Monday, October 19, 2015
Morning Thanks--the new billboard
Twenty years ago or so, I stood in a grocery-store line in with a gallon of milk maybe, probably some peanut butter and maybe a pound of old fashioned baked ham. The young lady at the check out, annoyed and impatient, waited on two Hispanic men who were fumbling through the process while locals like me stood there biding their time. Eventually, she just reached into one of their wallets herself to dig out the bucks required for the measly sale, then made change and sent them on their way.
Once her Spanish-speaking customers were just beyond the reach of her voice, she rolled her eyes and vented. "You're in America, all right? Learn the language." I'm quite sure she expected us, the real Sioux Centerites, equally exasperated, to shake our heads and cheer her red-blooded patriotism.
I should have (but didn't) remind her that in all likelihood a century ago her own great-grandparents, strangers at the gates, might have stumbled similarly at the town's General Store. No not might have, would have--that checkout girl was not Yankton Sioux.
Well, wait a minute. Maybe they wouldn't have had language problems, but then, a century ago on the streets of town, Dutch was the language of the street. Wouldn't that have been nice for all those Dutch immigrants?
I walked out of the store and determined I'd speak up by writing a letter to the editor of the paper. So I did. I'd have to read microfilm to find that letter back, but it's clear to me that times have changed.
Demographically, the Spanish-language billboard on the south end makes all kinds of sense. In the last 20 years, the town's Hispanic population has grown far, far beyond the number anyone who lived in what was once a little fortress of Dutch Americans could have imagined. Seasonscenter.org is speaking (in Spanish) to a significant chunk of the population today.
Culturally, however, that billboard is shocking. This is the land of Congressman Steve King--of "calves like melons" fame. In no area of the Kingdom was last November's vote so totally his. It would be presumptuous of me to say he would have seconded that checkout girl's annoyance, but his rhetoric on immigration certainly suggests he would. Our King is in Trump's camp or Trump's in his.
It just doesn't seem long ago that forces on the right were braying about making English the state's official language, a dog whistle for racism. They may well have won that one--I don't even know. Obviously--look at the billboard--few care. What I know is that seeing this Spanish billboard on the outskirts of town yesterday was a jaw-dropper.
Twenty years ago, who in their right minds could have prophesied that by 2014 Sioux County, Iowa, would be ten percent Hispanic?
No one. But it happened.
Twenty years later, who in their right mind could have prophesied that the town of Sioux Center would hammer up a billboard advertising a great community resource in the Spanish language? Twenty years ago, Rep. King's legions would have spit and fumed just like that grocery store checkout.
Me? I think that startling billboard you see at the top of the page is a blessing, something, this Monday morning, for which to give thanks.