|Air Date: April 14, 1998||Program 9815|
(This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely
distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)
KEITH PORTER, Producer: Do people find it surprising that there are Bosnians in Iowa?
ZELJKA KRVAVICA: Yes. When I mention that I am a Bosnian from Iowa it's always the first reaction is, "Why Iowa?"
PORTER: This week on Common Ground, growing diversity in the American Midwest.
DENNIS RYERSON: It used to be cultural diversity was the Lutherans and the Methodists getting together for softball games. Things are changing a lot.
PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It's produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Keith Porter.
PORTER: (with music in the background) This is a group of dancers from Bosnia-Herzegovina. The girls are 9-12 years of age, and they live in the middle of Iowa. There's been a small revolution taking place in the American Midwest recently. At some immigration and naturalization offices in Nebraska and Iowa, business is up 500-600% in just the last 4 years. And these new immigrants are coming from some of the most unlikely places.
KRVAVICA: I didn't decide to come to Iowa. I was resettled to Iowa. I am originally from Sarajevo, Bosnia, and when the war started I became a refugee with my two sons. We went to Denmark and then to Croatia. My husband stayed in Sarajevo and after a year-and-a-half we got reunited finally through the help of the American Embassy in Croatia.
PORTER: This is Zeljka Krvavica. She now serves as a Case Manager at the State of Iowa's Bureau of Refugee Services.
KRVAVICA: My oldest son was born in Washington, DC and he had an American citizenship. So the Embassy was involved in helping this American citizen and his family. And we were assigned for the program for resettlement of Bosnian refugees to the United States. And we were resettled to Des Moines, Iowa.
PORTER: I understand when you were in the resettlement office in Zagreb you had some questions about Iowa.
KRVAVICA: I lived in the United States for five years, in Washington, DC, and I knew something about Iowa, but not everything. At the time when I was interviewed by the American Resettlement Officer in the Resettlement Office in Zagreb I grabbed the opportunity to ask her a few questions about Iowa and at my first question she answered, "Well, let me see, Iowa—potatoes." And at that time I knew she was talking about Idaho, so I decided to grab a book and learn something about this great state myself.
PORTER: Are there many in Iowa or in the rest of the Midwest, Bosnians?
KRVAVICA: Yes. In Des Moines there are around 3,000 Bosnian refugees right now. There is a great number of Bosnian refugees in Waterloo that have been resettled from Chicago as secondary migrants, and IBP has done lots of recruitment of Bosnian refugees from Chicago, and they brought them to Waterloo to work at IBP.
PORTER: Tell our listeners what IBP is.
KRVAVICA: IBP is Iowa Beef & Pork Industry. And a majority of Bosnians who live in Waterloo work at that industry. And I think there is around 2,000 Bosnian refugees in Waterloo at this moment. We have a few families in Cedar Rapids and we also have a few families right now in Davenport, which is getting to be a bigger site for resettlement of Bosnia refugees.
PORTER: Tell us about your job, what it is you do now.
KRVAVICA: I work as a Bosnian Case Manager. The official title that I have in the Refugee Services is a Refugee Specialist I. It means that I am assigned a case load of Bosnian refugees, which I take care of. I meet the refugees when they first come. I meet them at the airport. I arrange with their sponsor families for their apartments, for furniture through our office. I help them do their first medical appointments and refugee physicals when they arrive. I help them enroll kids in schools. I help them find jobs. And I closely follow my families for approximately 3-6 months. And then after that if there is a problem in the family we still work very closely together, but if the family is becoming self-sufficient then we are not seeing each other quite often.
PORTER: Tell us something about the transition process. Is it relatively easy? Relatively difficult? What could make it easier?
