NEAL CONAN, host:
From NPR News in Wausau, Wisconsin, I'm Neal Conan and this is Talk of the Nation.
Around the country, smaller cities and towns struggle with sometimes-sudden surges of outsiders. Lewiston, Maine became a destination for Somalis. Former city councilman Roger Philippon.
Mr. ROGER PHILIPPON (Former Councilman, Lewiston, Maine): There were a number of rumors and almost all of them were found to be without merit. Rumors ranging from the beliefs that Somalis were getting preferential treatment in general assistance, or in housing; that they were getting special treatment in the schools, that they were even being given cars.
CONAN: Here in Wisconsin, we focus on the story of Hmong refugees. Plus, we'll talk with mystery writer Victoria Houston about the lure of rainbows, brownies, muskies, and murder.
It's the Talk of the Nation after the news.
This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan. And today, we're broadcasting live from the University of Wisconsin Marathon County Theater in Wausau, Wisconsin. We have a live audience.
(Soundbite of applause)
A live audience of enthusiastic listeners to Wisconsin Public Radio and we thank them for coming here.
According to the U.S. Census, this town of roughly 38,000 people was once the whitest city in America. And I'm not talking about the snow. In 1980, less than one percent of Wausau identified as non-white. Demographics slowly began to change as local churches sponsored the city's first Hmong refugees.
Hmong fought with the U.S. during the war in Vietnam and faced persecution in their native Laos. Thirty years on, Asians, most of them Hmong make up roughly 12 percent of Wausau's population. In other smaller cities and towns across the country new arrivals might be from Somalia, or more usually from Mexico.
Like Wausau, many places that use to be homogeneous aren't that way anymore. We're here to learn how communities cope with unexpected strains on schools, on infrastructure, on social services, on the fabric of society. Why immigrants choose Wausau over, say, Chicago or Los Angeles, on the challenges and the opportunities of immigration in small cities and towns.
Later in the program we'll talk with Victoria Houston, the author of the Loon Lake Mysteries that focuses on fly-fishing and felonies in Wisconsin's northern woods. But first, a look at how immigration is transforming towns in Wisconsin and across the U.S.
We especially want to hear today from those of you who are in towns where they're experiencing a surge of immigration. How has your town reacted? If you're a recent immigrant who settled in a smaller town, why did you go there? What's life been like? Our number is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. We also have an email address, email@example.com.
We begin with Mai Zong Vue. She's the former president of the Hmong National Development Incorporated, an organization, which helps Hmong adjust to American life. She currently works on refugee issues for Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development and arrived in Wisconsin as a refugee in her teenaged years. She's with us here in the UW Marathon County Theater.
Thanks very much for being with us today.
Ms. MAI ZONG VUE (Refugee Program Specialist, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development): Thank you for having me.
CONAN: Tell us a little bit, if you would, how did you come to Wisconsin initially? Why did you settle here?
Ms. VUE: If I have a choice I probably, you know, wouldn't do it if I knew it was going to be so cold. But I didn't know anything about snow and a lot of us don't have a choice in terms of where we come to in the United States. For those of you who know, our federal policy dictates how the refugees are going to resettle in the United States; and that is assimilate them as fast as we can.
And so, the churches have a lot to do with the sponsorship of refugees in the United States. And for me, as well as many other refugees, it's through the churches and that's how we landed in Wisconsin.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. And what did you, as you say, cold was probably a novelty for you. What time of year did you get here initially?
Ms. VUE: We got here in March. You want to hear my story? And I've been telling this story all of my life in terms of when I do culture training. Why do I think Americans are so white? And I'll tell that story, because I think it tells a lot about how we all build our own image, in our minds, who the Americans are.
Back in the refugee camp, I lived with my family for five and a half years; pretty much grew up in the refugee camps myself. And our highlight of the day would be to chase this one tall, six-foot, blond, blue-eyed American in the camp and follow him wherever he goes in the camp. And when we get home we would always ask my parents, Who is this person that so strange, monster looking with high nose? You know, blond hair, blue eyes, you know, tall? And they always say he's an American from America. So that's, you know, for hundreds of times we formed that this is what Americans look like.
