The Roots of the Extreme Immigration Debate


Dr. Norma Linda Gonzalez-Mattingly, associate professor of education, speaks about the immigration election.

It was a little depressing to hear recent U.S. history. As part of a presentation tonight entitled “The Immigration Election: How Has Immigration Become a Hot Topic & How Has It Been Discussed,” Dr. Norma Linda Gonzalez-Mattingly, associate professor of education, recapped some past election cycles.

Presidents who promised immigration reform included Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama. Presidents who delivered immigration reform? Well, all of the previously mentioned resorted to changes in immigration policy via executive order because Congress failed to act.

And today, in 2016, we have two candidates who both promise changes to U.S. immigration policy. Don’t hold your breath.

For one thing, one of those candidates, Donald Trump, is running his campaign like a reality TV star. He makes broad, evocative statements that are good sound bites and, usually, both unsound policy and reflective of an odd alt-right “reality” that isn’t real at all.


Well, at least there were lemon bars.

Thus, Trump promises a wall (it won’t be built) that Mexico will pay for (no way, hombre). And if Trump did somehow get the magic southern wall with the best technology built, how well would it work? It wouldn’t, but that’s beside the point. The point is to score TV ratings and inflame the passions of his base—and on both of those points, if not on any sound public policy, Mr. Trump is very good.

He calls Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers. He says all incoming Muslims should be banned. He wants “extreme vetting,” whatever that is.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, talks like she lives in the real world, and has an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, immigration plan. But can President Clinton II get it through Congress?

The first President Clinton couldn’t. Granted, the Nasty Woman running today has some advantages over The Bill—she was a Senator and has some resulting connections that Bill Clinton never had. I’m betting President Clinton II would have a better chance than President Trump of actually doing something on immigration, but I would also bet that the odds against her accomplishing anything on this issue are also pretty steep.

And that’s partly what I talked about tonight. I was the other half of the show. Dr. Gonzalez-Mattingly ended her remarks by sharing a compelling anecdote from her hometown of Brownsville, Texas, in which she and her mother accidentally ended up harboring an illegal immigration girl that they found wandering the streets as they exited a store. They ended up taking the girl to their local Catholic parish, and aren’t sure how the story ended.


Me, photographed with my camera by Dr. Joy Ochs, English professor and chair of the MMU faculty.

Then, Dr. Gonzalez-Mattingly talked movingly about her experience of voting this year. She didn’t need it, but she felt compelled to take her birth certificate with her. She was worried about the rhetoric this year, and how she would be treated.

She is Hispanic, and looks it. She is also a fourth generation American citizen, which, if that’s the standard you use to measure these things, makes her more American than I am (third generation—grandparents on my father’s side were immigrants).

The election this year has taken many twists and turns, but the odd and extreme rhetoric that has characterized the campaign mostly comes from one source—Donald Trump.

His followers think he is a refreshing breath of fresh air, willing to speak the truth. Most reputable fact check sites, on the other hand, find him to be consistently and wildly off base. The best way to understand what Trump says? You know he lies because his lips are moving.

But, while Trump has warped our political discourse, on the other hand it was President Nixon who began an organized attack on mainstream media and who also laid the groundwork for the “Southern man” strategy that has benefited the GOP for two generations. To some extent, the Trump candidacy is the illogical outcome of that trend going to its extreme. And possibly ending, if Trump goes down in flames—as seems likely, but we won’t know until after Nov. 8.

And Trump may be the most extreme example of egregious nonsense on the immigration issue, but it was Rep. Steve King, who it pains me to admit is a Republican from Iowa, who in 2013 said the U.S. is in danger from Mexican immigrants who have calves like “cantaloupes” from hauling heavy loads of Mary Jane through the arid Arizona badlands.

King was crazy and still is. But his remark showed the kind of rhetoric that the most deplorable of Republicans were getting into three years ago. And so today, we now have Trump.

