Immigrant Moms of Legislators Share What They Love About Iowa

They came to Iowa knowing very little—or nothing—about what to expect.

But once they were here, Hala Abumaizer-Scheetz, Kineret Zabner and Dr. Geetha Srinivas found kindness and community that has kept them in Iowa, even with other (less snowy) options out there.

Abumaizer-Scheetz, Zabner and Srinivas are the mothers of Reps. Sami Scheetz, Adam Zabner and Dr. Megan Srinivas, respectively. They came together Tuesday night at the Iowa Unity Coalition to talk about their experiences as immigrants, how they feel seeing their children involved in politics, and what keeps them in Iowa.

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‘I always felt welcome’

All three first came to Iowa because they were chasing opportunity.

For Zabner, her husband got a job in Iowa City which moved them from Venezuela. For Abumaizer-Scheetz, she was 19 and pursuing education at Coe College.

For Srinivas, their family was looking for a place to settle and start their careers, but also somewhere where the family’s values of family, community and education were prioritized.

“And Iowa was No. 1 in education,” Srinivas said. “Of course, Iowa wasn’t a diversity capital of the world, but it had values that aligned with our values.”

All of the women talked about the opportunities being in Iowa allowed them to have, and allowed them to give to their children.

Zabner said she was able to let her kids play outside and leave the house unlocked without having to worry about their safety or security. She said the openness was easy to get used to.

“We bought this house and we lived in it for 23 years,” she said. “We didn’t have keys to the house. When we sold the house, we had to make keys so we could give the new owner the keys to the house.”

Zabner said she always felt able to share her culture, too.

“I was really welcome at the school to talk about the Jewish holidays, to talk about Venezuela, to bring Jewish food, to bring Venezuelan food,” she said. “I always felt really, really welcome.”

‘I have seen the generosity’

Abumaizer-Scheetz remembered her first Thanksgiving in America: As an international student, she and other students were invited to a faculty member’s house to celebrate, and she said that was a clear moment she remembers witnessing the welcoming spirit in Iowa.

And it’s a key reason why she’s still here, she said.

“Whatever politics is happening in Iowa, it is still Iowans that make Iowa the way that it is,” Abumaizer-Scheetz said.

She’s traveled around the country and met people from every region and she said people just aren’t the same as they are in Iowa, and she wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Srinivas had similar stories, and said the key to making these connections is people being willing to open up.

“I have seen the generosity. I have seen the friendship of people,” she said. “Many times, I think we have to make our own move to make people understand. Many times, I think they are also hesitant. There is also hesitancy because they don’t know how you are going to take it. So when they see that you are willing to take [help], you are willing to give, I think people open up.”

‘Differences will lead to progress’

Abumaizer-Scheetz said one downside is the expectation that immigrants are the only ones who should learn about their new culture.

Being from the Middle East, she said she often felt like a representative of her culture, especially as a woman who went overseas for education when she was 19, and she wishes more people were curious about where she’s from.

All three acknowledged that things have changed and Iowa isn’t as welcoming as it once was. But they said they’re still encouraged by other Iowans and by their children getting into politics to make their communities better, especially because they’ve always been problem solvers.

“He [Adam] was the kid who, in third grade, didn’t come home to complain—he went to the principal to talk to the principal and do whatever he had to do,” Zabner said.

Srinivias said Megan was always looking for opportunities to volunteer or be involved. Abumaizer-Scheetz said Sami has been paying attention to politics for his whole life, and she used their background and travel to encourage him to have a broad point of view.

Srinivas said she can already see a positive change in Iowa simply by looking at the multicultural, gender-diverse makeup of the people at the Capitol—very different, she said, from when she first moved here 30 years ago.

“When you have more people that look different, that talk different, that think different, those cultural differences will lead to progress,” she said. “And when deleterious policies are coming out of the Capitol, it’s discouraging.

“But at the same time, when we are working hard with all our efforts, we are making small changes.”


Nikoel Hytrek

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