responses. Researchers also will apply acculturation and integration surveys to community members to gain quantitative data. Both phases of the project have been funded by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The Cambio Center was established by the University of Missouri in 2004 to contribute to the university’s mandate to provide education and enhance the welfare of all Missouri residents in the context of the demographic changes that are resulting in dynamic, multicultural, and diverse societies. The center also seeks to provide knowledge and the best practices to facilitate a smooth integration of economically vulnerable newcomers to Missouri and the Midwest, and to prepare all citizens for a diverse society.

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