Branson featured by Washington Post, HLN channel for 'Hispanics 101' class
In a week when Branson Mayor Karen Best was invited to the White House to talk infrastructure, Branson was also featured in a Washington Post story documenting community efforts to recruit workers from the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.
That story prompted a Friday television interview with Best by CNN affiliate network HLN.
On Wednesday, the Post reported that Branson-area economic development officials would like to bring 1,000 workers from Puerto Rico — where unemployment tops 10 percent of the workforce — to fill Branson-area jobs over the next three years.
The Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and the Taney County Partnership economic-development organization recently undertook trips to Puerto Rico toward that goal, chamber official Lynn Berry told the News-Leader on Friday.
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The community currently has more than 2,000 job vacancies, Berry said, and recruitment can be difficult.
As part of the recruitment efforts, the Post reported that a D.C.-based diversity coach visited Branson Feb. 27 to teach a training seminar dubbed "Hispanics 101."
The goal of the training, conducted at Big Cedar Lodge, was to educate Branson employers in Latino culture to "get workers to stay," the Post reported.
Berry, with the chamber, said about 100 employers attended from Branson, Springfield and elsewhere in the Ozarks. The event was sponsored by Big Cedar, CoxHealth, Ozarks Workforce Development Board and Commerce Bank, she said.
During the class, consultant Miguel Joey Aviles advised that employers "check in often" with Puerto Rican employees, "ask about their mothers and request that grocery stores in the area sell plantains and Goya coconut water."
The Post also quoted a Taney County Partnership economic development official who said, "We get nasty comments all the time," apparently in reference to recruitment efforts directed at Puerto Rico.
The newspaper noted that Branson is 92.4 percent white and made reference to the presence of Confederate flags in the community.
The Post also noted, "A billboard outside town advertises 'White Pride Radio.'"
The News-Leader reached out to Post reporter Danielle Paquette to inquire where she had seen that billboard and how Paquette was alerted to the "Hispanics 101" class but has not yet received a response.
The story, released on the Washington Post Facebook page under the headline "Why a white town paid for a class called 'Hispanics 101,'" prompted a variety of discussions on the internet.
Some Bransonites took issue with aspects of the Post's reporting.
For example, the Post reported that "one of the first signs of resistance (to Puerto Rican workers in Branson) was a resident complaining he had read a story in the local newspaper last May about two men from Puerto Rico getting into a bar fight."
Cliff Sain, editor of the Branson Tri-Lakes News and a former News-Leader journalist, used a Facebook discussion group comment to criticize the Post.
"That incident, just to clarify, involved shots fired into a crowd," Sain wrote. "We would not report on a couple of Puerto Ricans, or anyone else, involved in a standard bar fight. The WaPo story arguably makes it look like the local newspaper is out to make Puerto Ricans look like trouble-makers. As the editor of the Branson Tri-Lakes News, I can guarantee we would not report a crime based on the nationality or ethnicity of the suspect. However, we will report on anyone who is accused of firing shots into a crowd."
Commenters from around the nation had a variety of responses to the Post report, which it released on Facebook Wednesday at 6 p.m.
One Facebook user commenting on the Post page said, "The fact that you have to have a class like this speaks volumes to the lack of education in this country. Also a sign that people need to not spend their entire lives inside a culture bubble."
Another reader commented, "I don't think you guys or the writer fully understand how Branson works. Branson is a very conservative Christian based area that depends on tourism and people struggle every single winter. The pay is absolute crap no matter where you're working in town, so most people don't take the jobs because they know it's only seasonal, so most of them go to places like (Silver Dollar City), Nixa, or Springfield for work."
The commenter continued, "Obvious there are people that think they're too good for these jobs, but that's not the main reason," adding, "I'm not defending this class at all, it just shows that the town is dying and they're desperate."
Branson city government had no role in bringing "Hispanics 101" to the area, said city spokeswoman Melody Pettit, but Mayor Best went on an HLN cable television broadcast Friday to do an interview about the class, which the city of Branson broadcast from its offices via Facebook Live.
When HLN's anchor giggled, then opined that "a part of me feels sad" that a class called "Hispanics 101" was required to attract Hispanic people to Branson, Best replied, "We've been attracting tourists from all over the world and all over the country."
Best continued, "One of the things we found was that the culture of the Hispanic community was not being understood as well in our community as what we'd like it to be, so if we find that we don't know something, we are one to go and solve a problem."
"We are a very inclusive community," she added. "Whatever we can do to make everyone's experience a better experience, we are all about that."
When the brief interview ended, the city of Branson Facebook Live broadcast showed that Best exhaled deeply.
Near the mayor was Lynn Berry, with the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, who had been sitting in on the interview.
"She was headed to the snarkdom," Berry said on Facebook Live, in a reference to HLN's anchor. Berry later told the News-Leader that she found the HLN anchor's giggling problematic.
"I just didn’t know where it was coming from," Berry said. "I really didn't. It was disconcerting."
Berry said that Branson officials have recently been receiving an uptick in national media interview requests.
The News-Leader reached out to Miguel Joey Aviles, the diversity consultant who put on "Hispanics 101." Aviles was not immediately available for comment.