KRVAVICA: It's hard. Physically it's hard, technically it's hard, emotionally it's hard, and I think that the only way to make it easier is for the refugees to be given the opportunity to study the language. It may sound very trivial to you that, you know, the language is the barrier, but it really is. When you don't speak the language of the country where you live in it's very, very hard to get around. Emotionally it's very difficult because majority of our families have lost everything their homes have been destroyed, their member of the families were killed, raped, lost in war. So we have lots of families that struggle with this emotional side of their well-being right now. And technically it's hard because the culture is different, the way of life is different, the school system is different, work ethics is different. So it takes some time to get used to it.
But on the other side I have lots of friends who live throughout the United States and when I compare their experience to our experience, ours is great. Because Iowa has really been very open to Bosnian refugees. We had great sponsors who became not only the friends but members of the families to Bosnian refugees. And it really means a lot.
PORTER: For these sponsor families, are they difficult to find? And why do they choose to enter the program?
KRVAVICA: We, no. I think right now it's a little bit more difficult than it was at the very beginning, because we have so many families coming and we cannot find that many sponsors. But many sponsors get involved through churches or through their employers. We even have schools sponsoring families. And for them it's a great experience. It's a possibility to help someone who has been endangered. It's a possibility to learn something about another culture. And we have many sponsors that even speak Bosnian. So it's not difficult, I guess.
PORTER: I guess one thing that I'm sure is surprising to our listeners is that Iowa, they assume and they would be correct in assuming that it is one of the least culturally diverse states in the country. Do people find it surprising that there are Bosnians in Iowa?
KRVAVICA: Yes. Usually you are, whenever you mention somewhere, I traveled a lot in the past couple of years to different conferences throughout the United States. And when I mention that I am a Bosnian from Iowa it's always the first reaction is, "Why Iowa?" And I always struggle and fight with everyone who thinks the life here is dull and you know, not interesting. Because I really think that your life depends on how interesting a person you are. And my life in Iowa has been great. I mean my kids accommodated very well, my husband has a good job with the Principal Financial Group, I have a good job with the Refugee Services, we are involved in the Bosnian community, and in general I think the Bosnian community and the Bosnian people have accomplished a good life in the United States.
PORTER: Are you in contact much with people coming to Iowa from other countries, outside of Bosnia?
KRVAVICA: Yes. Because in our office we have different case managers and we have people, we have a Sudanese case manager, Southeast Asian case managers, so our office is like a little United Nations. We have different languages. It's very funny in the morning, because we speak all the languages and we know to say hello in all the languages and it's really a nice thing to work in our office and you are exposed to different experience, to different culture, and I've learned a lot.
GERARD HEINAUER: Our office covers Iowa and Nebraska, so we have 750 linear miles that we cover. But the growth in our office in terms of both examinations or service to the public, as well as enforcement, has grown astronomically.
PORTER: This is Jerry Heinauer. He's Director of the Omaha Office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
HEINAUER: In 1994 our office received about 800 applications for naturalization. That went up last year, so that we received over 6,000. And so we're looking at a period of 4 years and increase of that is, you know, absolutely phenomenal. We've, in terms of enforcement, in 1994 our office arrested and removed 423 people that were in the United States illegally in the states of Iowa and in Nebraska. Last year our office arrested and removed 2,529 people. So that's over a 600% increase in a matter of four years.
PORTER: How has the immigrant population changed in Iowa and Nebraska over this time?
HEINAUER: Well, the number of people that we've had apply to become lawful permanent residents has also gone up in the same sort of percentage as the numbers of applications we've had for people applying to become naturalized citizens. We've seen a very big increase in Iowa for the number of people applying to become lawful permanent residents. And Iowa, I truly believe, is one of the states that really welcomes their arms and their hearts to new immigrants and especially to people as refugees. People that are fleeing war-torn countries like Sudan or Bosnia-Herzegovina.
PORTER: Yeah. Give us some idea of where people are coming from now as opposed to where they were in years past.