God helps us. The American people will express their will in less than two weeks. It was painful for me tonight to read Trumps convoluted, inarticulate and borderline racist words when talking about his rhetoric.

America, I have a favor to ask. Please don’t make me do that for four more years.


Filed under Freedom, History, Mount Mercy

Update on Project Milkweed


Common milkweed seeds, gathered from a ditch in Ames Iowa next to the apartment building where my son lives there. I separated these out Friday and also planted them.

I haven’t coordinated a planting effort on the Mount Mercy campus, so I’m not sure there will be many milkweed planted there this year—although I do have an envelope of seeds saved, and may inquire about at least planting those in a few established garden spots.

The final three workdays of this week were fall break at Mount Mercy, and they flew by. On Friday, we invited four grandchildren over for a sleepover party—they spent all day Friday with us and will go home midday Saturday.

I want to describe part of our Friday—but first, a minor word of caution. This post will end with some fall photos, and my cohort in crime for the garden milkweed planting did point out an arachnid, which I did photograph. So the very end of the post is not spider safe. If you are averse to spiders, go ahead and read the post, just don’t scroll to the end of the photos.

Our busy grandchildren day included trip to Half-Price Books followed by Thomas Park, lunch at McDonald’s and them home to pack up bicycles, which we took down to Cedar Lake for a ride (it was warming by then, I’m happy to say). After that, some of the grandkids walked up to HyVee Drugstore with grandma to get bread sticks to go with pasta for supper, while I stayed home with the others.

Amelia, a 5-year-old granddaughter, wanted to help me plant after she saw me separating out milkweed seeds from the bag Audrey and I had collected near our son’s apartment in Ames, Iowa.


Amelia, ready to plant seeds.

I had two sets of milkweed to plant—an envelope with a generous supply of seeds (I kept a second one for possible MMU use) and a bowl of all the white fluff and leftover pods, which also had many seeds left in it.


“Extra” seeds and pods. I did not try to be very efficient gathering seeds–I knew I was going to scatter all the rest behind my fence anyway, in the hope that Mother Nature’s way of planting milkweed will yield some results.

First stop was the woods behind our fence, where I scattered the “extra” seeds and pods, mostly at the edge of the tree line, hoping that sunny spot will promote milkweed growth.


Seeds in the air, edge of the woods behind my house.

After that, Amelia brought the seed envelop down to me so we could plant in the gardens. But when I opened the envelope, only about 1/3 of the seeds where there.

Amelia looked a little sad. “Some of them blew out,” she said. I interpreted that to mean she spilled some, because the seeds in the envelope didn’t have their white silky wind catchers attached, and it wasn’t especially windy.

No matter—1/3 of the seeds was still quite a few, and in the back of my mind was the thought that I did not have to save my second envelope. So, we planted—basically we used a trowel to scape soil in several small areas, scattered some seeds there, and then covered them with a very thin layer.

Milkweed seeds don’t go deep into the soil, and are best planted in fall. The seeds want to overwinter before germinating, or so I’ve read on the internet. Honestly, I’m not the person to consult on this—although I’ve tried for several years to get milkweed going, I don’t have much success.

Anyway, after we got done I didn’t bother to get the second envelope right away. Instead, Amelia and her brother and I simply enjoyed the later afternoon in the backyard, playing various games. When it was starting to cool and I thought it was going to be time to go in soon, I have them the usual 5-minute warning.

Amelia went off by herself and sat on some stone steps that lead from the upper to lower yard. “Grandpa,” she called. “Come here!”

I ambled over, and asked what she wanted. “This is where the seeds spilled,” she said. I moved some leaves on the steps—and sure enough, hundreds of milkweed seeds were just laying on the steps.

So I swept them into my hand and we did planting, round two. And I didn’t feel the need anymore to break into my second envelop. Maybe a small-scale planting at MMU can still happen this fall.

To finish the story, here are some random fall photos taken while Amelia and I were planting, with the caveat that this is where the spider sensitive need to leave this web page:


Fall mum in bloom in garden (and Amelia and I planted some milkweed next to it).