So, in 1980 in March, as we were about to land in Chicago, the whole country was nothing but pure white. It must be for us about two feet on the ground. And I looked out the window and turned to my oldest brother who knew some English. And I said now I understand. I understand why the Americans are so white because they live in a white country.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. VUE: And from then on I had to undo my bias about who the Americans are, because I got so confused. Why do we have different types of Americans who are different shapes and size and colors?
CONAN: A question we've been asking ourselves for years.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: What was school like? That can't have been easy.
Ms. VUE: Well, school was, yeah; it's like really hard. You just keep going on and you don't think about it. And you don't stop. You just, like a car, you just keep driving on a highway.
Ms. VUE: You know, slow down when there's traffic, but otherwise keep moving.
CONAN: Was there any one there who spoke your language? A teacher?
Ms. VUE: No. And thanks to my older sister who's been here five years before us. So in Appleton, there's some Hmong families there already. And she thought the smartest thing, for us to learn English really well. And this teenager years, so me and my sister are already very well developed in size. So, learning English is pretty hard as well.
And so she say in Appleton you already have a lot of Hmong students so you and I are going to study hard. So let's move you to a very small town called Kaukauna, 14,000, for those of you who know between Green Bay and Appleton. And we were the only 2 Hmong students in the high school. So learning English was no choice but to learn it.
CONAN: Sponsored by a church initially. One thing that people were surprised to learn, I understand, is that sponsorship did not last very long.
Ms. VUE: No. No. I always tell people that you would go crazy if you're a teacher, a social worker, whatever you do that you have a, you know, an involvement with us in the '80s. Because you go crazy because the minute, you know, our family find out where they lived, or where the clan leader is; and a lot of the cluster of Hmong in Wisconsin I'll talk a little bit later on, is the reason why, you know we have such a variety of clusters in Wisconsin is because the church has resettled the clan leaders into that town.
Ms. VUE: And so, I went to Kaukauna High School learning ABC and learning to juggle the rest of my academic years as well. And it was a survival mode, like I said. You know, you're either, you are dropped in the ocean and you either learn to swim or you die. So we chose to go on and, you know?
CONAN: Did the other kids accept you? Did you make friends?
Ms. VUE: No, not until I was able to communicate a little bit.
Ms. VUE: But before that people would just give you really weird look and kind of ask yourself like, well, who is this person? Why is she here? You know, she doesn't belong here. That kind of look for a whole year until we were able to kind of give out some broken language and communicate with our teachers and so forth.
And then by that time, my sister and I were really fortunate to have our assistant principal, who was pretty much the bridge between us and the rest of the students; where she would make a mandatory presentation in all Social Studies classes. Like, every ten minutes before class starts, we would to go there and talk about who we are and why we're there, and give the opportunity for other students to ask questions.
And that's how we opened up communications in the school system. And then people who like you, you know, continue to like you and help you out. People who don't, you know, they'll be there. And that's how we grow together.
CONAN: Hmm. Let's bring another voice into the conversation now. Brian Bull is acting news director for Wisconsin Public Radio, produced a documentary for WGR entitled Tsim Txom, or Suffering: Domestic Violence in Hmong Society. He's with us here at UW Marathon County Theater in Wausau.
Nice to have you on the program, Brian.
Mr. BRIAN BULL (News Director, Wisconsin Public Radio): A pleasure.
(Soundbite of applause)
CONAN: A couple of swift, overarching questions. Give us a sense, if you could, what it was like for towns like Wausau, smaller, predominately white cities, when the Hmong began to arrive. Were they ready for this? Had they done any planning, any preparation?
Mr. BULL: I think a lot of the cities were taken by surprise. I don't think they knew what was coming. It's been characterized before that a lot of these church groups and charity organizations had made the invitation to bring people into their homes and their hearts. But it's one thing to say that we're going to bring these people into town; it's another thing entirely to have them there, and I think a lot of people weren't quite sure to what extent they were going to be doing this because someone said to me, it's like the families who are currently bringing in families from the hurricane-ravaged areas of Louisiana, only doing that for 20-plus years.
