Hispanics changing carpet capital
BY CHAD ROEDEMEIER
DALTON, Ga. -- The social fabric is changing in the Carpet Capital of the World.
Over the past decade or so, Hispanic immigrants, most of them
have been streaming to Dalton for jobs in the city's carpet mills.
This fall, for the first time, Hispanics are a majority -- 51.4
percent -- in the
schools. Dalton, a city of 23,000 in northwestern Georgia, is the first community
in Georgia to reach that benchmark.
More Hispanics are coming every year, and city leaders are racing
to keep up
with the changes.
``It has been the greatest change of my lifetime,'' said Erwin
Mitchell, a former
congressman and lawyer who has lived here for seven decades.
``All public signs now are dual-language. The ads for jobs give
those who are bilingual.''
Across northern Georgia, in fact, a construction boom along with
abundant jobs at
poultry-processing plants and carpet mills have caused Hispanic immigration to
BACKLASH AT SCHOOL
But in Dalton, at least, there is another side to the transformation:
students began enrolling in larger numbers, white non-Hispanic families began
pulling their children out.
There were 3,131 white non-Hispanic students in Dalton schools
in the fall of
1989, or more than 80 percent of the total. This fall, there are only 1,893.
Many say the students are switching to private schools, some as
far away as
Chattanooga, Tenn., about 20 miles to the north.
Some parents complain that their English-speaking children are
being ignored as
teachers Pay more attention to children learning the language. Other people
simply do not like the way their hometown has changed.
A convenience store in town, Black Hills Lottery and Games, has
8-foot plywood sign decrying ``uncontrolled immigration'' and declaring:
``Congress sold us for cheap labor.''
``They're overcrowding our schools. It's hard enough for kids
to learn to begin
with,'' store owner Dorinda Bradley said. ``They're taking over our businesses,
taking our jobs.''
The immigrants have the clear support of Dalton's carpet industry,
more than 40 percent of the world's carpet. In a town where unemployment is less
than 3 percent, carpet mills are desperate for reliable employees.
City leaders have taken extraordinary steps to welcome the newcomers.
One carpet giant, Beaulieu of America, donated $1 million to help
build a new
Roman Catholic church. The city and county government also helped pay for an
artificial-turf soccer complex used mostly by Hispanics.
The schools also are trying to accommodate the newcomers. There
Hispanic students in the city's schools, compared with only 151 in 1989, and
there are nearly 2,000 more in surrounding Whitfield County.
Laura Orr, an instructional specialist at Roan School, with 81
enrollment this fall, said teachers adapted to Hispanic students.by heavY reliance
on repetition and memorization. The school system also is recruiting bilingual