Vine creeping over fence is turning colors (above). Oaks (below) starting to look like fall (maples and tulip tree don’t have the memo yet, crab apples are taking on fall hues).



“There is a big spider,” Amelia said. I looked, and sure enough, right on the gate handle, this big spider was sitting. The board it is on is the one I just slid to lock the gate. I was a bit startled at first–but it’s kind of a pretty looking hunter. And I always figure spiders outdoors are good news–anything that eats mosquitoes and flies is welcome in my gardens!

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Filed under Flowers, Garden, Grandchildren, Mount Mercy

What We Learned About Immigration


Art by Gabriel Acosta. The MMU student displayed many of his works that center on immigration.

Well, that was a quite a day.

Today, Oct. 15, Mount Mercy University held an event called “Our Immigration Stories: Coming to Cedar Rapids & Mount Mercy.” It was a series of presentations that began at 10 a.m. and went until about 4 p.m.

So I’m struggling a little on how to contain my reactions to one blog post. I have something like 6 pages of notes. A lot happened and was said today—my only regret is that I wasn’t quick enough to get everything nailed downs so that the event could be publicized more. We had about 25 people in the audience at the start of the day, and that dwindled to about a dozen by day’s end (it’s wasn’t all the same people, audience members could come and go, so the total number of people who attended any part of the event was more than 25, possibly 50 or so).

Well, live and learn. I’ll have to process what I think are lessons from the day from the point of view of how the series is organized. But logistical issues aside—what a day! Those who were there learned and experienced a lot. I was hoping to have interesting, multiple perspectives from many sources—and that’s what we got.

The day began with a keynote speech by Gabriel Acosta, a senior graphic design major from Monticello, Iowa, who sneaked across the U.S.-Mexico border with his mother when he was 6.

He noted that his father had to try to cross into the U.S. nine times before he made it—luckily, Gabriel and his mother only had to try once. His story of that crossing, and his adjustment to life in Iowa, was full of interesting details: How he was separated from his mother for 30 minutes during the border crossing, and it was the longest half hour of his life. How he planned to just get a job after high school, but a guidance counselor recommended college, and Gabriel contacted several, and first heard from Mount Mercy, which said it didn’t care about his status.

“Whoever called back from MMU said, ‘we’re not the border patrol and we’re not ICE,’” Gabriel said.


Gabriel Acosta speaks at MMU.

He made a point that was echoed throughout the day by others: it’s OK to call someone “undocumented,” but the term “illegal alien” is demeaning. “There is no such thing as an illegal human being,” he said.

From a legal standpoint, a later speaker, attorney Yer Vang, pointed out that crossing the border without a visa is considered a civil infraction under federal law—it’s not a criminal act, so the term “illegal alien” lacks legal correctness as well as political correctness.

Gabriel at one point ruminated on how there are two very conflicting stereotypes of undocumented immigrants: That they steal American’s jobs, and that they are lazy. “What am I going to do, steal your job and then just sit there?” he quipped. As for Gabriel, he noted: “I will be working hard.”

Under DACA, Gabriel is now here legally and has a green card. Bravo, I say—his presence certainly enriches MMU.

Anyway, after Gabriel gave his excellent keynote speak, students from a Latino-Latina literature course taught by Dr. Carol Tyx recited poems, accompanied by pictures. Carol herself also read a poem.

That somehow set the stage for what came next, which I consider the two highlights of the day. First, we heard from four students, who told of their personal immigrant experiences. Gabriel was one, and there was another student who was also from Mexico, plus a Liberian and a Salvadorian.


Student immigrant panel, Mauricio Diaz from Mexico; Philemina Towah from Liberia; Gabriel Acosta from Mexico; and Marlon Flores from El Salvador.

Gabriel gave yet another memorable line during this panel presentation, describing how when he first started school in Iowa: “I was the only burnt piece of rice in the bowl.”

