FRANKFORT, Ind. – Many Hoosiers may not be aware that the city of Frankfort, in Clinton County, is home to one of the highest per-capita Hispanic populations in the state of Indiana.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Frankfort’s Hispanic population is 28.9 percent, compared to a statewide average of about 7 percent.
Esmeralda Cruz, a Family Resource Management Educator at Clinton County’s Purdue Extension Office, is well acquainted with the wave of immigration that has brought many families from Mexico to Frankfort. She was 9 years old when her father followed farming work from Mexico to Texas and eventually Frankfort.
“I remember going into my first grade class on my first day, and there was only one other classmate that was Latino,” Cruz said.
By that time in the mid-90s, Frankfort had already seen a couple decades of immigration from different parts of Mexico. Cruz says there’s no specific reason why Frankfort became such a popular destination. Once it did, however, newly-immigrated families sent word to others that the city was a place with job opportunities.
“Typically, if there’s somebody that they know, they tend to move into that location and settle in that location,” she said. “They’re settling where they already know somebody, they know they can get a job, they have some of those initial connections.”
Over time, farming work gave way to new opportunities at the Frankfort Industrial Park, which was started in the 1950s and has expanded over the decades. Today, about a quarter of Frankfort’s 16,000 residents work in the park at companies like Frito-Lay, Zachary Confections, Donaldson’s, Brock and others.
“I think the answer to ‘Why Frankfort’ is different for each person who comes here,” said Annie Bacon, Frankfort’s Director of Community Development. “I think a lot of people come here for the jobs, and I hope they stay because they’re welcome.”
The city has recently taken new steps to celebrate its diverse heritage. In previous years, several different groups organized various Hispanic Heritage Festivals in the city. That changed in 2019, when the festival was organized and presented as an official city event for the first time.
Isac Chavez, a lifelong Frankfort resident who serves on the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals and Plan Commission, believes the city organizing the festival represented a big step in embracing Hispanic Heritage as part of Frankfort’s identity.
“That just shows our appreciation for the people we have here,” Chavez said. “It’s a sense of honor, it’s a sense of appreciation, and it’s an acknowledgment.”
“We have this population here, they’re making this their home, and we want them to know that we want them to be here,” Cruz said.
“Our goal, as a city, is that every child who grows up here knows that their heritage has merit,” Bacon said. “And it’s something to be proud of and something to be celebrated. And we want them to know that as a city, we celebrate that with them.”
Like many events in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the city to cancel this year’s Hispanic Heritage Festival. However, the festival is already on the calendar for next year.
“We’re hoping to host that on September 18th of 2021, and we’re looking forward to bringing the community together again to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month,” Bacon said.
“I think, too, one of the things that come with diversity is your flexibility and ability to adapt,” Cruz said. “You gain the richness of a different perspective, of understanding things from a different lens, of growing your cultural competency and cultural understanding.”