‘This is our story’
Panel discusses Iowa’s immigrant roots
Tuesday evening at the Marshalltown Public Library, 170 years-worth of Iowa immigrant history was discussed by a group of Central Iowa-based panelists, whose mission was to draw parallels between Iowa’s early immigrant history and the state’s modern-day wave of immigration.
Sponsored by Immigrant Allies of Marshalltown, the Iowa Office of Latino Affairs and Iowa Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON), the event allowed members of the community to learn about Iowa’s diverse immigrant history, hear people of various ethnic backgrounds share their family stories, and engage in discussion.
“One of our main goals of hosting these events is to celebrate the different cultures we have in our state, and show how we all make Iowa what it is,” said Sonia Reyes-Snyder of the Iowa Office of Latino Affairs.
While many ethnic groups have called Iowa home, the event’s focus was on early immigration (the Irish, Germans, Dutch, Danes and Italians), through more recent decades which saw an influx of Asian and Latino and Hispanic folks.
“We’re seeing repetition of the same story about how early immigrants to Iowa were stereotyped and discriminated against like newer groups are today,” said Sol Varisco of Iowa Justice for Our Neighbors. “When we forget where we come from, we don’t honor the sacrifices of our first generation [ancestors].”
According to information provided at the panel discussion (from the American Immigration Council), 4.6 percent of Iowans are foreign born, and immigrants make up 5.6 percent of the state’s workforce; 3.2 percent of the workforce is unauthorized. Without those unauthorized workers, Iowa would lose $1.4 billion in economic activity, if these folks were removed from the workforce. A total of 85.2 percent of the state’s children with immigrant parents are U.S. citizens, and 87 percent of these children are proficient in English.
“Using figures from 2016, Marshall County was recorded as being 21.1 percent Latino, but I think it’s a lot more,” Reyes-Snyder said. “They mainly come from Mexico, followed by Honduras, El Salvador and Spain. And over 900 people of Asian/Pacific Islander descent live in Marshall County.”
The panel consisted of Joa LaVille of Immigrant Allies of Marshalltown (who spoke about her European heritage); John-Paul Chaisson-Cárdenas, state 4-H youth development program leader; Jon Nuñez of Iowa Valley’s Education and Training Center in Marshalltown; and Karina Hernandez, Every Child Ready to Read coordinator at MICA and school board member for the Marshalltown School District, who all spoke about their different life experiences coming from Latino and Hispanic backgrounds.
Hernandez, who was born in Los Angeles, said throughout her life she has encountered racism and bias against her.
“People have had assumptions about me — that I’m Mexican and don’t speak English … I’ve been asked if [my teaching style] is how people in Mexico teach, when I’ve never even been to Mexico,” she said.
Chaisson-Cárdenas spoke about his passion for leading the youth of Iowa through 4-H, and how the program is filled with diversity, which at times has led to backlash.
“We had a group of Muslim students who wanted to recite [their 4-H vows[ in Arabic and I got death threats for that, there was a backlash,” he said. “But we want every child to feel included.”
The program was free and open to the public.
Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org