Rosario: The Iowa GOP has become complicit with racism, xenophobia

I’ve dealt with anti-immigrant attacks at the grocery store, but I never thought such rhetoric would be implicitly accepted by state politicians.


Margaret Kispert

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, speaks at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition in Des Moines on Sept. 27, 2014.

Isabella Rosario, Opinion Columnist

I was born and raised in Davenport by two immigrant parents. Especially since starting college, I have realized how much I truly love this state. I love taking in Iowa’s natural beauty — the prairies and the rolling hills and the bluffs. I love the normalcy of chatting with a stranger in the grocery-store checkout. I loved growing up with a feeling of community, even living in the state’s third largest city.

And yet, as an Asian American, I also know what it’s like to be told I don’t belong in the home that I love. While I’ve encountered many kind strangers in grocery-store checkout lines, I’ve also been glared at and harassed. “Go back to your country,” strangers sometimes yell but usually mutter so nobody else can hear. This is a reality I have known — loving a place that does not always embrace me — since I was in elementary school, when I was called a “chink” by a girl even smaller than me. 

But I never felt that those who represent me in government were passive to that racist, anti-immigrant sentiment. Until now.

To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to state politics until I turned 18 more than two years ago. I hadn’t heard of Rep. Steve King and his controversial comments until then. I won’t talk about his supporters in this article, whom I wrote about last week. I think too much time is spent chastising them instead of trying to understand them. At the end of the day, they do not represent me.

But Gov. Kim Reynolds, who maintained King as her campaign chair — a man who has said “diversity is not our strength” and retweeted Neo-Nazis — does.

I can’t be held responsible for everyone’s comments. I can be held responsible for myself,” Reynolds said last month after King defended a far-right Austrian party founded by a former SS Nazi officer. 

And two days before the election, Sen. Chuck Grassley gave King an enthusiastic video endorsement. He cited King’s support of the farm bill, wind energy, and tax cuts for small businesses.

“All these things are important to Iowans, and Iowans need him because his first concern is representing Iowans,” Grassley said.

Overall, the Iowa GOP has endorsed King or remained silent about his remarks. Numerous corporations and the National Republican Congressional Committee have withdrawn their financial support, however.

Grassley says King’s first concern is representing Iowans. But King’s belief that “we can’t restore our civilization with someone else’s babies” makes me question how faithfully he will represent the growing population of immigrants in his district and their babies. They are Iowans, too. 

RELATED: Rosario: Steve King is racist, but his supporters don’t think so

Being anti-immigrant is not an inherently Republican platform, despite being one that Iowa has now passively embraced. In the past, “Iowa Nice” has extended to welcoming outsiders. This is most clearly seen in the legacy of former Republican Gov. Bob Ray, who died in July at age 89. Ray famously opened the state’s borders to around 10,000 Southeast Asian refugees in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the only U.S. governor to respond to letters from the Tai Dam, a minority ethnic group, who later settled in Iowa.

As I said, I love this state. But as those in power hold fast to their ties with Iowa’s most hateful politician, I can’t help but think it is straying from its values. I won’t argue for why immigrants and their families deserve to be here, because we just do. Iowa Republicans have ashamedly stood by a politician who has all but said that we don’t. 

RELATED: Column: Rep. Steve King retweets Nazi sympathizer, Iowa GOP unconcerned 

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