I don't think you could have had a greater disparity between cultures as you had between rural, Midwestern Americana and the people who are coming from the mountainous terrains of Laos and Cambodia. The Hmong culture traditionally tends to be very animistic. They have a very unique language that does not have a readily available similarity in the region. If you have people who come in from Mexico or even Europe, you have an immediate comparison, but the Hmong language and many traditions are very unique and very singular. And so I think to bring these people in and then try to find them homes, try to find them appropriate work, I think it really kind of just bowled them over.
CONAN: Um hmm.
Mr. BULL: I think in many ways they're still trying to learn who these people are because the Hmong themselves did not have a written language until the last 50 years and many people did not even know about the Hmong until they started arriving. They perhaps had some precursor that they were instrumental in helping the CIA during the Vietnam War; but to bring them here and to find this very unique different culture, I think, took these hosts by surprise. You're talking about a very Midwestern rural traditional, I would say fairly conservative community meeting a culture that they had absolutely no experience with whatsoever.
CONAN: And quickly, just before we get to the break, Brian. Twenty years ago, amidst that first wave of Hmong immigration, there were a lot of people said, worried, that these people would be on welfare forever, that they would never integrate into the economic life of this community. A quarter century on, we're less, what's happened.
Mr. BULL: I'll show you one quick figure that I got from a person who works in CAP Services in neighboring Stevens Point. He said that in Portage County within that first year there was a 98 percent dependency rates on welfare. Now it's at two percent; so I think they've really overhauled. I think they've really applied themselves to learn, to learn how to get into the workforce, to learn English and to integrate themselves; not assimilate, but integrate themselves and I think the Hmong have really pushed themselves.
CONAN: Yet, there is still some degree of tension about this, we just saw a recent poll that suggested people are uneasy with immigration.
Mr. BULL: I think the percentage dropped from 78 percent to 47 percent as far as accepting diversity here in the Wausau area and it may just be the second wave of Hmong has challenged perceptions again. It may have re-unearthed some of those longstanding issues that may have been--this terrible incidence a couple of years back between a Hmong hunter and six others where the six were killed. We can certainly talk about that more later, though, I think there is still repercussions from that though.
CONAN: And, when we come back from a short break, we're going to invite our listeners here in the audience in Wausau to join the conversation and, of course, you too listening, 800-989-8255, email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Back after the break. I'm Neal Conan, it's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, I'm Neal Conan coming to you today from the UW Marathon County Theater in Wausau, Wisconsin. Our topic this hour is small towns and immigration. And, as you can hear, our computers are connecting with some other computers so you're going to have to put up with some unusual sounds as we're broadcasting live from this theater today.
Wausau is a natural place for this discussion. Twelve percent of the population here are Hmong from Southeast Asia. Many other small cities and towns across the country host immigrant populations, we want to hear from them. Give us a call, 800-989-TALK, e-mail us email@example.com.
With us here in the theater are Mai Zong Vue, Refugee Specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and Brian Bull, News Director for Wisconsin Public Radio and why don't we go directly to the audience and this is Fred. Fred from Wausau.
FRED PRAIN(ph) (Audience member): Hi, my name is Fred Prain I'm a lifelong resident of the city of Wausau and welcome on behalf of the citizens.
CONAN: Thank you.
Mr. PRAIN: I was on the Wausau school board from the mid 80s to the early 90s and learned firsthand the problems that a small town has with an immigration such as we had. In the early 80's we had about 150 Southeast Asians and by the time we did something quote "about it" we had about 1500 which equates to about three elementary schools and Wausau has 13 at the present time, so the financial impacts on the taxpayers was extensive.
