Shocked

EDITORIAL

BY ART CULLEN

Just a few weeks ago we commented on those Spencer teens who called Storm Lake teens “beaners.” Before that, we commented on folks in Mason City not wanting a new pork plant because it would attract undesirable immigrants and “bad elements” like Storm Lake, they said. Before that, we reported on public comments in Iowa Falls of the same tenor. And before that, we were defending Storm Lake against other comments made at a city council meeting in Spencer about immigrants and Storm Lake. This commenting has been going on a full quarter-century.

So we were shocked — shocked — to hear that a couple radiocasters from Forest City working the home game against Eagle Grove made disparaging remarks about the visiting Latinos. The man with white hair was fired by the radio station and the woman, who also is a longtime Forest City teacher, was placed on administrative leave by the school district and fired by the radio station. She needed to retire anyway.

Certainly the other teachers don’t talk that way, or the other radio folks or anybody else in Forest City or Eagle Grove or Spencer or Mason City.

Hey, kids, we have a problem right here in River City, and it ain’t pool. It’s racism. It’s all over Iowa. It’s especially deeply embedded in the Fourth Congressional District, which continues to embrace Rep. Steve King and gives him comfortable, double-digit margins of victory. We understand that the good people of Sioux County have come to find Latinos useful in their dairy barns and needed in their college classrooms, while giving King and Trump nearly 80% support because fraternity with the “little brown ones” has its limits.

Storm Lake has wrestled with its own demons in this regard and chased most of them out over the past half century. We were plenty tolerant when only one black man and one Jewish family and one identifiably gay hairdresser lived in Storm Lake. But when the young Latino men started flooding in 25 years ago it surely tested our magnanimity. A lot of local people made a lot of nasty comments. But we have worked through it successfully, we think, primarily because of the tremendous work of the Storm Lake School District and the exemplary character of the immigrants themselves. The students at Storm Lake High School do not think or speak like their grandparents did or like many people who have never met a Latino think today.

The City Beautiful elects people of color to the school board and city council, and nominates them for higher office. It cheers on those seeking to become business and civic leaders. Buena Vista University is actively recruiting immigrant students as it sees the future of the college and the community. These are exciting times, to be growing and diverse and getting stronger with new ideas.

Unfortunately, Storm Lake has taken the jibes, endured the false TV ads that depicted Flint, Mich., while claiming it was Storm Lake, put up with the hit-and-run stories of 20 years past suggested by nefarious sources that described the city as some sort of cesspool riven by strife. We stood up and exposed the TV ads as false. We spoke back against the people who know nothing about us yet malign us. We have begged Steve King to back off his attacks on our new neighbors, but he knows what attracts votes from Mason City to Sioux City: racism.

It seeps in to our everyday conversations, dripping from those Facebook bots and cable news blather and King/Trump tweets. In the teacher’s lounge. In the studio when you think the microphones are not hot. And yes, in our public conversations before the city council and the state legislature. It’s everywhere.

It killed Medgar Evers. It steamed to death nine Latinos in a sweltering trailer in San Antonio, probably bound for Iowa. It can douse the spirits of young people who find acceptance at home in Storm Lake but find that so many others in Iowa just don’t want their talents here. It is a cancer on rural Iowa that limits its aspirations — as Forest City and Mason City reject new people, the old people die and the town withers; each suffers chronic population loss and community drift.

Storm Lake has been brought together by the evil of hate. We have been the subject of it so long we are used to it and forged by it. The community thrives. Latinos just celebrated with a huge party for the Virgin of Guadalupe, people of such deep faith they crawl to St. Mary’s Catholic Church on hands and knees. These are the people the sportscaster wishes would just go home. What he cannot realize: This is home. These people are where they belong because it is where they make a free choice to be. This used to be a nation and state that was, at its core, about freedom and human dignity. It is high time that Iowa take a good, hard look at itself and its future, and see that it is grim in the absence of vitality brought by youth. Too many places have forgotten what it looks like. It is right here in front of us in a small city of 15,000 that is so misunderstood by those who do not live here or choose to see it as it is.