Read this outstanding letter to the editor of the Des Moines Register by a western Iowan. Then do something to support Kim Weaver who is doing her best to unseat Iowa’s most disgraceful “representative.” Click here to help Kim Weaver. Click here to watch the full video of Kim Weaver’s impressive interview with the Des Moines Register editorial board. Kim Weaver for Congress
Dear Steve King:
When you posted a picture of yourself on Twitter last week alongside a declaration that “cultural suicide by demographic transformation must end,” it struck a particular nerve. You see, I grew up in Denison. For a long time, you were my elected representative. I went to school with kids from your hometown, Kiron. The mom of one of my best friends from high school was your campaign chairwoman.
So when you say that the changing racial demographic of our country is “cultural suicide,” I know what you mean.
You mean me. You mean my brother and sister. You mean my father, who immigrated from India in the 1970s with eight dollars in his pocket and a perfectly pressed suit that was no match for the Midwestern winter wind.
My siblings and I may not look like the racially pure version of Iowans — or Americans — you desire, but we had a fairly typical Iowa childhood. We played tennis and conducted the marching band and designed elaborate costumes for Odyssey of the Mind. We showed hogs at the county fair and spent long summer days selling lemonade during RAGBRAI. The education we got in small-town Iowa (in school systems which, as a state legislator and a U.S. representative, you’ve systematically de-funded) got us full-ride scholarships to Iowa colleges. We’re now a professor and a lawyer and an art curator. We’re doing just fine.
My hometown, however, is not doing fine. And, despite your belief in the horrors of “demographic transformation,” I’m pretty sure my siblings and I aren’t the cause of its slow decline. I’ve watched over the years as small businesses on Main Street turned into vacant storefronts. Members of my high school class (myself included) left western Iowa because the jobs we could get there just didn’t compete with the ones we ended up getting elsewhere.
In fact, your sense that allowing other races to mix into an historically white area will lead to “cultural suicide” couldn’t be more off base.
Cultural suicide occurred when the unions were broken at the packing plants in our hometowns, turning respectable $21-an-hour jobs into back-breaking $11-an-hour labor that couldn’t support a family. Cultural suicide occurs every time you vote to defund public education, stripping Iowa public school teachers of the resources they need to educate the next generation of Iowans even as you accept $10,600 in campaign contributions from the College Loan Corp. — a company that profits from increased student debt. Cultural suicide occurs when you decide to display a Confederate flag on your desk, conveniently forgetting that you represent a state that fought for the Union.
I get it. It’s easier to point fingers at the brown people who take those 3 a.m. shifts at the packing plant and are now raising their families on minimum wage than it is to accept personal responsibility for the ways that your particular brand of strip-mining the Iowan economy is devastating the lives of Iowans.
Here’s the thing: Your worn-out brand of racism isn’t new. It’s what caused you to suggest that publicly acknowledging the work Harriet Tubman did to free slaves by putting her on the $20 bill would “upset this society and this civilization.” It’s what caused the KKK to leave leaflets throughout my hometown for a nearby Klan rally. And although you may not realize it, your emphasis on cultural purity is what made a generation of German-speaking farmers in Kiron and Schleswig terrified to speak their native tongue in the 1940s.
I’m proud to be an Iowan. I’ve got a drawer full of Iowa T-shirts and a cutting response ready whenever anyone dares to call the Midwest a fly-over zone. It makes me sad beyond measure that often times the only thing people know about my home state is that its state representative once compared immigrants to stray cats that need to be neutered.
Rep. King, you speak for us at our smallest, weakest, least brave moments. And when you do so, you misrepresent Iowa.
Yes, your xenophobia speaks to some Iowans. But my hometown is also full of people who are kind and compassionate and have an uncanny knack for remembering things like that time my dog followed me straight into the produce aisle of the local grocery store. Iowans are my uncle, a farmer who reminds me every time I see him that book learning is not the only education worth having. Iowans are my grandmother, who left her job as a schoolteacher to work for the FBI in Washington, D.C., during WWII, and my father, who stops in the middle of the Omaha airport to spend 20 minutes helping a confused elderly couple find their luggage.
Iowans are my brother and my sister and every single other Indian-American and Senegalese-American and Swedish-American and Mexican-American and German-American and African-American and Ecuadorian-American kid who grows up playing soccer beside cornfields, adoring the Hawkeyes and hating the Cyclones (or vice versa), travelling hours to get to the mall on weekends, and praying for extra snow days. We already are doctors and lawyers and educators and engineers and government officials. And on our best days, we dream of being more.
Luckily for the rest of us, you and your racist fear-mongering do not represent the future of Iowa. We do.
Sangina Patnaik grew up in Denison. She is an assistant professor of English literature at Swarthmore College.