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THE REGULARS: A look at how immigration has influenced Iowa

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A week ago Friday, I met one of my cousins for breakfast.

Lisa was on her way to North Dakota to see a state she had not been to. Her rule is that if she does not remember it from her childhood, it does not count.

Visiting with her made me stop and think about how many counties I have been to in Iowa and how many states I have seen and if I remember something about them. My travels in Iowa have taken me to nearly every one. There are a couple in north central Iowa that I have not been to and I will make it a point to get to them in the next year or two. As I travel, I am reminded how pretty Iowa is, and how lucky I am to traverse across the state on a regular basis.

Traveling from Des Moines on I-80 last month, I watched with interest as the sun was coming up. Through some dissipating rain clouds, the fields of beans and corn were absolutely gorgeous. It was exciting and memorable to see such beauty with the splash of light was cascading upon the crops.

It's also interesting how we differ as a state from one corner to the next. In my opinion, culturally we are a little different in this part of northwest Iowa versus north of here in the Dutch- and German-influenced counties. Seeing the difference in architecture, traditions, foods and events is intriguing and enjoyable. Have you ever wondered how Iowa became so different from one area to another? It’s all due to immigrants from various countries settling in Iowa in the 1800s.

Germans, for instance, settled in many counties throughout the state including northwest Iowa. Remsen in Plymouth County was one township that German and Luxembourg immigrants called home. They retained their traditions of deep religious faith and loyal, energetic, hard-working and fun-loving style. They contributed to the building of America and were quick to respond whenever Uncle Sam called on citizens for service.

In the early 1900s, Iowans of German ancestry comprised the largest portion of Iowa’s immigration pool, especially in rural areas. In the 1920s, half of the farmers were of German descent.

Le Mars is proud to tout its British heritage. Its cultural and social growth is because of the English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh. The industrialization can be attributed to the mostly to the German and Dutch. By 1880, Le Mars had a high profile among the British. It was the most well-known city in the United States other then New York City and Chicago.

British immigrants flocked to Le Mars where golf was first introduced west of the Mississippi. Polo teams were formed and competed as far away as Minneapolis and St. Louis.

British families sent their second and third sons to learn to be gentleman farmers. With the influx came familiar pasttimes:  steeple chasing, tobogganing, sledding and riding the hounds.

Holland was the original name of Orange City as a way to honor the Dutch royalty. When I went to Holland in 1969, I wanted to buy a pair of wooden shoes. Stopping in a store that made the shoes, I explained to the proprietor what I wanted. Looking at me, he asked if I knew where Orange City was. Of course I said yes, and that it was not too far north of where I lived. Then, he told me to buy the shoes there, I would get a better fit. So I did.

As immigrants settled in Iowa and did not know or speak English, May 23, 1918, Governor William Harding proclaimed a ban on the use of all languages other then English in public, including churches, schools and telephone conversations. Everyone was guaranteed free speech as long as it was in English.

The Proclamation affected more then the German immigrants, Danes, Norwegians, Dutch and other foreign-speaking immigrants in Iowa. Ironically, the English-only proclamation banned Meskwakis from speaking the Algonquian dialect they had spoken centuries before Iowa’s first English speakers arrived. The irony of this is that it occurred as the Choctaw men were engaged at the front lines of World War II, using their language skills to thwart German attempts to hack Allied lines of communication.

Today, the United States has more immigrants then any other country in the world. The population of immigrants is very diverse with about every country in the world represented.

Immigration accounts for 13.7% of the U.S. population.


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