Say a prayer for the patriots

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

BY ART CULLEN

While we float at home in a weird dream without imminent end, patriots in the packinghouse suit up to feed us.

Thousands of people report to process hogs, turkeys and eggs that don’t stop coming just because of a virus. The workers put on masks and gloves (some made of chain) and stream in at a staggered pace to a place that has been relentlessly designed over the generations for efficient use of space. Tyson says it does what it can with all the latest biosecurity, yet it amazes us that nobody has reported ill at the hospital. We hear that hundreds of people have called in sick over the past couple weeks. You would suppose some are preventative and some people are feeling punky. Without testing, we have little way of knowing much.

Those people in hardhats are among the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting their lives on the production line for your sausage. At first the meat was cleared out of the stores by hoarders, but it came back. Everyone eats. It is our first order of business, essential as anything.

Our new neighbors define courage.

They come from faraway lands, Honduras to Sudan, pushed here by war and drought and unimaginable hardship. Most come from Latin America despite the odds and a system stacked against them. Their people are hunted and penned and driven back like cattle, held along the border in what soon will be coronavirus death camps. Our President and congressman would just as soon drive them to Guatemala out of sight out of mind.

Yet they feed us and sustain our town.

Storm Lake has been hammered by the virus even though we had no reported cases until Monday. Were it not for the packers we would be in even worse shape.

Many are afraid of going into work, understandably, especially those with vulnerabilities.

No doubt, some immigrants fear reporting illness because they need the paycheck, they don’t have health insurance or they don’t want to be on the next federal bus to Juarez. Major employers like Tyson say their workers are legally documented. But Latinos, legal or not, lived in a climate of fear before the pandemic. It’s worse now.

We would make every one of them citizens at the earliest convenience if we could. At least, we could drop the reign of terror. ICE has let up on raids primarily out of concern for agents’ health. We can hope that the heat stays off. Our friends with children in school and big dreams for them have proven their dedication to Storm Lake. We owe them a fair shake.

If we can’t give them an embrace we can offer a prayer.

In my dream they are protected, as Our Lady of Guadalupe promised to Juan Diego. Even if you think that prayers don’t get answered, or that Juan Diego was seeing or hoping things, you have nothing to lose as you float in and out of this reality trapped in episodes of Tiger King. If your prayers fall on deaf ears, you think, at least you spent a moment sitting in spirit with the people standing on the kill floor.

If prayer isn’t your thing, write a letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley (our congressman is a completely lost cause) demanding more research funding into swine and avian disease. And making protections for Dreamers permanent. And making paid sick leave permanent. And keeping unemployment benefits strong long after the curve flattens.

We owe at least that to these heroes.

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