After the student panel spoke, a group of faculty and staff (or spouse of faculty) shared their experiences. I was moderating both talks and asking questions, so I don’t have detailed notes, which is too bad because, as I said, I think these two panels were very important. It’s hard to denigrate immigrants as a faceless, scary “other” when you have eight of them sharing their compelling, personal stories.

Dr. Ayman Amer, for example, talked about how the Cedar Rapids community rallied around its Muslim neighbors to protect them from any backlash in the wake of 9/11.

Amir Hadzic described how, in his first nights in America, he wanted to go for a walk—but the cousin he was staying with lived in a sketchy neighborhood of Queens in New York City, and told him that a walk at 10 p.m. was not a good idea. He ended up the soccer coach at MMU almost by accident—he was in Iowa and saw an ad in the Gazette. He didn’t have a resume or any materials, but had been a professional soccer player in Croatia. The MMU athletic director liked what he saw and hired Amer.

Father Tony Adawu told of a priest in Baltimore, Maryland, who sight unseen invited him to be part of his parish. He didn’t have a work visa and couldn’t earn a salary, but could accept a place to live. Father Tony spoke of how there was tension in the parish when he arrived—but not “go away” tension, more like “who are you?” tension. “Together, we worked it out,” he said.


Faculty-staff panel: Ayman Amer from Egypt; Suresh Basnet from Nepal; Father Tony Adawu from Ghana; and Amir Hadzic of Croatia.

Father Tony spoke of some lower class white parish members, and how they had no choice but to live life “the hard way.” He says he thinks of those people when he hears others talk of “white privilege,” and said it’s dangerous to generalize too much about others. Some white people “struggle big time,” he noted. He echoed Gabriel, and noted he agreed with Gabriel’s point was that it’s always important to try to understand another’s point of view.

Interestingly, all of the faculty-staff panel members had their very initial experiences of the U.S. in New York City, while three of the student panel crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the afternoon, Yer Vang, an immigration attorney, clued us in on the complexity of the U.S. immigration system. She described a system that is complicated, slow and not always logical. She also said that the U.S. already does extensive screening of anybody attempting to claim refugee status—“the screening process is very burdensome and involved multiple agencies,” she noted. To me, it sounded like we already have “extreme vetting.”

In Iowa, she noted, about 5 percent of the state’s population is foreign born. Close to 100,000 are not citizens. In a state that struggles with stagnant population and whose economic growth is limited by that factor, I would think we would be all about welcoming immigrants. We need them, even if we don’t always remember that.


Yer Vang, based in Decorah, is an attorney with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

After Yer, we heard from Paula Land of the Catherine McAuley Center; Monica Vallejo of the Young Parenthood Network; and Kassia Scott of Kirkwood Community College. All noted that many local agencies want volunteers who can work with immigrants—Land in particular talked about tutoring English at the Catherine McAuley Center. That’s something that’s been on my “to do” list for some time. Maybe if I can get someone else to coordinate next year’s fall series it will be time to try that out.

image-of-logo-colorThe day was capped off by Mark Stoffer Hunter of The History Center in Cedar Rapids. He described the patterns of immigrants coming to Cedar Rapids over time, especially the wave of Bohemians after the Civil War, and the early arrival of a Muslim population. Cedar Rapids, he said, was different from many other Iowa cities. While the Czech population did settle in an area that is still called “New Bo,” the city overall was less divided into distinct ethnic or religious neighborhoods. Partly, that’s attributable to the rather open minded attitudes of the Bohemian population that settled in Cedar Rapids—they often opened their social halls to any other group that wanted to use them.

So Russian Jews, Muslims and others became part of the fabric of this city.

Well, that’s just scratching the surface. There was a lot more said and learned today. I am grateful for all the fine speakers who contributed so much to the event today at MMU. More of my photos.

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Filed under History, Uncategorized

A Heart Breaker Warms Our Hearts


“I wanted to break your heart.” Cristina Henriquez, author of “The Book of Unkown Americans.”