But more importantly, about '91, '92, we as a Board of Education decided that we have got to something because many of our schools are at 60 percent Southeast Asian, non-English speaking in most cases and the teachers and the students and the parents started giving us feedback as if we don't think there's an equality of education occurring in our district and so we evaluated and went through a lot of different plans and we finally came up with an idea to basically join partner schools, take elementary which was K through five and joining them together and bus, the big word, bus the kids and very quickly we learned that...
CONAN: Did busing prove as popular at Wausau as it did in Boston?
Mr. PRAIN: We felt it wasn't really a busing plan, but it was a busing plan and in 20/20 hindsight, the town wasn't ready for it, it wasn't presented well and in essence it did not work for the town, but became very clear was that being born and raised in Wausau, we were not exposed to minorities and this was a culture shock beyond imagination. It came on extremely fast and the citizens reacted in some ways, positively, in many ways negatively.
Besides personal threats to many board members and myself, my daughter had a death threat, she's a first grader going to school and she was threatened to be killed by a citizen. That was disturbing, because we're just trying to do what's right and our goal as the Board of Education at the time was to incorporate the Southeast Asians, encourage diversity, but more importantly we felt that we've got to teach these immigrants English.
If these students do not learn English and learn it fast, they will be a burden on this town that will cost millions. And so we felt if we spread the Southeast Asians out to 13 schools the teachers can then focus on a smaller percent, teach them English faster, they can talk to the whites in the school faster. And they will then engage; 20/20 hindsight it did work and it is working, because the Valedictorian from one of the high schools was Southeast Asian last year.
It does work and we felt that plan was fine. In essence what happened though the town revolted. They recalled the school board; we were thrown out of office. The new school board took over, reversed our plan and then now the plan is that they choice, basically Southeast Asians and bused them to schools throughout.
The bottom line is now the schools have a little better percentage wise. It's not up to 60 percent in one school. It's more like 20 to 30; some schools have a lot less. But I think the system is working because of the results we're seeing today 20 years later.
CONAN: Thanks very much, Fred.
Mr. PRAIN: You bet.
CONAN: Appreciate that.
(Soundbite of applause)
CONAN: Mai Zong Vue, get your reaction to that.
Ms. VUE: I was going to say that was a brilliant plan in terms of saving tax dollars and making sure that the city is function and so forth. Yes, I think for anyone when they don't know of each other it's always going to be difficult to connect. Whether you're Hmong or Caucasian or what the case is. And in my own experience I think you know we approach everything from the level where we are at, then we're not going to be threatened about it.
For example, when we moved into Kaukauna, our neighbor who is our, also our, became our godmother after a while had a large family like us. So they have a lot of similarity where when Christmas holiday, Thanksgiving holiday comes in, the ice breaker of food is what brings the two parents who don't speak the language to come together.
When all of us, the kids are speaking English together and we're walk around the neighborhood and you know storm from (unintelligible) and Bernie's house you know. And their kids come and do the same to our house but our friends and their friends don't speak the same language. But the food is a great ice breaker because they eat and you know they do they'll do their non-verbal thing.
And so I think in accepting anyone is you know take it at the level that you have and do that and I think what they're trying to do here in Wausau, you know, was a great strength.
The other thing is when people are learning about each other's language, some people may over do it and some people may do it without knowing what it is. And I remember our church, our sponsor was, you know trying so hard to make sure that we don't go hungry. So this is what they do, they always bring us food. Of course they bring us food that we don't like; and so you know when you first come to this country, dairy foods stinks, I have to say that you know. And they bring these large cheddar cheese bars, these long stick ones, and we don't eat them.
So we you know (unintelligible) we have to be polite. We have to, you know act, like we like the food. So we took it and then when they leave we put it underneath the cabin and we would be. Everyday they would be, you know they'd come back with another cheese bar, we'd put it back there, you know.
And they do that for a whole week. Of course we have a whole cabin of cheese, in the drawer, in the kitchen drawer and then one day, you know the woman came and she was looking for something. She opened all the drawers and she saw all the cheese bars that she brought. And she asked why we didn't eat them and we say Well we don't like it. And she'd say Well why didn't you tell us that you don't like it? Well it's not polite to do that you know.
