West Liberty is Iowa’s first Hispanic-majority city. Fifty-two percent of the people in this town of about 3,700 are Hispanic, according to the latest U.S. Census. It’s a number that would be impressive in any state. But it’s especially noteworthy in Iowa, an overwhelmingly white corner of the America Heartland where just 5 percent of the population statewide is Hispanic.
The town, located between Davenport and Iowa City, has long had a sizable and growing Hispanic population. The reason? The major employer here is West Liberty Foods, a 260,000-square-foot food processing plant that employs about 850 workers.
The big product the plant cranks out is turkey. Each year, about 5 million live birds go in end of the West Liberty Foods plant and come out the other as about 200 million pounds of processed turkey product of one kind or another, some of it actually recognizable.
Slaughtering, gutting, dismembering, processing and packing the big birds is dirty, difficult and dangerous work. The lines where the workers slice, saw, claw and carve the turkeys move at a fast clip. Fifty-one birds are killed every minute, according to plant manager Tom Alberti, meaning 51 birds a minute move down the line.