Branson, MO, is an Ozark tourist spot that boasts a Hollywood Wax Museum, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, ziplining, various distilleries, and of course Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Attraction. But businesses are desperate for a workforce that can help grow the tourist industry. To find these workers, employers have largely targeted places with high levels of unemployment, focusing particularly on Puerto Rico, which has an unemployment rate of just over 10%.
Some of Branson’s 11,400 residents have the usual racist fears that the influx of Puerto Ricans would lead to lower wages, crime and violence. But many businesses just want the workers. In fact, they’re so worried about being able to attract Latinx people to their town that they took a class on how to understand and befriend the Latinx community. Literally.
As the Washington Post flagged on Wednesday, Branson employers attended a $40 class called “Hispanics 101,” taught by Miguel Joey Aviles, a self-described “Millennial Advocate,” “HR Disruptor,” and “Change-Maker Provocateur.”
The Branson Tri-Lakes Human Resources Association, which advertised the class, promised it would “teach tangible strategies & tools to understand the fundamental characteristics of Hispanic culture & their implications in the workplace.”
This was presumably so that employers could get the vital skills needed not only to only to learn the mysterious and inscrutable ways of Puerto Rican workers but to also support and keep them after their first day. In practice, this involved teaching the white employers to dance the merengue and giving advice on what snack Puerto Ricans like. From the Post:
It’s another challenge to get workers to stay. Aviles advises bosses to check in often, ask about their mothers and request that grocery stores in the area sell plantains and Goya coconut water.
“It’s not enough to invite them to the party,” Aviles said, twisting his body to the beat. “Bring them to the dance floor.”
It seems ridiculous to attend a class on how to be open to people from another culture, but apparently Branson needs all the help it can get, because it seems to be...very racist (emphasis mine):
Branson’s workforce development team is partnering with local businesses, including food suppliers, to accommodate the new hires. But officials acknowledge that some in the area, which is 92.4 percent white, are clinging to the past. Confederate flags adorn shop windows. A billboard outside town advertises “White Pride Radio.”
Juanita Vazquez, a 35-year-old San Juan native who came here last April to manage the Lodge of the Ozarks, a lumber-lined resort with 800 rooms, said she encountered discrimination just after Hurricane Maria lashed her home town last September.
She recalled a man eating scrambled eggs in the lobby, who looked up from his newspaper and said, “Why are we giving money to Puerto Rico? They’re so lazy.”
Vazquez let the man know she was both the general manager of the establishment and Puerto Rican. He later apologized.
Honestly, when your town is over 90% white, sometimes you do just need to sit down and learn about another culture. And if a person from that culture is getting paid to do the work, I can’t be that mad. But at the same time, a class called “Hispanics 101" is egregious, especially because the point of the class is to take advantage of the poverty some people are living in so you can lure them in order to build your own industry.