Cristina Henriquez, the author of “The Book of Unknown Americans,” is up-front about it. She says she was inspired to write the book because, when immigration became a horribly hot political potato several years ago, her mother remarked to her that “no newspaper is going to call your pop about his story.”

And, she thought, as a storyteller, a fiction writer with an MFA from the University of Iowa, she could do something about that—tell a story about people who live lives like her father’s, who immigrated to the U.S. from Panama.

So she wrote “The Book of Unknown Americans,” and sent a copy to her mother.

Who called her up and asked: “Is something wrong with you?”


The book.

I won’t spoil it if you haven’t read it, but the book does not end happily for all of its major characters. And many readers struggle through tears at the end as tragedy strikes.

But, Henriquez says, that means she did the work she wanted to do as a writer. She wanted to write a book that would make people feel the human experience that immigrants have. And, speaking for herself, she says she enjoys the emotional release that many works of fiction provide when the end isn’t sweet.

She says a happy ending wouldn’t have suited this story. And, she said several times during her appearance Oct. 6 at Mount Mercy University: “I wanted to break your heart.”

image-of-logo-colorThe English program at MMU sponsors an annual visiting writer series, and this year, chose a writer who is also part of our Fall Faculty Series: “Building Walls, Building Bridge: The U.S. as an Immigrant Nation.”

I was fortunate enough to attend both her author talk about writing at 3:30 p.m. in Betty Cherry, and her book excerpt reading at 7 p.m. in the Chapel of Mercy. My wife and I required the novel in a class we teach this fall, and we were thus invited to a dinner with the author, too.

Well, it was a pretty fantastic day, so full of interesting conversations, quotes and excellent points about writing that I almost feel at a loss to sum it up. But Cristina advised that she sometimes just writes not to tell the story, but to find the story—putting together one sentence at a time. I’ll try to take that advice and at least cover some highlights of her heart-warming visit to MMU.


Cristina Henriquez speaks in Betty Cherry Heritage Hall at MMU.

So, on with some random impressions and thoughts from the afternoon and evening:

The novel Cristina wrote is narrated by various characters, primarily Alma—a Mexican woman who has just come to the U.S. with her daughter Maribel and husband Arturo—and Mayor, a 16-year-old resident of the apartment complex in Delaware that the family moves to.

The novel is partly a love story between Maribel and Mayor, but Maribel has suffered a brain injury, and while she improves during the year the novel covers, Cristina said she didn’t think Maribel was ready to narrate her own chapter. Instead, she serves as the center of the story, the thing around which all of the other characters and plot revolve.

My wife was with me at the evening reading, and wrote down on my notepad something Cristina said of Maribel that she stated was in an early draft but didn’t make it into the final novel: “Life is a party, and she (Maribel) didn’t realize she had been invited to it.”

Cristina dedicated the book to her father and was inspired by him to write it, although the story it tells is very different from her father’s experience. During her evening reading, it became apparent it was partly personal to her life, too. Of the four excerpts she read, three were narrated by Mayor, whom she described as her favorite character—and the original character of the book, the one who narrates its opening line where the writing of the book began.


Mary Vermillion. At one point during the reading, the author struggled where to find a passage. “It’s on page 251,” Mary said. And she was right. An English Prof with super powers.

I’m paraphrasing here—I don’t have Mary Vermillion’s knowledge of the book, and the family copy my wife and I read is in her office somewhere—but Cristina said one excerpt from Mayor had what she considered the most personal line of the book. Mayor, it turns out, is stuck between cultures, an American boy who isn’t allowed by American culture to be fully American, a member of a Panamanian family who had too few memories from his early life in another country to really be Panamanian. “I wasn’t allowed to claim the thing I felt, and I wasn’t allowed to feel the thing I could claim,” Mayor sort of said (again, paraphrasing from notes without the book in hand.)

