What the Other People Say

What the Other People Say

MEXICAN WORKERS, Posted in The Veblen Forum, topix.com

Home Town of Veblen      
Brookings, SD

Jan. 15, 2009
I really don’t see what the big fuss is about these people. 90% of Veblen like the Mexicans. At least they work unlike alot of other people that rely on the government. I have never come across a Mexican that was rude or did not want to work their butt off. As far as some of the gossip about them having wild parties and prostitution etc. that is simply not true…I have alot of family members still in Veblen and they don’t seem to have a problem with them. If the dairy would not have started in Veblen the toen would have died a long time ago.

           1 Reply:
           Anything Goes, Wessington Springs, SD

Jan. 18, 2009
The big deal is that it is illegal to work illegally in the U.S. without proper paper work. I also have friends and relatives in the Veblen area…and fact of the matter is…there is alot going on…go talk to law enforcement if you do not believe it. The town was not saved by the dairy---it just created a new community. Veblen died when Dakota and the cheese factory left. It is no longer the same and never will be.

Home Town of Veblen      
Jan. 18, 2009

Shows you how much you know. Most of the Mexican workers are here legally or here on a visa. Yes there are some problems in Veblen but, most of the problems are not started by the Mexicans. You can't tell me the dairy has not helped that town. The grocery store, bar and other businesses would have closed a long time ago if the dairy would not have started.

           1 Reply:          
          Anything Goes, Wessington Springs, SD

Jan. 19, 2009
Shows how much I know?? Excuse me? NOW, there may not be as many illegals, because they came in and cleaned out the ones that were. Most definately the grocery store survived, duh…the post office and the BAR…owned by the dairy conglomorates…the dairy owns the elevator too.... hmmmm what else is there... the auto repair, eyesore...and a barber. The schools are all closed after this year. Have you smelled Veblen on a warm day...now with a massive dairy on each end, I think they are trying to gas the town out of existance. It's just not right, and not a place that will ever grow and flourish again because it has been stunted by THE dairy.. Really...would you build a new house in or near Veblen? So now tell me that the Dairy saved this town.. It bought it for it's own use.

In the winter of 2008/09, my best friend and I were freshmen in high school, attending in nearby Britton, and we were spending the dark afternoons of Christmas break at her house on top of the hill overlooking Veblen, South Dakota, where we hid in her cluttered bedroom and defended our town on online message boards.

Something told us we would be taken less seriously if we spoke the truth about our location—like we were too connected, too emotionally involved to see the full picture. So we used pseudonyms. We posted a current location that was false, saying we were from Brookings (several hours south), but in fact we were right there, in the middle of everything people as far away as Arizona and Florida were suddenly looking right at.

The falsified online chat is something I didn’t remember that we did until I went into the depths of the Internet just today, nearing nine years later, looking for information on the town’s old cheese factory. The link appeared halfway down on the first page, highlighting the line with the keywords that matched those I had searched, and I was introduced to a page with language that felt like I had read before—in a dream maybe. In a dream where the floor was only concrete, the bed a bare mattress and a single thick sheet, the window ledges laced with dust bunnies and empty Pepsi cans. I can see it clearly, scrolling through the forum on her new Toshiba laptop, bought with one of her father’s social security checks.


in fact we were right there, in the middle of everything people as far away as Arizona and Florida were suddenly looking right at


It was the “etc.” that did it, that really brought the memory back into focus of listening to my friend’s words and typing them up, adding my own flair. “Etc.” was my favorite filler term in high school when I couldn’t remember all of the details to add to the short answer questions on my science tests. I would write what I could remember, then tag on the “etc.” at the end to portray that I did know more that I could add, I just didn’t want to waste my time and space with it. Who could question me—I was smart enough to know about “etc,” who’s to say I don’t know more pieces of the cell than the mitochondria?

Really, it was just bullshit. I didn’t know anything about science.

But I know plenty about this.

Reading the entries tonight, thousands of days and miles away in a snowy November Idaho, brings the anger back—brings the ghost of the trigger finger that wants to hit the reply button, create boiling words with the twenty-six little keys. But it also doesn’t. It also makes me feel absolutely nothing at all aside from, possibly, very tired.

The forums sprung up soon after the news broke of the 2008 ICE raid at the Veblen dairies, which resulted in the deportation of over 20 workers. Multi-Community Cooperative Dairy (MCC Dairy) opened its first barn just west of Veblen in 2000. Relatively soon after opening, they built an even larger facility on the opposite end of town, boosted by the good press given to their first of its kind Low Profile Cross Ventilated barns. In a constant stream since opening, busloads of executives from dairy operations around the world came to tour this little piece of history in the middle of nowhere, South Dakota.