HEINAUER: Well, in terms of people that are coming here as refugees, now they are coming from Bosnia-Herzegovina overwhelmingly, or from the Sudan, as opposed to in the last few years we would receive, the United States would maybe 45,000 people a year from the former Soviet Union, 45,000 people a year from Vietnam. And so those numbers and those countries have changed, because of what's taken place.
PORTER: Do you do much in the way of education? I'm trying to tell people what not people who are coming to this country, I mean the citizens of the country about the role the legal immigration plays in the economy and in our history.
HEINAUER: Well, we do. Because I think one of the things that the United States wants to do is send a very clear signal that we want to encourage people to come here legally and we went to continue to welcome that, because America is a nation of generations of immigrants who built our country. And we are a, we still are a very generous nation in terms of welcoming immigrants. We welcome about a million persons each year as lawful permanent residents. And that is more than all countries in the Western world combined that number. So what we want to do is we want to encourage legal immigrant and at the same time say "No&" to illegal immigration.
DENNIS RYERSON: It used to be cultural diversity was the Lutherans and the Methodists getting together for softball games. Things are changing a lot.
PORTER: This is Dennis Ryerson. He's Editor of The Des Moines Register.
RYERSON: We're certainly hearing it more and more. And I'm hearing it more in our coverage efforts as newspaper. Certainly there are more and more cultures in our state and we need to cover all of them. We need to do more of incorporating the different cultures in our regular news coverage. When we're writing a story about education, we need to make sure that we're including minority teachers that we're quoting among the experts, the educators, as well as the typical white crowd. So we've got an active effort in our newspaper we call it mainstreaming—that we're trying to poll people who ordinarily wouldn't be in a story, but they're part of the story. And trying to make sure that we cover not just the diversity, but cover the active involvement of the different minorities in areas that affect all of us. And so that's a key goal of ours. I think the state is, it's changing as the population changes and that middle level, that middle age group starts to get smaller, who's going to support the older people? Who's going to support the younger people? And increasingly it looks to me, it's the immigrants coming to the state.
PORTER: What would be the most surprising to somebody from the outside do you think?
RYERSON: The number of Bosnians and Sudanese that are coming to our state. I think most people expect, because of the proximity to Mexico that the Latino population would be increasing. I think the Asian population is increasing nationwide. The newer immigrants from places that we don't traditionally draw immigrants from, Sudan, Bosnia those are the surprising figures, the numbers. And I'm just really astounded by how diverse the city of Waterloo is. Here you've got a city of something like 70,000, 77,000 people, with 14,000 African-Americans, 4,000 Bosnians, 1,000 Hispanics, I don't know how many Asians. I was just talking to the mayor. It's an incredibly diverse town. Probably the most diverse community in the state of Iowa. And they're working through this in many, many different ways. And I think it's very encouraging to see what happens. It's a great story that needs to be told.
PORTER: We'll pause her for a moment. When we return to Common Ground, we'll hear from the Mayor of Waterloo, Iowa.
JOHN ROOF: It's a struggle. It's a struggle on the human service agencies, it's a struggle on the people that are trying to get the message out.
PORTER: We're talking in this edition of Common Ground with a variety of people who are affected by the growing diversity of the population in the American Midwest. Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts a wide a range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
ROOF: When you get someone to come into Waterloo and find out the kind of diversity we have it surprises them.
PORTER: John Roof is Mayor of Waterloo, Iowa.
ROOF: We're about 13-14% African-American; we have a thousand or a little more Hispanics; we have Asians; and now we have 4,000 Bosnians, or will have by the time that the immigration closes in the next several months. So we are a diverse community and what I like to call Waterloo is the real world. This is where you can find out what it's like to exist in many of our major cities in America.
PORTER: Let's talk about the upside here. What's the good thing about having a diverse population?
