On Thursday, Nov. 2 and Monday, Nov. 6 at 8 p.m., Iowa Public Television will present Postville: When Cultures Collide, examining the social and economic changes that occur when a mix of people from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds move to a small community in Iowa.
The documentary, produced by IPTV, is set in Postville, a town of 1,500 in northeast Iowa, where more than 300 Hasidic Jews, plus hundreds of Mexicans, Guatemalans, Ukrainians and Russians have taken up residence in the last decade.
Postville's transformation began in 1988 when Aaron Rubashkin, a New York entrepreneur, bought an abandoned meatpacking plant in Postville and reopened it as a kosher slaughterhouse. The plant recruited trained rabbis to oversee the intricate practice of koshering meat. Other Jews followed, and soon, the town also was attracting Hispanic and Eastern European workers eager to fill the plant's 400 jobs. Suddenly, Postville wasn't all white or predominantly Lutheran any more.
Nikki Tundel, who wrote and produced the documentary, said Postville is an ideal place to study changes created by shifts in the country's population. Ethnic minorities make up one-fourth of the U.S. population and that number is expected to rise to one-third by 2010. At the same time, the National Immigration Forum reports that 30 percent of native-born Americans are strongly anti-immigrant.
"With statistics like these, an investigation into the roots of diversity dilemmas seems not only relevant, but necessary," Tundel said.
The documentary grew out of a shorter piece about Postville that Tundel produced for Iowa Public Television's weekly Living In Iowa program in 1999. She has been visiting Postville frequently to delve more deeply into the cultural changes taking place.
In the end, Postville: When Cultures Collide is about Iowa and America entering a new era of human interaction. "It's one thing to talk about the American dream," Tundel said, "But whose dream is it?"
Postville: When Cultures Collide can be seen on all Iowa Public Television stations, including Channel 11 in Storm Lake.