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Lexington mosque

The Islamic Center of Lexington operates out of a former laundromat in downtown Lexington.

Lexington and Madison, two transformed Nebraska communities, are celebrated in a new national report about managing immigration and demographic change in America.

The report was released in Washington, D.C., by the Center for American Progress, a progressive public policy research and advocacy organization.

The two rural communities in Nebraska provide "a road map — and a measure of hope — for the rest of the country" as it deals with the impact of immigration, the report concluded.

Both towns "have successfully scaled significant challenges and have much to celebrate," the report concluded after detailing their response to the dramatic demographic changes that they have experienced with the influx of immigrants who work in meatpacking plants.

"Madison and Lexington boast successful schools, revitalized downtowns, booming housing markets and sustainable population growth, all infused with a largely consistent, if unexpected, affinity for life in a multicultural community.

"Through the demographic changes, the core values that have powered these communities for generations — family, hard work, faith and even football — continue to run strong."

But the report, authored by Sara McElmurry, a nonresident fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, does not suggest that the adjustment to cultural change was quick or easy.

"Lexington and Madison offer encouraging examples of how proactivity and practicality — coupled with time — can help communities embrace the nation's multicultural destiny and emerge stronger for their collective efforts," McElmurry wrote. 

"Give it time," the report stated. "Communities should approach inclusion work with not only a plan and best practices but also a healthy dose of patience."

"Both Lexington and Madison offer proof that small-town life persists and perseveres, even as the faces and backgrounds of their residents change," McElmurry writes.

Nearly half of Lexington's adult population today was born outside the United States. And that is true of one-third of Madison's adult population.

"Newcomers, hailing from all corners of the world, accounted for 100 percent of both towns' population growth from 1990 to 2016," the report stated.

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Lexington's high school student body of 880 includes students who speak 30 languages and hail from 40 countries.  

School population in Madison flipped from approximately 80 percent white to 80 percent Latino. 

"Neighbors live side-by-side here," Lexington Mayor John Fagot said.

"And as we've moved through that, people have realized that any differences weren't that big.

"It's going to take time," Fagot advised other communities that may be engaged in or approaching similar assimilation. "We're breaking ground for everybody."

"Communities that emphasize common core values — work, family and faith — can effectively bridge other language or cultural differences," McElmurry wrote.

"Lexington and Madison have much to celebrate across three decades of managing demographic change: the successful integration of newcomer students in local schools; the establishment of flourishing immigrant-owned businesses; and a sustained sense of community and tradition amid the adaptations."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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