It turns out that passage, which sent a “jolt of electricity” through Cristina when she wrote it, described a key part of her life. Growing up the daughter of a Panamanian father, Cristina from an early age frequently visited Panama and even gained Panamanian citizenship. Nonetheless she was really a Delaware girl whose high school peers on the East Coast often derided and teased her for being “foreign” even though she’s as thoroughly American as Joe Sheller or Donald Trump.

Her American cohort teased her for being Panamanian. Her Panamanian cousin told her she was a “gringa.”

I suppose most of us in our teen years struggle with fitting in, with understanding who we are and what our place is in the world. But one reason to recognize that we aren’t past a few hard conversations about race and ethnicity in this country is simply this: In unsubtle ways, too many White Americans instinctively think of White as American.

Hence the unknown Americans.

Well, I don’t mean that the sessions about this sometimes sad novel were themselves heavy or sad. Quite the opposite—the voices that the book is written in are actually pretty bright and conversational, and, as it turned out, that seems to fit the speaking style of the author of the book, too.

It was easy to like Cristina Henriquez. I can tell her novel already won over my wife, because there are several other Henriquez books that suddenly showed up in our bedroom “read” pile—when my wife likes a book, she tends to find and buy other books by the same author, which is usually a pretty good strategy.

And my wife and I were both almost bubbly when telling our daughter of the day’s events after we got home. Cristina’s warm and genuine stories clearly appealed to both of us.

Henriquez had plenty to say about the writing process, too. Her book went through something like 20 revisions over the course of five years. When she wrote it, she didn’t clearly know what would happen in the story, and she says that is the way she does her best writing. If it’s all mapped out before the writing starts, the results tend to be a bit artificial and lifeless, she said.

She urged students to write not to tell stories, but to discover stories. She said it’s like having the courage to jump off a cliff, but the results are worth it.

She also noted that once you create something and release it into the world, it becomes the world’s.

“It’s not mine anymore,” she said of her book. “What happens to it now is beyond me.”

Well, one thing that happened to it is that the book did touch many hearts in Cedar Rapids, which explains why the events today at MMU were so packed. See more of my pictures here. Well done, heart breaker, well done.


Connor, an MMU student journalist, gets a copy of the book signed.

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Filed under Mount Mercy, Writing

Picturing the Hispanic Life


MMU student views photographs by José Galvez in Flaherty Community Room, MMU, Monday, Oct. 3.

What was it like to take photographs of photographer José Galvez?

image-of-logo-colorA little intimidating, to be honest, although Mr. Galvez was as nice as he could be. A former newspaper photographer whose credits include being part of a Pulitzer-prize winning team at the Los Angeles Times, and a long-time photographer in Arizona, Mr. Galvez spoke Monday afternoon at Mount Mercy University. It was an appearance sponsored by the Spanish Club, but also part of our Fall Faculty Series called “Building Walls, Building Bridges: The U.S. as an Immigrant Nation.”


José Galvez

As he read prepared remarks, his images flashed across the projected screen. He is a traditional photographer—film, with images printed in black and white.

To him, digital cameras make photographers lazy. He calls his digital camera his “Facebook camera,” and he still carries the film cameras to make images of American Hispanic life where he can find it.

His presentation made me a bit nostalgic for a time when boys would hang around newsrooms and journalism was a tradition often ingrained in the next generation by long association. Even though he had to go to college to become a photojournalist, nonetheless his roots are in that sort of apprentice tradition.

I get what he is saying about photographs. It required a bit more skill to use film—judging the light, thinking about aperture and f-stop, knowing there were only 36 frames on a roll and not wanting to waste any one.

I was a newspaper writer and editor. Also a photographer, but never a photojournalist—it was a sidelight to my writing. I think I was good at it, but I’m more of a wordsmith than a maker of images.

Still, I think that, besides the commitment that film required, the other attribute “old school” photographers have is storytelling—a sort of narrative sense. That you don’t just make pictures to get images, but you make pictures that have heart and soul and express something about the world you experience.


José Galvez holds up one of his film cameras. He says he loves speaking at universities where students still use film and develop photos in darkrooms.

