Lay off



As long as we are having these conversations about race and culture and change, which started on Monday at Buena Vista University … no doubt we need to widen the conversation. Storm Lake hosted Spencer on Friday in football, a hard-fought affair with playoff implications between longtime Lakes Conference rivals. The visiting Tigers came out on top 17-14, which led to some lipping off in the parking lot and a little bit around the grandstands, and of course on social media.

Much of it taunted people of color, Hispanics in particular. The students who posted the bad stuff on social media apologized. But it went over the top. And it wasn’t just one or two students. It was a bunch of them.

Spirits ran high. And they blurted out the beaner talk.

Children learn this stuff from their parents.

It’s not that big a deal in places where children of color live. Anglo girls date African boys, and African girls date Laotian boys, and German men marry Mexican women, and we all go to have the world’s best burrito downtown or the world’s best beef pho down by the lakeshore. Just down the road at Alta-Aurelia they were proud to crown Ricky Pizano homecoming king alongside a nice Swedish girl, Alicia Turnquist. They are a lovely couple in the photo.

That’s where Storm Lake and Alta are at in the conversation. We are making the best of it among the best people from all over the world. We taught a bunch of kids from Sudan and Mexico, and from Hayes Township, how to play football together. They are on the edge of the playoffs. A darn good Spencer team beat them. And that should be that.

But there is this conversation going on.

Here, the conversation is different than 38 miles any direction.

There is a conversation on campus that involves problems between police and minorities in places mainly outside Storm Lake.

There is obviously a conversation going on in Spencer and probably every other town within shouting distance about who lives in Storm Lake. It has been going on for decades. Most of these people do not know a Latino or an African American.

Then there is a conversation going on in Storm Lake, off campus, about how the place has changed and what it means. Here, the conversation is about how we move forward. How do we help young immigrants move up the economic ladder? How do we encourage more people like Jose Ibarra to run for city council? How can we build more housing to accommodate a growing community?

If the conversation is about going back, the community is going backwards. Storm Lake evolved from that kind of talk 20 years ago. Sioux Center is growing. Denison is growing. Spencer is contracting. So is Mason City, which rejected immigrants and meatpacking. Those are choices communities make: have a shopping mall at the intersection of the highways and service industries. It is a future of economic stagnation familiar to so much of rural Iowa, which frustrates so many people to the point that they connect new people with their own frustrations. And then it bubbles up in a parking lot among students who don’t know any better.

Storm Lake can and is informing the conversation of the state. The City Beautiful is held up as a model of how to build a melting pot that leads to success. Immigrants start out in meatpacking or roofing, and they move into owning retail businesses or small working farms. Their children do even better. Storm Lake is growing organically; fortunes will be created that way. Of course, food processing is at its core. It would seem to us that Storm Lake and Denison have embraced Iowa’s strengths, agriculture and food processing, and are attempting to capitalize on them. Communities that want to become information technology centers or whatever have our best wishes. We are playing the best hand we can with beautiful people who mean no one harm.

So, for starters when conversing with neighbors:

Knock off the trash talk.

Deal with reality.

Love your neighbor, because he might be your banker or boss someday.

Lay off Storm Lake. Our money spends green.

We’re trying to figure this thing out so other rural communities don’t have the same learning curve when they need it. We’re showing this state how to do it right: by building a great town with clean water and safe streets and fantastic parks and really interesting people with great stories to tell. If we care to listen. The formula of staring different people out of town hasn’t worked so well in rural Iowa over the past century. Those people keep on leaving and taking our future with them. Storm Lake won’t have that talk.