Worthington’s Pathway To Today

Originally from Guatemala, auto repair shop owner Merido Mazariegos came to Worthington, Minnesota 23 years ago via Florida. He’s now a permanent U.S. resident. He came to Worthington for work at the local pork plant in town.

“They were hiring people down in Florida,” Mazariegos said. “So we would see a white van stopping by our apartments and asking for people, looking for people to come to work in Minnesota.” 

He came and worked for what was then known as the Swift plant for five years. Six years ago, he went out on his own and started an auto repair shop. His reasoning is simple enough.

“Just an adventure,” Mazariegos said. “I needed to do something else.” 

He says he feels at home here, because it is.

“I feel very welcome, like I say, I love the people and it’s very nice people, very great people,” Mazariegos said.

Mazariegos’ story is not uncommon. Former mayor and current Worthington city councilman Alan Oberloh says immigrants really started to move in when changes were being made at the plant, now operated as JBS.

“I would think that was about the time JBS put a second shift in, which would have been probably in the mid 90’s, would have been that time frame, and they were constantly looking for more help, and that’s when they brought ’em,” Oberloh said.

Another reason for the influx, he says, was the Campbell’s Soup Company which employed workers at a site in town before closing about 16 years ago.

“There were a lot of minorities that worked at the Campbell’s soup plant when it was open,” Oberloh said.

A quick look at the most recent US Census Bureau numbers for towns of similar size in southwest Minnesota reveals just how diverse Worthington is. In 2010, Marshall and Albert Lea, Minnesota were 87% and 90% white, respectively. Worthington, however, was just 62%.

Local nurse practitioner Victoria Blanchette works out over her lunch hour at the city’s YMCA. She’s lived in Worthington for more than 20 years and has witnessed a big change in the city’s demographics.

“We’ve had just a huge explosion of variety,” Blanchette said.

Born in the United States, she has both Mexican and Korean roots. That type of diversity is apparent when you’re walking around downtown Worthington.

“We’ve got a pretty diverse ownership group of our businesses in this community,” Oberloh said.

Oberloh says Worthington would not be the thriving community is it today without that diversity.

“Through the farm crunch of the 80’s, and through some tighter economic times, when we lost some businesses here and there throughout our main street, the immigrant population has come in and started stores, restaurants, repair shops, you name it,” Oberloh said.

Mazariegos doesn’t think the community has really changed.

“As far as culture, I think it hasn’t changed,” he said. “It’s more population, but I see it’s the same great people.” 

That’s not to say that everything’s perfect. As a non-white person, Blanchette says that she feels welcome here. She also says that tension, be it cultural, racial, religious, or another kind, will always be a part of the story. 

“There’s always going to be some type of things that don’t always match, but that’s normal,” she said. “We’re supposed to have that.”

As for Mazariegos, those tensions aren’t enough to get him to close up shop and relocate.

“Right now, I don’t think I’m going anywhere,” he said.

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