Remember, Our Ancestors Were Immigrants, Too

An important anniversary slipped by unnoticed recently. That milestone is a significant reminder beyond just the passage of time, however.

Before I get to that, here’s some background:

On February 17, 1843 — 175 years ago this winter — Davis County was carved out of the territory along the Missouri border. It would be almost four years before Iowa became a state.

When Davis County came into being, my Evans ancestors had been living there for three years. They unhitched their wagons in 1840 after deciding those 500 square miles of mostly hilly ground were a fine place to make a living and raise their families.

When the census first counted the residents of Davis County after statehood, there were 7,204 inhabitants. By 1880, the census counted 16,468 people.

Those people who poured into Bloomfield and Davis County came for the same reasons my ancestors did: They saw economic opportunity. The saw jobs they could perform or businesses they could operate.

When the first settlers crossed into what now is Iowa, however, they shoved aside the Native Americans who had occupied this land for generations.

This same story is playing out across Iowa and throughout the United States today. Instead of the settlers being mainly Caucasian, the influx of new residents these days are black- and brown-skinned people who are looking for the same things Davis County’s first settlers wanted.

But today, instead of the new residents shoving aside the people already here, the influx is blending in — working next to us, sending their kids to the schools our children attend, and hoping, just as we do, that we can provide our families with a better life than our parents had.

I was reminded about this by a couple of newspaper articles reinforcing that all of us are more alike than different.

The Storm Lake Times reported recently on Matthew Marroquin, a Storm Lake High School senior, earning a spot in the state speech festival. His speech was titled “A Boy and a Girl.”

He told about a boy and a girl from El Salvador, who grew up during the civil war that tore their Central America country apart and left boys and girls, and adults, too, fearing for their lives.

The boy walked miles to the river every morning to fill a 50-pound jug with water for his family. Then he would get his younger siblings ready for school. But his schooling ended at the ninth grade because his family needed him to work and help provide for the family’s needs.

Soon, the boy was faced with being drafted by the corrupt government military or being scooped up by guerrillas. He knew he must leave to avoid becoming a statistic of the war.

The girl often hid in the woods to avoid soldiers who would grab girls off the street and abuse or kill them.

Both the boy and the girl knew they needed to get to the United States if they wanted to live and work without constant fear for their lives.

And so, it came to pass that the two crossed the border — the girl, after obtaining the necessary legal papers, the boy after climbing the fence and dashing into California. He later obtained a work permit that allowed him to legally remain in the U.S.

The boy and the girl met on a bus in California. Their friendship led to marriage, to jobs in a safe place called Storm Lake, Iowa, and the arrival of children — including a son named Matthew.

Another article also showed how the present really is a reminder of our nation’s past. The article was about Rosa Sabido, better known as Rosa the Tamale Lady in southwest Colorado.

She has been in in the United States for 30 years without the proper legal documents. She obtained visa to come from Mexico to visit her mother and stepfather, both naturalized U.S. citizens who live in Cortez, Colo.

When her visa expired, Sabido stayed in Cortez. She tried without success for 25 years to get permission to become a citizen, too.

The federal government was content with allowing her to remain in Colorado to look after her aging parents as long as she checked in regularly with the government immigration office. Last May, however, the government informed her she would be deported.

The 53-year-old unmarried woman was working — and yes, paying taxes, too — as a church secretary in Cortez. She supplemented her income by making and selling tamales around Cortez and Mancos.

Faced with deportation, Sabido accepted the Mancos United Methodist Church’s invitation to take sanctuary inside the church. She has remained in a converted classroom since last June — in keeping with a longstanding federal policy to avoid immigration enforcement actions inside churches.

Initially, Sabido’s presence in the church caused friction in town. But Methodist pastor Craig Paschal reminded people that America has a long history of unjust laws and told his flock it is the duty of Christians to stand with “the outcast.”

As more people learned of Rosa Sabido’s predicament, support for her cause grew. Some now call her “our Rosa Parks” — a reference to the civil rights leader who disobeyed a law in 1955 that prohibited blacks from sitting in the front of city buses in Montgomery, Ala.

Rosa Parks became an icon in the civil rights movement. Her law-breaking ultimately helped bring an end to unjust laws across the South that targeted blacks.

Who is to say that Rosa Sabido’s civil disobedience, and the support from a Methodist congregation in a community half the size of Bloomfield, won’t be a similar watershed moment in U.S. history.

After all, Rosa the Tamale Lady isn’t wanting anything more or less than Rosa Parks wanted or that those Evans ancestors wanted when they settled in Davis County.


by Randy Evans
Photo via Flickr
Posted 4/11/18

4 Comments on "Remember, Our Ancestors Were Immigrants, Too"

  • Thank you so much for this powerful and needed story, Randy. Hopefully it will contribute to the kind of social revolution that we desperately need in our time.


  • Unfortunately today we now have laws governing how someone is to become a citizen of this country, period ! Why cant you say Mr. Evans that our laws on migration are unjust, or need to be suspended, or changed to justify acceptance of anyone wishing to come here . But your whole argument is that people wish to come for a better life, period ! I think the world is full of humans wishing for bettering their lives . Because of ever growing populations, some kind of order through laws has been initiated in one form or another everywhere in the world . What you suggest is no order or law other than the wish for a better life, which I believe is a desire not a law ! If you are advocating for a desire for a better life with out regard for law, then say what you mean and have the courage to own it !

  • Excellent and timely reminder to all. Bring’s to mind Jesus words of you without sin cast the first stone. There was a lot of silence then too.

  • I don’t support unlimited immigration any more than I support no immigration. I believe we need to reform our current broken immigration system with the full understanding that it won’t be possible to come up with a system that will satisfy every person in this country. Nor would it be wise to admit every person around the world who wants to live here. The best we can hope for is a system with reasonable compromises. Unfortunately, reasonable compromise is exactly what our political system seems to be unable to accomplish now.

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