Cranberry becoming ‘cross-section of the world’
CRANBERRY TWP — In the year 2023, locals can hear the lively lilt of every language from Spanish to Ukrainian to Japanese in the streets of Cranberry Township.
“So you get a little cross-section of the world there; it’s really crazy,” said Ann Hergenrother, English as a second language instructor at Butler County Community College. “I was really shocked.”
According to the United States Census Bureau, “foreign born persons” represented 5.6% of the township’s population between 2017 and 2021, with 7.3% of the population speaking a language other than English at home.
Hergenrother, who has been an ESL teacher at the community college’s Cranberry Township campus since 2018, said her classrooms represent an array of nationalities from around the world.
“Here’s where they’re from: Japan, China — mainland and Taiwan — Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina,” she said. “Columbia, El Salvador, Italy, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Ukraine, India, Bangladesh, Morocco, Sudan and Algeria.”
In recent years, she said the region has become increasingly diverse. Since 2012, foreign-born persons have increased from 2% to 2.3% of the total county population, according to the census bureau, predominantly in the southwestern portion of the county.
“(My students come from) Cranberry-area, Mars, Seven Fields,” she said. “Cranberry Township is pretty big all around.”
Hergenrother said this increasing diversity in the area is likely to continue, with Cranberry Township’s growing infrastructure attracting more and more families and workers to the region.
“There’s a lot of reasons, if you look at Cranberry area,” she said. “There’s housing that’s not ridiculous, there’s work, there’s money around, and those are things that are attractive because where there’s that stuff, there people tend to go to.”
She emphasized that the demand for labor in the growing municipality likely will play the key role in the coming years.
“Anyone who does a roofing job, painters, a lot of things that are very good jobs if you’re unskilled to start and you want to do something are here, because you’ve got the building-thing going on,” she said.
According to Hergenrother, the college’s free English service often provides students with a sense of community in the area.
“My whole thing is to build community — one of the reasons people come is that they see friends, they make friends,” she said. “If you’ve ever been in a place where you don’t speak anything and you’re alone, it really makes a difference if you can connect with people.”
She said most of her students are Latinx and predominantly women.
“Some are au pairs and they have to fill a certain amount of hours, but they are pretty fluent already when they come in,” she said. “And then the vast majority are people who come here with their families, or they’re here with their spouse who’s working for a company that brought them over for ‘X’ amount of years.”
And while Hergenrother called her work “very rewarding,” she said it does not come without its challenges.
“I think the biggest challenge is understanding and being able to connect somehow with each of the cultures that is represented in your room,” she said. “And that’s tricky; it’s not easy.”
Being mindful of her students’ cultural traditions and perception of education is a major aspect of ESL, she said.
“Some of my Japanese students are like, ‘We can question the teacher?’” she said. “And I said, ‘You better, because I make mistakes.’”
Unfortunately, that level of mindfulness is not always present in the larger community, according to Hergenrother, making its role in the classroom even more essential.
“Here’s a story: I had this woman, she was a Spanish-speaker, I can’t even remember who it was but she and her friend were in Costco,” she said.
Hergenrother said the student and her friend were conversing in Spanish while they shopped.
“She’s walking around, and some jerk goes past and says, ‘Speak English,’ so she yells after him, ‘Speak Spanish,’” Hergenrother said with a laugh. “I said, ‘That is so ridiculous, because if there is a second language in the United States, it’s Spanish.’”
Still, Hergenrother said she remains optimistic that the community is becoming more inviting for immigrants as it continues to grow.
“Diversity is here to stay; it’s coming, so embrace it,” Hergenrother said. “All your relatives are immigrants.”