All of the Veblen dairy locations would be sold to new ownership as a last resort by 2011. But that story is for another time.

Both Veblen East and Veblen West operations together employed hundreds of workers, which resulted in the population in Veblen nearly doubling from just barely 300 people to over 500 between the 2000 and 2010 census. However, both years recorded the nearly identical 73 and 72 families residing in the town, respectively. What grew in Veblen was not the typical family moving cross-country for a new job, settling down in a new house, bringing the kids with them. Who came were singles—single men migrating to work at the dairies and send money home to their families. What did rise was the overall number of households—141 to 151—and the percentage of residents with Hispanic or Latino descent—2.85% to 52.9% of the population.


There were hundreds of new foreign people. There was unrest. And there was imagination, hyperbole


If given a map, I could point out for you those ten households that sprouted up in just as many years. The closest to my house was just half a block away, at the corner of Lund and Noble. And another just a block east, which was across the street from another. And on and on, dripped throughout the .31 square mile town. The houses were easy to spot for the high number of vehicles that shared space on the front lawn and the rows of black rubber boots lined up on the front deck.

To those who lived in Veblen, it happened relatively slowly. Or maybe not slowly, but steadily. The dynamics of what this small town was were changing, but not in a way that caused us alarm, not overnight. Many of us adjusted for it. For the majority of us, at the very beginning, it did not shake us to our very core. Really, rumor had it that the popularity of the dairy was going to bring a cell phone tower to town within five years. We were on the map—we were real.

But to those who did not live there—who were three generations detached from there or scanning headlines and blurbs on the court report in the weekly newspaper, it happened very quickly. All at once. One moment there was a quaint little town you would never hear about other than for their cute parades and harvest festivals. And the next moment, there was a dairy. There were hundreds of new foreign people. There was unrest. And there was imagination, hyperbole.

Without being there to watch it happen, watch it build, see the context, I suppose it could have appeared to happen at the speed of a light switch. I suppose it was sensational. I suppose it was something to fear.

But for us, it was simply the new normal. It had to be. Because this was still home.

Posted in the Veblen Forum, topix.com

Quite Frankly   
Eden Prairie, MN

Nov. 2 2008
Don’t let these guys fool ya. The people who run the “Dairy” in Veblen know damn well they are hiring illegals. Veblen is known as Little Mexico. These families are extended…and they stack them up in the run down houses that are available. The alcohol abuse and the fact that they are very bi sexual as far as males go…is a very alarming fact. If you read the local papers many of them get out of paying fines and charges dropped for varies things do to “hardship”. This is very upsetting to we that abide by the laws of the land…I think law enforcement needs to clean up this place…And the owners of this company should be held responsible.

Tempe, AZ

Nov. 4, 2008
The town just isn’t the same anymore. I visited this spring, to much crime and I’ve been told a cat house opened to service the dairy workers. I think most residences want there quite town back. Little Tijuana.

Recently, I was given a map. In a writing class, I was asked to pull up Google Maps online to shine over the projector, type in the first address I’ve ever known, and narrate the place, the neighborhood, through my own memory and landmarks.

And so I do—I conjure the small square piece of the world that surrounds 214 North Lund, Veblen, SD, the house I grew up in until I was 16. That’s it? people say as the lights that form the streets shine into the dark classroom, reflect on their faces. I look around through the lines that appear around the dropped pin prick, try to orient myself with the movement of my cursor.

But I can’t.

Nothing is where it is supposed to be—nothing matches up on the screen to what I remember. I quickly begin to worry about my memories—if I can lose such simple geography so quickly, how can I trust anything? How can I trust the feeling in the nape of my neck that tells me that the shadow my town carries are misconstrued if I can’t properly recall where my house was in relation to the Lutheran Church on a map?


All of it is wrong. And yet, this is the voice the world will listen to when asking for the truth


The incongruences gather, and I discover that it is not me or my memories that are flawed—it’s the map’s. The definitive Google Map that is determined so closely by satellites and camera cars—is undeniably wrong. With the switch of the picture from map view to satellite, I see the house I am shown as my childhood home is not mine—I know this for certain. I keep looking through the rest of town, and Main Street is stretched too far north, labeling the hair salon as being in my real backyard when, in actuality, it is several blocks away. The Senior Citizen Center is tracked as being where, in fact, my great aunt lives.

All of it is wrong. And yet, this is the voice the world will listen to when asking for the truth.

Where do we go when we need the specifics—the exact definition, the precise date, the full story of that person, thing, place? Who is it that we trust more, Sarah or Siri?

“Hey, Google, what is Veblen, South Dakota?”

“Veblen has a lot of crime from drunken Indians and illegals living there. Lots of drunk driving, assault and robbery. Do you know Gus Gustufson?” [1]

Yes, in fact, I do. But do you?