And there is an advantage to black and white. I haven’t worked in black and white for more than 20 years—but it forced you to think of light and shadow and shape in a way that color and digital photograph don’t.

It was a pleasure to listen to José Galvez. I’m glad our Spanish professor, Dr. Belkis Squarz, arranged for his appearance. Perhaps 30 people heard him speak—and there should have been more.

Still, it was an interesting presentation. And I loved seeing the world again in black and white. It almost made me smell the fixer.

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Filed under Journalism, Mount Mercy

Mercy Week & Mother Nature


Father Tony Adawu talking about Pope Francis and Mercy. My wife, a nursing faculty member and OB nurse, was impressed Francis clearly knows how to hold a baby.

Here we go again. Just at the end of Mercy Week 2016, as we celebrate Mount Mercy’s heritage as a Sisters of Mercy institution, we have a reminder that the Sisters of Mercy take an extra vow—a vow of service. So service is part of the ethos of MMU.

In 2008, when devastating floods destroyed neighborhoods, Mount Mercy became a staging area for Iowa National Guard troops called in to help with the disaster. But that flood took place in summer—we’re facing the Flood of 2016 in the midst of a semester.

The good news, knock on wood, is the crest is not expected to reach the 2008 level. But it will be bad, and it will do some damage to some culturally important parts of Cedar Rapids—Czech Village and New Bo, for example.

And one reason that the Flood of 2016 might not be as devastating as 2008 is whole areas wiped out by the earlier flood have left empty patches of land where once vibrant neighborhoods stood.

In eight years, lots of plans have been slowly made to protect Cedar Rapids from flooding, but little has been done. Here’s hoping Mother Nature shows us some mercy—may this be a “brush-back pitch” that gives us fair warning, rather than the gut punch that 2008 was. And may it spur government, especially the federal government which provides the most finding for flood protection and must approve plans, into action.

Anyway, Mercy Week continued on campus today, with several fine events. In a morning class, which had three sections combined for the presentation, Sister Jeanne Christensen from Kansas City spoke about human trafficking, and showed this video.

She noted that trafficking can impact anybody, and can involve enslaving another person through three strategies: Force, often physical abuse; fraud, making false promises; and coercion, or various kinds of threats, such as threatening to embarrass someone by revealing their secrets.

One theme of her presentation is that local law enforcement often treats the virtual slaves engaged in sex trade as criminals, when they need help and treatment. As the woman in the video said of her own experience: “Being arrested over and over again did nothing, absolutely nothing.”

Anyway, at least the woman in the video was able to escape from her pimp. Sister Jeanne brought home the reality that slavery is not really something we left behind in history, but rather is something that has become a modern, shadowy reality.


Sister Jeanne Christensen speaks to three 8 a.m. classes. By being there, she said, “We have all earned sainthood.”

The mood was lighter at lunch today when Father Tony Adawu spoke of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church’s Year of Mercy. He had us write down who we would want to show mercy to—and at the end noted few of us had included ourselves.

“It’s OK to be merciful with yourself,” he said. Well, that’s a relief, because I managed to accidentally erase a whole bunch of very fine images I shot of Mercy Week events today—I copied them to my computer without realizing I had files of the same name, and when the computer asked if I wanted to copy over the old files, I said “no.” I assumed I had accidentally copied the files twice and formatted my SD card before I checked.

Ouch. Mercy me.

Anyway, sadly many of the gone images were of the Peace March that took place at 11:30, but at least I posted two of those images before the fiasco. I lost some good ones—I really liked a few I shot at the end after the group reach the Peace Pole, but there’s not use crying over spilled pixels, especially when an impending flood helps make little tragedies seem appropriately tiny.


Freshman Kasey Kaimann, who wrote a op/ed reflection on today’s presentation for the MMU Times. And, Times reporters note–she was done with her story by 4 p.m. Just saying.

