When: Wednesday, May 4th @ 12:00pm - 1:30pm
Where: Online via Zoom
Speakers: Cristina Ortiz, Caleb Knutson,Art Cullen, Cara McFerren
The ICFRC has hosted the series, Refugees and Immigrants in Iowa, as a catalyst for discussing issues that could lead to positive social change in our state, both for new residents, and those who have been here for years or even decades. We believe the experiences and the stories shared by refugees and immigrants can and should inform public policy–creating the kind of discussions that can provide valuable information for policymakers, and the general public. Stories of lived experiences, including those shared during the series, are most compelling when they echo what is already happening in communities across Iowa. In this final session of the 6-part series, the panel will discuss how perceptions and policies about diversity and inclusion at the local level have evolved, and the part refugees and immigrants have played in this evolution. These new residents have discovered new opportunities for personal and professional growth and they have provided a needed workforce to support economic development in many of these communities, as well as a vibrancy of culture that benefits the community and the state. This panel will showcase the efforts of business and community leaders in towns such as Columbus Junction, Marshalltown, Storm Lake, and West Liberty, who are striving to create a thriving inclusiveness for this new diversity, precipitated by the arrival of refugee and immigrant populations. They will share what has gone well in their respective towns, the difficulties they have overcome, and the challenges each continues to face. Panelists will also offer their views on how policymakers in Des Moines might look to Iowa's most diverse towns to help create new welcoming and inclusive policies to support the state’s growing reputation as a place refugees and immigrants seek to call home.
Cristina Ortiz is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota Morris where she also contributes to the Latin American Area Studies and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies programs. Her research interests began as an effort to understand her own heritage as the grandchild of Mexican-American migrant workers who settled in the Midwest. She is broadly interested in issues of rurality, belonging, ethnic identities, labor, and migration. Her research explores the everyday experiences of rural Midwesterners with a particular focus on communities with Latinx and immigrant residents.
Art Cullen is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, editor of The Storm Lake Times (a family-run weekly newspaper in small-town Iowa), and author of the new book, Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper. Art has made it his life’s work to ask the big questions, speak truth to power, and share the struggles and successes of his unique community of Storm Lake, Iowa (Census pop. 10,076). His new book is part cultural history, part memoir — it explores the themes of family, community, immigration and diversity, the meaning of home, and the Heartland’s turbulent history and promising progressive future. Drawing from the stories of one special small town on the “broken prairie,” and his family’s perspectives from their small-town newspaper business, Art hopes to inspire a broader sense of dialogue, renewal and understanding of rural places. In politically divisive times, when Americans from Red States and Blue States often feel estranged from each other, Art Cullen’s book attempts to show an optimistic way forward — that there is still abundant hope in the Heartland. This is a book that America needs now, written by a small-town newspaper editor who has earned journalism’s highest honor.
Caleb Knutson was born in Tegucigalpa (Honduras), and grew up in rural Iowa. Currently he is the Senior Planner for Mid-Iowa Planning Alliance. Caleb and his wife also operate their family’s startup coffee shop in Story City. At Iowa State University, he studied Criminology and Criminal Justice, as well as Community and Regional Planning. Presently Caleb serves on the Empower Rural Iowa Grow Task Force, Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs, the Iowa American Planning Association (APA) Board and the Iowa APA DEI Committee for which he is the Co-Chair. He resides in rural Hardin county with Anjuleah (Spouse), and their three children, three cats, one Chinese Dwarf hamster, one chocolate lab, and 0 Fish (RIP Lightning). When Caleb isn't working he enjoys coaching his children in various sports, introducing them to “new” music, and building Star Wars Lego sets. His motto comes from Kawhi Leonard: Board man gets paid.
Cara McFerren is an artist, business woman, wife, mother, elected official, and third generation Mexican-American. Born in the Midwest, she grew up in Davenport Iowa. In 1992, McFerren received her BFA from the College of Design at Iowa State University in Ames In 1997, she and her husband moved to West Liberty, thereby beginning their journey into small-town rural living. Presently, they have been very busy raising a son and operating their own business, Cardinal Sign & Graphics, a vinyl graphics company. In 2015, McFerren was the first Mexican-American woman to be elected to West Liberty’s city council. In 2019, she was elected for a second term. She is one of five council members, all at-large, and, as of 2021, a member of Iowa's first city council to have a majority of Latino members.