So people have good intentions, it's just that they don't know about it and sometimes you know it doesn't become useful it becomes a funny story. But it's the, you know it's the effort that counts.
CONAN: Yeah. Brian Bull, let me ask you another part of, some of the things that were brought up by Fred Prain and that is before the Hmong arrived the town of Wausau did not have a meeting and vote, Did you want to change the character of the town. Do you want to build three more elementary schools? Do you want to spend more tax money in all of the...? Nobody said before hand that this was going to happen. As it happened there was a feeling, I think am I right about this of hey this is spinning out of control. This isn't what we wanted.
Mr. BULL: No you would be accurate. There had been no plans for any mass migration of refugees into the states. In fact from what I recall you know Wausau was leveling off as far as many things including its developments. And you know generally it was regarded as an all American city. And it had a lot of ideals. It was regarded by many people and still is I think as a Midwestern paradise.
You know, middle income, very ideal standard of living and I think if there's any lingering resentment that I've gathered from a number of people who I have talked to from those days is that it seemed to be this collaboration. Maybe an unspoken collaboration at least between these charity groups and church organizations and the federal government to bring these people, drop them off at the front step and then be done with it.
It was put basically typified as dropping people off and not having any further say or involvements in it. The same gentleman who quoted the welfare dependency figure said basically they gave them to us, we had to accommodate. It was a community wide organization, an effort to really get these people on board with us and teach them English and get them integrated in the schools. And the feds didn't lift a finger to help us out.
CONAN: In 2002 TALK OF THE NATION spoke to a city council member in Lewiston, Maine at the time that city was experiencing a major influx of Somali refugees. The mayor at the time, Larry Raymond wrote a public letter to Somali community leaders asking them to discourage more Somalis from going to Lewiston, Maine. For an update on the situation we turn now to Phil Nadeau(ph). He's the Deputy City Administrator of Lewiston and he joins us now by phone from that town.
Nice to have you on the program, sir.
Mr. PHIL NADEAU (Deputy City Administrator, Lewistown): Nice to be here, Neil, thank you for inviting me.
CONAN: What's changed since 2002?
Mr. NADEAU: Well, as I'm listening to the show, I'm struck by the similarities between Wausau's experience particularly in the early years of their refugee resettlement and Lewiston's experience with the relocation of Somali refugees to our community. And for the listeners that aren't familiar with Lewiston's story, the one significant difference between what occurred in Lewiston and what has occurred in Wausau over the course of the last 25 years or so is that Lewiston's relocation occurred without a single individual actually being resettled by any of the refugee resettlement agencies in the United States in Lewiston. This occurred only because a few families were relocated from Portland, Maine, which is about 40 miles to our south. Because of a housing and shelter crisis that they were experiencing at that time in their city, we relocated a few Somali families to Lewiston in February of 2001 and that literally triggered a relocation, which has now produced a community of about 2500 Somalis in Lewiston today.
CONAN: And how are they integrating into the community? Are there disproportionate numbers of their children in schools? Are, are they, are they on welfare or are they working?
Mr. NADEAU: I think all of what you heard about the Wausau experience is, is strikingly similar to Lewiston in many ways, outside of the fact that Wausau's experience was part of a program, an actual programmed relocation resettlement in that community by the resettlement agencies. We experienced a lot of the same issues that were confronted by Wausau in the early years. The fact that we had a population coming in that was abso--, you know, that wasn't programmed, that they were actually coming from other communities around the United States, they were coming from Georgia and from Minnesota and from Ohio, and the fact that they were merely just literally showing up on our doorstep without any agency bringing in, you know, bringing the families into our community, created a set of challenges that were somewhat different than Wausau, because we didn't have the refugee resettlement agencies present in our community. We didn't have those churches, those support organizations ready to support, at least provide that initial year of support that refugee families will get through federal, through the federal government funding process.