Back to Father Tony—to illustrate Mercy, he talked about a man in his home town in Ghana, Kwesi Essel Koomson, recognized girls in the town had little educational opportunities. He was a driving force in setting up a new girls’ school, and in coming up with a financial incentive so that local fishing families would send their daughters to school rather than off to work.

Sadly, Koomson grew sick and died a few years ago, but the school is continuing the grow, Father Tony noted.

Well, it’s good to know that parts of stories sometimes turn out well. I hope that is the case with the Flood of 2016—may it turn out to be less than we fear and puny compared to 2008. Inevitably, though, it will hurt some. May we find ways to show them mercy.

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Music & Previews of Coming Attractions


Bells ring in Chapel of Mercy–two members of MMU Hand Bell Ensemble.

Tonight was a combination event that had all kinds of interesting ingredients, like a fusion restaurant.

This is “Mercy & Mission Week” at Mount Mercy University, and events this week are meant to remind us of and tie us with our heritage as an institution founded by the Sisters of Mercy. And tonight there was a “Poems, Promises, Music & Immigrant Stories” event in the Chapel of Mercy which was both a Mercy Week event and listed as part of our Fall Faculty Series.

It was an interesting show. Music was provided by the MMU Hand Bell Ensemble—which was nice to hear, although it’s too bad I’ve had to give up my participation in that crew. Miss you ringers, you sounded great!

There was also Jonny Lipford, who plays and teaches the music of various wooden native-style flutes. Several of them were two-in-one or three-in-one instruments—meaning flutes with more than one body—which means he harmonized with himself and sounded like a flute group.

The local choir Ingenzi, made up of Africans from various countries performing in their native languages, was pretty amazing—and harmonizing—too. They had some trouble finding the Chapel of Mercy, and thus ended up being the final act, but it was quite a final act.


Members of Ingenzi, above and below.


And Father Tony Adawu, our MMU resident priest, spontaneously became part of the music, singing an African song and showing us a dance that goes with it.


Fr. Tony and audience dance.

I liked the music, but two speakers really stood out to me. Immigrant stories were shared by Gabriel Hernandez Acosta, a senior who is in his final semester, and Dr. Ayman Amer, our economics professor.

Dr. Amer told several compelling anecdotes—how his neighbors in Cedar Rapids acted instinctively to ensure his family was safe in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, how a wealthy business person in New York City—which he always had seen as the least friendly place on Earth—helped him the first day he was in the U.S., and also of his seeing snow for the first time that day.


Dr. Ayman Amer shares a few stories of coming to America from Egypt.

Snow! That story touched me personally. Dr. Amer described it as looking magical that first day in January in New York City. His story took me back to when I was a boy and our family moved from California to Iowa. Snow, if you had only seen it on TV, was indeed a magical and strange thing to actually see falling from the sky for the first time. (We moved in August, so it was a few months before I saw snow—but it still made quite an impression on me.)

Anyway, I think the whole night was most highlighted by Gabriel Hernandez Acosta, who told of his illegal journey to the U.S. as a 6-year-old. His story was well-told. It went well with the art he displayed, and both he and Dr. Amer are scheduled to speak again later as part of our fall series.


Gabriel Hernandez Acosta–speaker and also events staff for tonight’s presentation.

Hernandez Acosta will be a key speaker at the Oct. 15 “Our Immigrant Stories: Coming to Cedar Rapids and Mount Mercy,” a special community day that will feature multiple presentations. He will be a highlight of one of the highlights of our whole series, and hearing him tonight, he’s fully capable of pulling that off.

image-of-logo-colorDr. Amer will speak Nov. 15 on “The Dollars and Sense of It: What Immigration Does to our Economy.” He will also, as part of that presentation, share part of his personal story. And by the preview tonight, he has quite a few personal anecdotes to share.

About 70 people attended the concert tonight—a good turnout. I hope you were there—but if not, come to hear two of tonight’s speakers on Oct. 15 and Nov. 15. And check out all of the other events in our Fall Faculty Series.

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