By John Vinson, December 1, 2020
I first saw Harrisonburg, Virginia, when I went there more than thirty years ago for a job interview. I didn’t get that job, but I later moved to Monterey, about 45 miles away. Harrisonburg back then was quite enchanting. It was a small slow-paced town with a unique character forged in the history of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. One of its interesting features was a community of Old Order Mennonites who drove around the city in black horse-drawn buggies. It was a very livable place.
Unfortunately, I noticed more and more changes over the years as I made periodic trips to the city. Many are changes for the worse. The local poultry processing plants began hiring Mexicans, most of them undoubtedly illegal aliens. The plants claimed that Americans wouldn’t do the jobs. Be that as it may, one source told me that they simply didn’t want Americans.
Adding to the discordant multicultural mix were large influxes of refugees from around the globe planted by do-gooder resettlement agencies. Their version of charity is to settle the refugees, get a subsidy from the government, then leave it to the local community to pay the cost of social services for the newcomers.
Today about 17 percent of Harrisonburg’s residents are foreign born. English is a second language for forty percent of public school pupils. Students speak a total of 70 different languages as their native tongues. Some of the city’s boosters seem to think this some kind of accomplishment. I wonder, though, what it does for the costs and quality of education when a school system becomes a Tower of Babel.
During the past 30 years the city’s population has risen from 30,000 to 54,000. Immigration has played a large role in the increase, but by no means all. Burgeoning development has attracted lots of native-born people as well. One example is the virally expanding campus of James Madison University during the last several decades.
Harrisonburg has developed a big city feel, at the expense of its former pace. Driving there is not pleasant with the large volume of traffic. With all the cars whizzing around, the Mennonites no longer venture out on the main roads with their buggies. The horses would panic if they tried it. Maybe the buggies are still around on the back roads, but I haven’t seen any for quite some time.
According to received wisdom, poverty is the price you have to pay if your community is not always striving for break-neck development. Supposedly too, immigration is a further key to prosperity. Well, it doesn’t seem to be working out quite that way in Harrisonburg. Wage levels there are significantly lower than the national average, and the poverty level is almost three times the national level.
No doubt some people there are doing well, as evidenced by all the McMansion developments around the town. But as the rich get richer, poverty remains a problem. Could the addiction of the poultry processors to cheap foreign labor have something to do with it?
So I’ve seen Harrisonburg lose its character and — more and more — become just another outpost of Everyplace, U.S.A. Some will say that we shouldn’t complain because this is the essence of progress, and who could be against that? But I can’t help asking a question — and I don’t think I’m the only one inquiring: Just what is the destination of this so-called progress? If it’s a “diversity” that’s uniform in its dreary confusion and people jammed together in human anthills, then maybe we should select some different destinations for our progress.
John is president of the American Immigration Control Foundation.