ROOF: Well, it gives you an opportunity to celebrate and to get to know people from not only different cultures, but people who think differently. And it's a learning and growing experience for all of us. One of the things that we have been very successful at doing is celebrating this diversity one day a year during the My Waterloo Days celebration. We have a food in the park type atmosphere, where we have all of our cultures bring food and people gather around there, and it's about a 10 hour celebration. And the biggest question then is, why aren't we doing this more often? Why aren't we celebrating what each of us has to offer? So I think it allows our city to not only experience themselves but to grow in the process.
PORTER: There must be a downside, especially for someone like you trying to provide city services. What are the biggest challenges to having this kind of population?
ROOF: Well, I think, especially when you have an influx, a rapid influx, one of the downsides is affordable housing. Or transitional housing at least. With the diverse population and having people not understanding the value of diversity and the value of differences, you have a little slower social process. And what we're trying to do here is to get the affordable housing available to all of our people in need. We're trying to integrate 4,000 Bosnians in a population of 7,000 [sic]. We're trying to get people to understand and appreciate the differences that our cultures contain. So it's a struggle. It's a struggle on the human service agencies, it's a struggle on the people that are trying to get the message out.
PORTER: Without going into too many details, do you get state and federal help for this? We are working with the state and they are working to try to find ways in which they can get housing funds from HUD and working with us in the area of health and education. We do get some assistance and it's being able to put the plan together and making everyone understand what role they play and how we can get the job done that's been probably the biggest challenge.
PORTER: Why Waterloo? Of all communities, why do you think Waterloo has attracted this diverse population?
ROOF: Well, a couple of things come to mind. One of course, we have an employer like IBP that was looking for a stable workforce and actually went to the federal government and said "We will take immigrants to do these jobs." We have had, on the other hand, a city that has been open-armed to people of different cultures. With our strong railroad presence at the turn of the century, and with Rath Packing and John Deere and the heavy manufacturing jobs, you know, we would attract a melting pot type of group of people. And so I think probably our history, the fact that we have the jobs now that entertain that type of immigration, put that together, and maybe it's just because it's a great place to live.
JONATHAN LEUTH: The war in southern Sudan started in 1955. And that was the moment when the British were leaving Sudan, the northerners just came and took over the entire South. And so they were our second masters.
PORTER: Jonathan Leuth was among the first Sudanese to come to the Midwest. He's been here 15 years and he's now an Advisor at Iowa State University.
LEUTH: You know, the freedom of the Sudan was not related to the freedom of people of southern Sudan. So from there, southern Sudanese started fighting until 1972 when we had an agreement, then we had a lull for 10 years and then it started again in 1983. And one important thing Iowans need to know is that the current movement of southern Sudan is being led by an Iowan, you know. John Garang grew up in the state of Iowa, had his first degree in Grinnell College and then a Ph.D. at Iowa State.
PORTER: John Garang is the head of the SPLA, the Sudanese People's Liberation Army.
LEUTH: Yes. Yes. And John Garang and myself, we have the same rank. And the President of Sudan now, Omar, we are all of the same rank.
PORTER: The President of Sudan?
LEUTH: His name is Omar Bashir. So these are my colleagues in rank and when I came here with the knowledge that they have, what they did was, they went to my home, destroyed my village, looted everything. So I sent them a document and said that I cannot work with a government that kills my people. And I asked for political asylum and I was one of the first to be granted political asylum. Anyway, when I came here I had a diplomatic visa. And I was a diplomat in some form.
PORTER: Since this is a radio program a lot of people listening to you don't believe that you're an Iowan. How long have you lived here?
LEUTH: Oh, I have lived here for at least, since 1983. So I am 15 years in the state of Iowa now.
PORTER: Do you find it hard to find news from Sudan when you're here?
LEUTH: Yes. It's very hard. But with the technology, which I credit the computer system and all the Internet system, I am able to get a lot of information from home. And nowadays, you know, the last 3 years, the government of the United States has been so kind with the people of the southern Sudan. Because we have lost so many and you know, all the time there is something about southern Sudan. And the administration, the current administration, we are so lucky because Madeleine Albright was one time an Ambassador to Sudan. And she knows how this, the people in the government of Sudan, how they have abused and misused their powers over us in the southern Sudan. And so, at least we are happy that, you know, somebody in the top there, knows something about the flight of southern Sudanese people.
