MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa –People driving into Marshalltown Wednesday may not have felt so welcome because of what vandals spray painted on a city welcome sign.
It reads, "Marshalltown welcomes you", but someone spray painted the word "Mexico" over "Marshalltown."
The vandalism was only briefly on display as city officials removed the sign Wednesday morning, cleaned off the red spray paint, and put it back where it belongs.
Those active in the Latino community say the message was loud and hurtful whether it was a tasteless joke or act of racism.
"If it's a Mexican and they were trying to be funny, it was really rude and it makes us look bad,” said Anna Hernandez, a Marshalltown resident.
"It just shows that we're not one. We're not accepting of each other at this point,” said Sister Christine Feagan of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
While police work to figure out who is responsible, one thing is for sure. Over the past two decades, Marshalltown's population has become far more diverse with the Latino population climbing to over 25%.
It's noticeable along the city's main street where a Mexican market has become a hot spot and according to Sister Feagen, you can also see the increased diversity in the church.
"We now have three weekend masses in Spanish and two in English. Things have flipped,” said Feagan.
Captain Michael Hanken of the Marshalltown Police Department says the community is doing its best to help acclimate immigrants to life in Marshalltown.
"We hold community meetings for immigrant groups that want to get together,” said Hanken.
He says the sign incident is not the first racially motivated graffiti seen in Marshalltown, but he'd prefer not to see any more.
"We hope people will take it for what it is. It was an act from one person or so that was wrong,” Hanken told Channel 13 News.
Initially, city officials feared the sign would have to be replaced or refurbished which could have cost as much as $5,000 dollars. They were able to take it to a local sign shop where the graffiti was able to be removed and the sign was back in place within 24 hours.