On the Google Map I am displaying for my classmates, I quickly learn that all I can trust are my memories and my personal geography. I can only depend on the angles of the street corners that still find their way into my dreams. I begin pointing out landmarks with my own glossary—a glossary shared only by those who have lived in the small bounds of this place.

“Here behind the school is The Field, where you were only allowed to go if you were in the 7th grade or up. And there, kitty-corner on the street behind my house is where the town’s first and only hospital used to be—it’s one of the dairy worker houses now because it’s big enough to hold a lot of people. This alley here was my shortcut for when I walked to elementary school. I would take it when I didn’t want to walk past the house where the old widow lived, who’d sometimes call me in to look at her crystal and play audience to her stories. This street is Flick Street, which has been vandalized with White Out to read ‘Fuck Street’ on the signs. This house here behind the old craft store is where Bobby lived—a kid just a couple years older than me but who looked and acted like he’s lived through two more lifetimes. This is the gazebo, where we’d have church services once every summer.” I give my classmates a tour through my youth in this place, through the images from the pieces I’ve written and the ones I have yet to put language to. And through my voice, it is, for a moment, distinctly mine.

“What do others think or say about Veblen?” is asked of me.

“You don’t go there,” I reply, quick, without needing to think. “You don’t go to Veblen if you can bear it.”

And immediately, the feeling of the room shifts. A harmless stroll has suddenly turned into something less so.


I notice I have been given a gift—a gift of a blank page, a rewinding to the opening shot, a do-over


I am so used to people knowing this—the reputation of my town and who I supposedly am for being born and raised there being shared knowledge with all who surround me—that it still surprises me when I have to explain. Until I was 23 years old I have always waited for the flash in the eyes—the one of recognition and something that is a mix of fear and pity so soon after they ask me where I’m from. After a while, I switched to saying only where I was near. First for simplicity’s sake, Aberdeen or Fargo being much more widely known. But then it was to hide—to avoid the flash.

I am conditioned to accept that what the other people say is what is said, what is real, and what is truth. But here, as I stand and look at these faces of those who are so fresh, so unattached and undeterred, I notice I have been given a gift—a gift of a blank page, a rewinding to the opening shot, a do-over.

A chance to tell people my town’s story from the very beginning. Not the convoluted middle—the supposed end.

MEXICAN WORKERS, Posted in The Veblen Forum, topix.com

Quite Frankly   
Eden Prairie, MN

Feb. 4 2009
This sounds like a great town to be FROM. Not to go back to.

            1 Reply:
            Anything Goes, Wessington Springs, SD

             Feb 9, 2009

For me, here is where I would say the beginning is. I may not have the power to make it everyone’s beginning, but I have the power to make it mine. Right now, I have the hope that you will accept it as yours.

Veblen, South Dakota is a town in the northeast corner of the state, and it used to have a café, which was one of my favorite things. It was one of those small-town diners, with just a few tables and a small menu that always stayed the same, which always included malts and cheeseburgers. We would go only when my siblings and I begged and begged and begged our parents, which was rather often. I remember there sometimes being trinkets for sale in the front window, which I probably begged for just as much. But I don’t remember ever getting any of them.

When I think of the Veblen Café, I feel the color blue. Whether that was the color of it or just a memory beam from the shade of the water tower that stood nearly directly behind, I don’t know. But blue feels right, so I think I will keep it, and it feels important to mention to you here.


When I think of the Veblen Café,
I feel the color blue


One night around midnight, a fire started somewhere in the café. I don’t know the details of this, or when it happened, but on that particular night the café burned to the ground. One of our good family friends went to watch the firefighters battle and took a picture in front of the flames. That photo of its fiery ashes behind the shadow images of my friends is all I’ve ever had as proof that the café even existed.

There is a lot I could tell you about Veblen—about the people who lived there and the goings-on on its patchwork roads. If you’ve heard of Veblen before, there is probably a lot that you have decided that you know. But, for now, please just focus on this, pre-curse it all with this—on one absolute truth. Veblen used to have a café that was the heart of this town, until it burned down in the early 2000s. Where it was now is an empty lot next to the bank. Those of us who were there to know it miss it more than anything else. More than the loss of our fresh air, the loss of our innocent small-town status, or the loss of our good name. We miss the few tables, and the time when that was all we needed. The time when that was all anyone needed.

[1] Comment left on “My Hometown, Veblen, South Dakota” YouTube Video.


Photo by Nadia Jamnik

Caitlin Hill is a writer from South Dakota and an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at the University of Idaho, where she is the Associate Nonfiction Editor for Fugue. Her writing has appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Silk Road Review, Superstition Review, and in several small-town newspapers, right beside the recipes for rhubarb cake.