But we have been able to marshal enough of our local resources and have been able to be creative enough so that we think we've met at least the preliminary need, which is shelter and food and making the service and program accommodations that they often need. The issue that we're now confronted with is the, are the longer term issues, much of what you've heard about, the need to provide English as a second language, education to students and to adults, and the fact that we now have a chronic unemployment problem and a high level of dependency on federal welfare and local state welfare programs, not unlike what Wausau was experiencing in the early going.
CONAN: And is there resentment in Lewiston, Maine?
Mr. NADEAU: Well, I think the community has responded quite favorably under the circumstances. I think a lot of what you've heard already about, you know, those who might express some resentment about the fact that they didn't choose, they didn't get a choice to vote about this. They didn't elect to have this occur in their community and that these folks just suddenly showed up into the community requiring this high level of service, was certainly confronted by some resentment, but I would have to say that, I wouldn't characterize the resentment as being kind of this xenophobic reaction.
I think what was being expressed, you know, in 2002 by Mayor Raymond, the fact that he received so much local support I think wasn't the product of a xenophobic reaction. I think it had much more to do with what you're hearing about, which is the, the failure of the federal government to put in sufficient funding into a system that requires, you know, a level of support that goes well beyond that first year for many refugee populations that come into the United States, the ongoing need for language education, the ongoing need for job training, and all of the other things that populations like the Hmong and the Somali populations that are here in the United States require; because of their backgrounds. These are, you know, these are people in crisis that are coming into a situation they know little about, and they need a fairly high level of support for an extended period of time.
And the federal government's refugee resettlement funding mechanism doesn't respond in that manner. It's dependent on having private agencies and these church agencies, non-profits, step up and provide that gap funding that's needed for communities to get that additional work done. And I think the deficiency in the way the system is set up is that the federal government expects that most of the relocation is going to occur in the metropolitan areas, which it does, but when it, when it begins to occur in smaller communities, they just don't have the resource base to be able to handle it financially and have to be very creative in coming up with the resources that are needed.
CONAN: Phil Nadeau, thank you very much for being with us. We appreciate it.
Mr. NADEAU: Thank you, Neal. I appreciate the time. Thanks.
CONAN: Phil Nadeau, deputy city administrator in Lewiston, Maine. Let's turn now to another member of our panel here and that's Katherine Fennelly, a professor of public policy at the University of Minnesota. She's also here at the UW Marathon County Theater in Wausau. Nice to have you on the program today.
Prof. KATHERINE FENNELLY (Professor of Public Policy at the University of Minnesota): Thank you.
(Soundbite of applause)
CONAN: And it's interesting, listening to what Phil Nadeau was saying about Lewiston, Maine, illustrates a couple of points about patterns of immigration, one of which is, it used to be that immigrants arrived in this country in New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco, ports, and they sort of acted as membranes that slowly brought them into the mainstream of Amer-Lewiston, Maine? Wausau, Wisconsin?
Prof. FENNELLY: Well, that, it's still true that the majority of immigrants arrive at the, in the, on the coastal states and the border states. But there has been a rapid increase in the numbers of immigrants and the percentage of immigrants who are moving to heretofore white, in some cases, rural destinations.
CONAN: And the other thing he talked about was this sort of secondary immigration. They may have arrived in Los Angeles, but for one reason or other, usually family, they then move to Lewiston.
Prof. FENNELLY: I think that's, that's also always been true, I mean, there are two things that really distinguish the majority of immigration patterns in the United States from what we've been talking about with the Hmong and Somali refugees, and that is that the majority of immigrants are not refugees, and secondly the majority live in urban areas. And then thirdly, the cases where immigrants move to rural towns, it's generally for work, so a situation such as the one that the mayor of Lewiston was describing where there's high unemployment is fairly unusual. Usually it's rural communities that have perhaps food processing or manufacturing and are trying to bring in young workers.
CONAN: And we keep hearing about jobs that Americans aren't happy to do. I think in one of your studies, you talk a lot about the meat packing industry.
Prof. FENNELLY: Meat packing, especially here in the Midwest and parts of the South is a real lure for immigrants to small towns, poultry production, pork, beef, very important source of employment and one that is predominantly staffed by immigrants, at least on what they call the evisceration lines.
