Why do we want them?

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

BY ART CULLEN

Donald Trump’s characterization about Africa, Haiti and El Salvador was posed as a question that has not received much of an answer since he blurted it Friday. Why should we take people from these countries and not Norway? he wondered.

For starters, Norwegians have not been flocking to Minnesota and Iowa for about a century. About the only place you can get fresh lutefisk is in Bode, in Humboldt County. Norway doesn’t need us anymore. It is a free and prosperous place. Haiti, not so much. Or El Salvador. They are hellholes, most of us would agree, for the poor and oppressed.

As our congressional philosopher Steve King said, if these are such great places why don’t the refugees go back?

And therein lies the answer.

They are refugees.

From terror born of a misinterpretation of Islam. From hurricanes and earthquakes. They are tempest tossed to us, in the case of Salvadorans 22 years ago when they were rendered homeless by Nature. Things are going so well in Haiti and El Salvador that they can just go home and all be orthodontists, I suppose, after having established homes in places like Storm Lake.

In Haiti, Chris Rasmussen and Louis DeRoos are working with the people to help them. The people live in, essentially, round grain bins that resist hurricanes through the generosity of Sukup Mfg. of Shefflield, among other Iowans. They are doing God’s work in helping the people who remain in Haiti survive. It is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, once a French slave state.

Not only is El Salvador riven by earthquakes but by government death squads and narco terrorists. The United States supported the government that assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero. We have contributed to the structural misery of Latin America through the Dulles Brothers and their sugar plantations, and by propping up despotic regimes that served our interests at the time. Our demand for heroin and meth drives the drug cartels who herd the innocent people north in a desperate march toward some hope of safety.

That’s why they are here.

They are refugees.

The Drumpfs (that was their name) fled the oppression of Prussia for the United States. The Cullens fled the potato famine in Ireland. Storm Lake school board member Emilia Marroquin fled the terrorism of San Salvador. She recalled in an interview with me how she walked one morning with her grandmother, who thought she saw coconuts lined up along the roadside in the early morning haze. As they drew closer, it became clear they were the heads of people.

“I remember living in that situation. You would see people hanging from the trees, women without breasts during the civil war. And it’s worse now.

“I won’t go back to El Salvador. I’ll go to China before I would go back there. It’s not safe.”

Marroquin was the beneficiary of what Trump and King would call “chain migration,” under which her mother was able to get Emilia and her sister Patricia, now a USDA inspector in Denison, out of the horror of El Salvador. Emilia’s children are outstanding students and citizens.

Everything gets mixed up in racism and vulgar descriptions from Trump’s mouth.

But let’s give him this, racism aside: None of us want to move to El Salvador, the expatriates chief among them. Emilia Marroquin came here not to instill terror but to support the children of our community. She teaches in our Head Start program. She tries to help make families whole.

But could Trump and King stop from their Tweets for a moment and think about why she is here?

She was a victim of terror. She was terrorized by the gun violence in Los Angeles, too. That’s why she wanted to come to Storm Lake. Emilia wanted a safe place for her family. That’s all. That’s the answer to your question, Mr. President. They just want a little freedom. That’s why the Statue of Liberty stands, an ironic gift from the same France that enslaved Haiti.

Why do we want them? Because they understand, truly, what freedom means like we used to. And, the fact is, we need Emilia Marroquin and her children. The Norwegians aren’t here anymore.