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Collection Occupational Folklife Project

Recent Immigrant Workers in Iowa's Meatpacking Industry

In 2015, oral and public historian John McKerley and his colleague Jennifer Sherer, the Director of the University of Iowa’s Labor Center in Iowa City, Iowa, received an Archie Green Fellowship from the American Folklife Center to document the occupational folklife and work-related experiences of recently arrived immigrants in the large meatpacking plants of Iowa and Illinois. The 19 workers interviewed for this project came to United States as refugees or are recently arrived immigrants. They came to Iowa, or were resettled there as refugees, specifically to take advantage of employment opportunities in the region’s large meat-processing industry. In these interviews, new Americans from Africa, Asia, and Latin America discuss their jobs, which are often hazardous and physically demanding; explain how they found work in Iowa's meat processing plants; and discuss their new communities and new lives in the American heartland. Many also reflect on how they are being reshaped by the state's work culture and community life as well as how their presence is reshaping Iowa's local and regional culture.

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