CONAN: We're going to have to take another short break and when we come back, promise, we'll get to some of your calls. I've been very bad about this and I'm sorry about that. 800-989-8255. You could also send us email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.
(Soundbite of applause)
This is Talk of the Nation, I'm Neal Conan. Today we're broadcasting live from the University of Wisconsin's Marathon County Theater in Wausau.
(Soundbite of applause)
Tomorrow it's Science Friday. Ira Flatow will be here to discuss energy options for reducing oil dependence, and a state of science address. That's all tomorrow on Talk of the Nation Science Friday.
Right now, we're talking about the immigration in smaller cities and towns. Our guests are Mai Zong Vue, Brian Bull, and also still with us is Katherine Fennelly. Mai Zong Vue is refugee program specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development; Brian Bull, acting news director for Wisconsin Public Radio; and Katherine Fennelly, professor of public policy at the University of Minnesota. Let's get a caller on the line, and let's go to Susan. Susan's calling us from Chester Springs in Pennsylvania.
SUSAN (Caller): Yes, hi. I actually, I had a comment and sort of a question when the gentleman said that there needed to be more government involvement in supporting people, say, from Somalia or wherever they're coming from. I pay a lot of taxes and I see my money going here, there and everywhere, I mean, we have Katrina, we have, I had extensive damage in Florida and I get no help from FEMA or the government, I have to pay it myself. Just how much can we bear? How much burden does, does the taxpayer, how much money is there from our taxes? We can only do so much.
CONAN: Brian Bull, I'm going to put you on the spot in that, in that regard.
Mr. BULL: I was afraid of that.
CONAN: And I'm also going to ask you to talk a little bit about the, obviously short-term expenditures, and we heard a lot about that in terms of the school system earlier...
Mr. BULL: Mm-hmm.
CONAN: ...longer term benefits, though.
Mr. BULL: You know, that's, that's a real stumper, I confess, because, you know, how much is enough? Weigh it against, you know, a person's own individual investment or community. I mean, I don't think there's a straightforward answer for that and if someone does have that, I'd love to hear the formula. I think that the immediate terms that they're looking at would have to do with learning English as a second language, I think is the biggest, most immediate need for many of these people to transition well.
CONAN: Katherine Fennelly, what do you think?
Prof. FENNELLY: Yes, it's something that we talk about quite a bit in public policy circles. The best studies show that when you look just at short-term costs, let's say, English language classes, what you're not paying attention to is the long-term fiscal benefits, the taxes that are paid by immigrants, the jobs that are created, and the taxes include retail taxes, as well as income taxes, creation of new businesses, creation of new jobs. And in an aging society, that's quite significant.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. One other question, also. There are parts of the country, including parts of the Midwest that are experiencing population declines. Isn't this an, an injection of population, young people particularly?
Prof. FENNELLY: Absolutely. And I was thinking about that when you were talking to the mayor of Lewiston, because I think perhaps the only thing that a superintendent fears more than rapid change and having to perhaps teach new languages or teach intensive English is the consolidation and closure of schools because of declining enrollments. That's occurring all over the Midwest.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Let's get another question from the audience here in Wausau.
PETE OBERHAUSER(ph) (Audience Member): My name is Pete Oberhauser (ph). I actually am from Clintonville, Wisconsin. My question is concerning the cultural integration of immigrants and, and practices in the United States. And I'm referring particularly to a book that Anne Fadiman wrote, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, which was about a medical situation in Merced, California. And the book was brilliantly researched and, and she, she talked about the problems of integrating a medical culture that had evolved among the Hmong over a period of many, many centuries, probably a couple thousand years, and it was a, it was a terrific problem trying to integrate that longtime culture into a medical practice in the United States. And my question is, have you, has there been any experience that you've had that has related to that problem in, with the culture that you had brought to this country?
CONAN: Mai Zong Vue, I guess that's to you.
