Immigrant Heritage Month: celebrating America’s diversity

Gladys Godinez contributed to this blog.

A nation of immigrants, the United States has a proud history of being a multicultural nation for all of those looking for a fresh start, new opportunities, and a place to build their dreams.

Immigrant Heritage Month has become a celebration of the accomplishments and contributions immigrants and their children have made in shaping the history, strengthening the economy, and enriching the culture of the U.S. Each June since 2014, people across the U.S. have had an opportunity to explore their own heritage and celebrate the diversity that forms the unique story of America.

At the Center for Rural Affairs, these same ideals are shared, year round. They can be seen in family farms and small businesses all over rural America, encouraging all Americans to celebrate the monumental contributions that immigrants have made and continue to make, every day.

In Schuyler, Nebraska, business owners Luis, Jose, and Cristobal Salinas have been serving up fan favorites at their restaurant, Burrito House, for almost two decades. Mexican dishes such as burritos, chimichangas, enchiladas, and more are made with love every day.

Not only has their community embraced and supported them, the Center for Rural Affairs has assisted the entrepreneurs, too.

“We want to work with the Center all the time,” he said. “All staff members are professional and  friendly. They help businesses, and they help the community. They get people to be more understanding. Thank you to the Center and the whole community for supporting us.”

The same ingenuity and dedication seen in the welcoming storefronts of immigrant-owned businesses can also be found in the well-tended fields of family farms, some of which have been around for generations, like the Burhmann family.

At 94 years old, Joan Buhrmann has been a witness to many changes on her family’s farm throughout the years. Though they may not have been aware of it at the time, Joan and her husband, Wayne “Red” Buhrmann, started implementing conservation practices on their family farm in 1948.

Located 25 miles south of Lincoln, Nebraska, just outside the village of Sprague, their land has been in the family since the late 1800s. Over the years, and after Red’s passing in 1996, the family farm is still running strong and implementing conservation practices to preserve the land. One way they’ve kept up with conservation needs is by attending the Center’s Women’s Learning Circles to continue expanding their knowledge on new practices.

“I really hope the family will continue the farm,” said Joan. “A small family farm is becoming more and more of a rarity, and this really is a place that is family oriented. Over the years, friends and family would return to the farm and regale us with stories of what they did on the farm, and how many memories were created. It’s such a touchstone for our family.”

Immigrants very new to this country have also turned to agriculture to make a living, and to take part in an entirely different lifestyle.

Though growing up in Lomé, the capital of Togo, West Africa, meant farm life was unfamiliar to Irene Atayi, it didn’t stop her from developing a love of growing plants with her mother throughout her childhood.

Irene’s lifelong love of gardening has led to a newfound desire to expand into agriculture. She turned to Center staff to find her current farmland. Through that assistance, Irene now farms on 1 acre, where she grows a variety of vegetables including different kinds of peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and strawberries, as well as herbs and flowers.

Irene and other like-minded aspiring farmers are actively working on building up their farms to provide produce for neighboring communities.

“Farming is both a business and a lifestyle change,” she said. “It starts with gaining the knowledge to be self-sufficient, and then can be turned into a business. The hardest part for me at the beginning was having patience when waiting for germination, but I have learned to trust in the process. I also believe access to land and knowledge about agriculture will help farmers of color succeed.”

Center for Rural Affairs staff are represented by immigrants, as well. Gladys Godinez knows firsthand what it’s like being an immigrant in America.

A native of Guatemala City, Guatemala, Gladys’ experiences over the years sparked a passion for inclusion work. She’s spent her entire adult life helping bridge communities through civic engagement, and goes out of her way to include others as community members, students, and clients.

Gladys works as a community organizer for the Center and focuses on continuing the organization's inclusion work, and expanding those benefits to more communities in rural Nebraska.

“The Center has focused on various projects and programs that are so important in my community, and I’m so glad to be a part of it,” she said. “I am truly excited to be able to help equip rural communities with the skills to be welcoming of their ever-changing demographics. I feel lucky that I get to meet various individuals who are ready to make their communities more inclusive, and help build bridges within their communities.”

From across the state of Nebraska, to across the nation, these immigrants and their descendants have shown how rich and diverse our country is. As we move toward the future, these stories, and many more, can show us how immigrants contribute to our communities, our economy, and our nation during Immigrant Heritage Month every June, and all throughout the year.

More on Immigrant Heritage Month

In today’s climate, when the word “immigrant” is heard, many assume the person is of Latino origin, but Immigrant Heritage Month is designed for people to dig further into their own heritage. Nebraska Educational Telecommunications shares the history of the immigrant experience through their Nebraska Studies website. Nebraska Studies reflects on some key factors in Nebraska and immigration in 1862 and earlier.

Learn more about the organization that founded the nationwide celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month, I Am An Immigrant.

Feature photo: At 94 years old, Joan Buhrmann's top priority is still her family farm. Pictured front, middle, she is surrounded by family members during a holiday celebration. Their land has been in the family since the late 1800s. | Photo submitted