The Miami Herald
November 8, 2000

Hispanics changing carpet capital

 Associated Press

 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 from Mexico,
 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 preference for
 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


 But in Dalton, at least, there is another side to the transformation: As Hispanic
 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 posted an
 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, which produces
 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 are 2,750
 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 percent Hispanic
 enrollment this fall, said teachers adapted to Hispanic heavY reliance
 on repetition and memorization. The school system also is recruiting bilingual