Ms. VUE: To me. Yeah, I think the issue that you raised is a very important one, and providers are trying as we're speaking to integrate some of these in there. For example, one of the successful model that we have in Wisconsin is the Kai Xia(ph) House in Madison where they integrate the holistic approach of serving the Hmong community where, you know, before a surgery is going to be made or something, you know, they would respect the elder in the family structure enough to consult with them before they'd put the process in, and so everybody works hand to hand. In my own family, we have to, and for my unique way, I always get to be the culture broker between my family and the, my people, to the community. And that is to educate why we need to do things a certain way.
So, for example, in a community that we believe that we will be reincarnated, and when we die we need to be whole, every part in us physically has to be intact. So if you're going to, you know, open me up and do something...
CONAN: Take out your appendix, say.
Ms. VUE: Right, or like, when I had my gallstone removed I have to educate my mom for six months before I could do it. You know, and, so you have to really take it back to why we believe the way we believe and why we do that, and then that education have to come in. So, it's a slow process, but I think when providers go in with the respect of that culture, then everybody come together and things can be done. But, the clash is when people say, well this is our way, and the judge say we have the right to do this and we're going to do surgery on you without you having a say, and that of course is going to be a clash.
So, things have slowly coming down. Another book that just came out besides the one you mentioned is called Healing by Heart, and that's written by two physicians; a Hmong physician and a Caucasian physician. And it gives another side of, you know, more elaborate in terms of this issue.
So, I think it's, we're facing that issue, but it's coming together. As a marriage, we're learning to live with each other.
CONAN: Okay. Let's see if we can get one more caller in. This is Pressie (ph), Pressie is calling from Tallahassee. I hope I'm pronouncing your name correctly?
PRESSIE (Caller): You are. Thanks for taking my call, Neal. This is a great topic for a show.
PRESSIE: Unfortunately, you're about 20 or 30 years late. I say that because my family came over, came to Iowa in 1976, and I always think back as kind of an interesting coincidence that we came to the states as America was celebrating its 200th bicentennial.
I just wanted to make a point, that, one of the reasons why I say I think your show is 25 years too late is your last caller, Susan, I think she illustrates my point. I think had Americans, or had our neighbors known why we were here in the states, that we had in fact fought for the United States during the Vietnam War and the war in Southeast Asia. I think we probably would've received a warmer reception. Not that there weren't a lot of people who helped us out.
My other comment is that, I understand that there's a new wave of Hmong refugees that have just started to come over since I believe the refugee camps in Thailand are being closed down, if they haven't already. My question, it's a two-fold question, my question is how are the preparations for their arrival different from the first wave? And secondly...
CONAN: Well, we're just going to have to deal with just that one, Pressie, I'm sorry...
PRESSIE: Oh, okay.
CONAN: ...because we're a little short on time. But let me put that to Katherine Fennelly. Yes, of course, tell us about the situation about the Hmong refugees who are still in Asia, but also, we're obviously talking about groups other than Hmong, just Hmong, but anyway...
Ms. FENNELLY: Right. I think there's a theme here, which is that the United States really needs better policies for integration and for education of US-born citizens about the immigrants who are coming in, about their backgrounds and histories and about the enormous diversities that exists within those groups.
When the refugee camps closed in Thailand, we have colleagues in Minnesota, including the Mayor of St. Paul, who went to the refugee camp and brought home some of the refugees. And many of them were helped by the second and third generation Hmong who were at this point established in the Twin Cities.
And so, that's another thing that I think we have to recognize is the help that refugees and immigrants get from their forbearers.
CONAN: Thanks to everybody on our panel, we appreciate this. Some of you, I know, went out of your way to be with us today. Thanks to those of you who called in with questions and had them in the audience as well. I know we could go on, but we're running a little short of time.
Mai Zong Vue is a refugee program specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development; Brian Bull, acting News Director for Wisconsin Public Radio; and Katherine Fennelly, professor of public policy at the University of Minnesota, all with us here at the UW Marathon County Theater. Thanks very much.
(Soundbite of applause)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.