PORTER: Is Iowa a good place for immigrants to come live?
LEUTH: Oh I think so. In myself, for having been to the United States, I have traveled a lot all over the United States, I think Iowa is a unique place for an immigrant. First of all, opportunities are available. And one thing which is unique to Iowa is its educational system.. You know, the people in Iowa spend a lot of their money or they pay a lot for a school system to be perfect. And I am one of those, you know. I have, my daughter came here, started her kindergarten in Iowa. And she scored 34 out of 36 in ACT. And she's now at Berkeley. And all my kids, I have 5 now in college, you know, I wouldn't have had a situation to do that in any other state in the United States.
PORTER: Many Americans when they think of Iowa, they think of, they do not think of cultural diversity. But you see a different side of Iowa. Do you see Iowa as a culturally diverse place?
LEUTH: Oh definitely. You know, since I came to the United States and Iowa I know that, you know, 50%, 45% of Iowans are Germans, some are Norwegians. I have a lot of fun with my co-workers; some are Swedish and some are, you know, and I have seen how diverse Iowa is in terms of culture. I'm not talking in terms of being white anyway. But you know, diversity is not only a function of white and black. It is a function of ways you do things, how you think about things and as a result, to some extent, the addition of newcomers will make this ?? state diverse.
PORTER: John, when you bring Sudanese to the United States, when they come to Iowa, do you find sponsor families for them?
LEUTH: Oh, mostly the churches do that job. Lutheran church, Catholic churches, all those things. They sponsor. But as of now most of those who come in are sponsored by Sudanese who have already come. Like I can sponsor my cousins or my nephew or my sister and things like that. But you know, the base, the foundation was done by Iowans themselves..
PORTER: When you arrived in Iowa what was the most difficult part of your transition?
LEUTH: Oh, first of all, when I came, you know, I came in June I can't remember, it was around June 2nd, and it was so humid at that time, I didn't know the extent of humidity. And I thought that I was sick. You know, it was so sticky on my skin. And when I went to a student health center at Iowa State, they said, "Oh, you are not sick. It's just humid." (laughs) And then later on, when we, later on I realized that, you know, a lot of things at the state of Iowa are different from what I had in my country. You know, the type of food was the most shocking thing to me. I didn't get used to eating chicken until a little bit while later on. But you know, the state of Iowa, what I loved about it is, the corn itself. Because we grow corn back in Africa. It's usually sweet one. This one is not all sweet, except some.
PORTER: The thing I've noticed in Africa when I've seen corn fields is that they throw the corn out into the field. And it's at random. But in Iowa every ear of corn, whether it's in a garden or in a field, is in a straight row.
LEUTH: Yes, exactly. Because of technology, too, you know. (laughs) That is true. With us there, you know, everything is thrown there, because we, you know, most of our things are still natural. We have not tamed the nature yet. Which Iowa has a lot of it. And this is why I think a typical African, which has no way to come on over food production, should learn and come to this state. Because our problem in Africa how to provide enough for everybody to eat. After that, you know, you develop other things. And this is why I think this state is unique and I love the fact that my people are here. Sooner or later some of them will be engineers, agronomists, and all those things. And that knowledge, when we take it back to Sudan, I think we will compete with the United States in providing food. (laughs)
PORTER: That is Jonathan, Leuth, one of the first Sudanese to move permanently to the American Midwest. He's now an advisor at Iowa State University. Our other guests have been Zeljka Krvavica, Bosnian Case Manager at the Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services; Jerry Heinauer, Director of the Omaha Office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service; John Roof, the Mayor of Waterloo, Iowa; and Dennis Ryerson, Editor of the Des Moines Register. For Common Ground, I'm Keith Porter..
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