An Immigrant in Kansas

Angelica Castillo Chappel, right, with her sister and parents, immigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico, to western Kansas in 1989.

Angelica Castillo Chappel sees the Somali refugees rely on their children for translation, just as she and her siblings did for her parents.

Many work at the Tyson plant, just as her parents did—one worked the day shift, the other the night shift.

"There's a whole lot who started with $100 in their pocket," Castillo Chappel said of her American hometown.

Garden City, this small, rural, minority majority town in western Kansas, is 51 percent Hispanic, with 26 languages spoken at the high school, and home to a large refugee population. It has been welcoming immigrants and building its economy with a purposefully inclusive culture for more than a generation—with little talk of high-skill immigration.

Where All Skills are in High Demand

Castillo Chappel says high-skill immigration policy is not what a town like Garden City needs. "In a small town, it's not going to work," she says. "We need the low-skilled people that are going to work at my husband's construction business." And on the farms, the feed yards, and the Tyson plant.

"Who's going to work in the fields or on that roof? He doesn't have anyone else to rely on," she says.

Without immigrant workers to meet employment demand, Garden City might be another struggling, small town economy. "The Tyson meat packing plant operates with most of the immigrants that are here. The schools have most of their kids," Castillo Chappel says. "The fields would have no workers. Construction companies rely on these peoples' skills. The majority of my husband's employees are immigrants."

By no means, is this complex cultural, political and legal issue easy to navigate—it's not. It's not for Garden City, but the community is dedicated to facing issues and finding a way forward. The same applies to the Kauffman Foundation. The foundation aspires to eliminate barriers so that every person—regardless of background—can take risks, achieve success and give back to communities. That includes immigrant entrepreneurs and the skilled immigrant workers entrepreneurs need to build their businesses.

The Community Mexican Fiesta is a 91-year tradition that celebrates the culture of the town’s majority Hispanic population and the multicultural unity of Garden City.

But in Garden City it's about more than filling jobs. Immigrants and refugees are members of the community—they are neighbors, family and friends, business owners and tax payers. Liz Sosa said the community is by design, stemming from the city and the county, choosing to be as inclusive as possible. "Our city and county has always viewed immigrants as assets," she said.

"They can be a driving force." Sosa, a second- and third-generation immigrant, is an entrepreneur and resident of Garden City, who works across the state of Kansas as an expert in economic and citizen-driven community development.

She points to key fixtures of their community—people like Amro Samy, a foreign national from Egypt and a serial entrepreneur whose success brought Garden City its first indoor water park. "What he's done from a development standpoint—it's city altering," Sosa said. "It's changed the dynamic of our community and he does it because he wants to give back to the community that's made him successful."

There's also the new generation of young immigrants like the Guevara siblings from El Salvador who, while still in college, recently opened Central Cup Coffee to feature blends that cater to the Central and South American palette.

And there's Castillo Chappel. "She has an unbelievable connection to people in this town," Sosa said.

Immigration is survival

It was 1989 when Castillo Chappel followed her brothers and sister from Chihuahua, Mexico, entering the U.S. illegally to meet their parents—and her father's American dream—in western Kansas.

"As a 13-year-old girl, I didn't know what an immigrant was," Castillo Chappel said. "Honestly, looking back, I would consider it kind of a nightmare. How did I survive?"

She said that's why she has such compassion for other first-generation immigrants. "It's a struggle," Castillo Chappel said. "That is what immigration is about. It's a survival factor."

Nearly 30 years later, she has done what she set out to do: Make her father proud and give back.

Angelica Castillo Chappel was named Minority Business Advocate of the Year by the Kansas Department of Commerce in 2005.

Castillo Chappel is now a U.S. citizen. She earned a degree in business management. She is co-owner and property manager of 130 housing units in Garden City and a sales representative for Casco Homes—both off-shoots of her husband's family construction business. For the past 15 years, she has been the Community Mexican Fiesta president, continuing the 91-year tradition in Garden City.

She serves such a long list of board appointments and volunteer roles (including appointments to the Chamber of Commerce Multicultural Task Force and Leadership Kansas) that one has to wonder when she sleeps. But by all accounts, Castillo Chappel is tireless.

She was even certified to teach yoga—in Spanish.

When Castillo Chappel entered the U.S., she didn't speak English. She remembers crying every day. It wasn't until she started school that things began to click. She had ESL classes and made a bilingual friend who showed her the ropes. "I wouldn't have survived without her," Castillo Chappel said. "Now she's my secretary."

Giving back

Castillo Chappel is proud she can provide a job for her friend—to give back to her in that way.

Her husband, John Chappel, born and raised in Garden City, feels the same way about the employees of his family business. He has employees who have been with him 15 and 20 years. Castillo Chappel says he's helped them get their visas; he's helped them to own their own homes—to achieve the American Dream in Garden City, Kansas.

"My husband wouldn't be where he is without these people." She said the same for her business. The vast majority of her tenants are immigrants—many Somali refugees.

She sees her family in the town's new immigrants. She knows how hard it is, which is why her background in finance, plus her civic experience, and her innate drive to help, makes her an ideal liaison in the immigrant and refugee communities.

"The culture is different. You need one-to-one," Castillo Chappel said. People who are new to the community, especially those looking to start a business, need to know who to talk to and often ask Castillo Chappel to go with them. "That's my passion, to be that," she said. "Education is a huge, huge thing for any immigrant. I learn on a daily basis."

A Future on Every Corner

If a Somali immigrant wants to open a restaurant, Castillo Chappel takes them through building a business plan. "We have so much talent," she says, but people often don't know the ins and outs of city codes or even who to talk to.

An immigrant's first toe into entrepreneurship is often food-related, Sosa said, which is why she jokes Garden City has more Mexican restaurants per capita than anywhere in the United States. "They use that as a mechanism to break into commerce," she said.

That help into the restaurant business has spawned two tortilla factories, as well as specialty shops and grocers. And entrepreneurship often spreads amongst employees in construction and agriculture, who pick up extra gigs. "You have these skill sets and take on side jobs that big companies won't take on," Sosa said.

Castillo Chappel said it works in Garden City because "We help each other, and we find our niche. We all work together. We know who to go to and that we'll help no matter what."

She said it helps to know there are resources. "We've not segregated the town; we want to make it better for the younger generation coming in."

And unlike some small, rural towns, the younger generation is going to college and coming home to put down roots. Castillo Chappel thinks about those immigrant families that, generations ago, worked at the sugar beet factory and on the railroad. "Now, we have fourth-generation families and they want to be involved."