Letter to the Editor

 

Dear editor, Mrs. Karen Suter, and Hampton community members:

 

     I was saddened and disappointed by Mrs. Suter’s letter in the May 7 paper, but not surprised. Change is hard for everyone, especially those unwilling to expend the energy necessary to understand the change, its drivers, and circumstances surrounding it. It requires an open heart to welcome newcomers of any ethnicity into your community. This openness is something I’ve always loved about Hampton, and I hope we will keep and strengthen it in the face of our newest wave of immigration. Hampton is already a strong, vibrant and beautiful community. I’m sorry Mrs. Suter doesn’t see that. 

• Personal responsibility

     The reason we have so many new neighbors is because they come to Iowa to work the dirty, thankless jobs most of us – the established residents – refuse. Even when “unlawfully present,” they pay taxes, but can’t draw unemployment compensation or qualify for food stamps during the winter months when they aren’t working. They often pay a higher net percentage of their wages in taxes because they cannot claim all of their dependents. Most of them support not only a family here in town, but an extended family in their home country. I call supporting two families without access to tax and entitlement benefits “taking personal responsibility.” Mrs. Suter seems to believe they don’t understand the “concept.”

     Others of our new neighbors work year-round in agriculture, exploited by loop-holes that result in many of them earning less than minimum wage, while making established residents, like the Hansen family of Iowa Falls, rich enough to build a new hospital. And I’m not slamming the Hansen family – God bless them for sharing their wealth with the community. They have simply provided a recent, local illustration of the economic disparity our corporate farming system has created.

• Curb appeal

     Part of the reason Hampton is a vibrant community is because new-immigrant wages keep the rental properties in town occupied, taxes paid, utilities purchased, and yes, even “cable” in business. These wages also keep the market for entry-level home sales strong; when I drive around town, I see much evidence of new-owner pride, remodeling, and general fixing-up taking place.

     Regarding nuisance violations, a quick check of the facts with community leaders reveals that violations are evenly distributed throughout the town, but that the complaints about those violations tend to focus on immigrant households. In other words, we rarely “see and complain” about those issues when our neighbor is established; but readily “see and complain” when our neighbor is a new immigrant.

• Learn the language

     English acquisition among first-generation immigrants is historically slow. My own mother didn’t speak English until she started school, and continued to speak Danish with her parents until they died. But the children of each immigrant wave embrace their new language and homeland.

     For example, Mrs. Suter, look at the recent regional spelling bee winner, Hampton-Dumont fifth grader Roxi Valenzuela. Are you honestly not proud to claim her as one of our own? A hard-working 11-year-old who smoked the older competition by correctly spelling “isochronous?” Call me impressed – I had to look it up to learn what it meant.

     We’re the last industrialized country where speaking only one language is considered a virtue. As Ramirez de Miess pointed out during her visit to our local Mainstreet organization, in four short years, one in three of us living in Hampton will be Hispanic. Smart Main Street businesses will find ways to welcome and serve our newest residents. It may involve learning to speak, or hiring someone who speaks, a little bit of Spanish. It may not. Regardless, choosing whether or not to serve a given demographic is simply a business decision, not necessarily social commentary.

     Our newest neighbors tend to shop local, and if it is at local immigrant-owned businesses, perhaps it is because our established businesses are failing to welcome them, to build relationships with them, to be open during the hours they are home, or to stock what they want to buy.

     By my count, our Mainstreet District has only three vacant storefronts. Imagine what downtown would look like with the immigrant-owned-business storefronts empty. Now that would be a blighted neighborhood.

• Entitlements

     A quick check of the facts regarding government entitlements demonstrates that many of Mrs. Suter’s assertions are uninformed. Most “entitlement” programs are for people whose status is legal. If you have a household member without a Social Security card, you don’t qualify for heat and rental assistance. Consider also the following data from the most recently available government statistics.

     The racial make-up of children receiving free and reduced priced lunches in Iowa is 85.1 percent white, 5.6 percent black, 6.5 percent Hispanic, 2.1 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, and 0.6 percent Native American.

     As for free medical care, the ethnicity of the nonelderly receiving Medicaid in Iowa is 72 percent white, 7 percent black, 11 percent Hispanic, and 9 percent other. 

     As for “Christmas gifts,” I agree that Mrs. Suter “owes” no one anything. Apparently she is troubled that some of we, her neighbors, chose to participate in these voluntary community projects to make sure every child in town has warm winter clothes, a hat and mittens and at least one toy.

     I was at a Christmas party last year when Santa came. Santa had no way of knowing ahead of time just who or how many children would be present, but he kept leaving the room and coming back in with another sack filled with wrapped, age-appropriate toys, until every one of the more than 20 children there had received one. “Santa” and his missus are in their mid-20, have three young girls, and an older home which they are slowly revitalizing. Their generosity humbled me, while at the same time made me proud to call them neighbors, and yes, friends.

     Aren’t they exactly the kind of people who will make sure our future is strong, vibrant and beautiful? It seems so to me.

 

     Keri Holmes Rojas

     821 1st Ave NW

     Hampton IA 50441