TODAY

TODAY   |  April 12, 2013

Iowa town’s Hispanic population reflects rest of U.S.

Back in the 1990s, Ottumwa, Iowa, was in a population decline when a meat processing plant began recruiting Latino workers. Now the city is 11 percent Latino, reflecting an overall demographic shift across the U.S. NBC’s Natalie Morales reports.

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>>> first this is "today" on nbc.

>>> back now at 8:42 with our special series "immigration nation." less than 200 hispanics lived in autumna iowa in the '80s. now today paints a much different picture. fresh tortillas like they make in el salvador but this is not l.a., not miami. welcome to ottumwa iowa , the heartland of america . once a mention in a classic american tv show .

>> when you all get back home you're invited to ottumwa for a big party.

>> this classic american city is now a reflection of what's happening across the u.s. in this small, quiet town of nearly 25,000 people, about 11% are latino. imar hernandez was one of the first. in 1993 he was an exchange student from spain, married his high school sweetheart and they decided to set until ottuwa.

>> he's a mix of the revival of ottua.

>> in the '90s ottumwa 's population had been on the decline. cargill recruited latinos to work for them.

>> they were new, bringing new ideas and perspectives and it got everybody energized and with the thinking there's hope for ottumwa .

>> latinos have opened 25 new businesses and imad made it his mission to help them.

>> they usually have more barriers, they don't know the permits, they don't know the system how to navigate it so it's entrepreneurial so we help them achieve it.

>> and they have achieved. joseros opened up this tortilla shop and shows his new business award. 57-year-old elsa aruthia was not ashamed to tell us she grew up homeless in el salvador and after having many jobs this is the bakery she owns.

>> i feel homey and nothing else to say but i'm happy here.

>> reporter: a u.s. citizen who raised four kids including rudy, who serves in the army.

>> i tell him i brought you to this country to be somebody. i want you to have what i didn't have in my country.

>> reporter: new generations of latinos are opening up businesses.

>> you want green peppers or anything?

>> reporter: jose graduated from ottumwa high school and wans the town's first hispanic homecoming king . now one in five students in school is hispanic.

>> just having the diversity in our classrooms has given our students great insight to the world.

>> reporter: from the classroom to the field where the universal language of football is spoken. the soccer program has become increasingly popular and competitive.

>> one, two, three!

>> they've become business owner , they've bought homes and are really becoming a part of the community.

>> reporter: people of different cultures now learning about one another, ottumwa residents take immersion trips to guatemala and mexico to learn from their neighbors came from.

>> our favorite immersion trip the first time we went to guatemala we were connected with a family that had relatives in ottumwa we knew from church. we were welcomed as if we were family members.

>> it has been a good thing for ottumwa , the cultural diversity has helped us all.

>> reporter: cultures coexisting in the rolling hills of iowa , the heartland of america , changing the fabric of america . and coming up