Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Writer's Workshop

Montezuma Record publisher Chuck Dunham has suddenly become Iowa's best-known writer for his politically incorrect correction of Stephen Bloom's claim that Iowa lacks diversity:
Hyphenated, unspellable, and oriental names may get you the big bucks
Or maybe Dunham's stereotypes just reinforced Bloom's stereotypes.

The salary publication is fair enough. Here in Iowa City the Press-Citizen prints public salaries, even my government union goon hourly rate, annually. I grew up expecting that as a son of public employees, and anyway the most important thing about Dad's job headed its own special section of the paper ("ONALASKA BEATS HOLMEN ON GAME-ENDING BASKET").

But the subtext is of course what matters here. This one subhead in the middle of a University salary list encapsulates the xenophobic, don't make me press 1 for English mindset that makes Steve King a "mainstream" figure and endangers serious efforts at immigration reform.

It also captures the attitude toward the University out in the non-metro counties, the places that are losing population while just a tiny handful are growing. A vibrant, world-class institution that benefits the entire state? Nope. Furriners and hyphenated woman's libbers taking our money.

That subtext comes into sharper relief in Dunham's interview with James Lynch, where Dunham says: “In lily-white Iowa it does seem they ("Orientals") are over-represented compared to the rest of the population.”

Oh. I see. A lily-white state needs a lily-white faculty? “If I had found on that list Hans Jorgenson, Jan Jorgenson, Lars Jorgenson, and Eric Jorgenson, I would have noticed it. But it wasn’t there.” Looks like our diversity outreach needs a stronger Scandinavian component. Henceforth faculty recruiting will begin in Decorah, and the Writer's Workshop will include "Ya Can Tell A Swede But Ya Can't Tell Him Much: Advanced Seminar on Ole and Lena Jokes."

(Since I'm from Iowa City and thus I'm supposed to be PC, pleeeeease note that I'm picking on my own heritage here.)
As a fellow writer, I can tell Dunham is in a slump, so here's some tips to shake things up a little.
I don't know Montezuma well, but here's an interesting demographic fact: Poweshiek County is one of the few places in the state where the county seat is overshadowed by a much larger city. (Nevada in Story County, and I'm told Dakota City in Humboldt, would be the others.) Grinnell, with its liberal student population, is several times the size of Montezuma. So you can see where there might be a bit of anti-academia resentment.

Dunham was a Republican legislative candidate back during my first stretch of journalism in 1990, when I got to both interview him AND vote against him. Back then the state senate district stretched from Coralville west to Grinnell. Dunham bragged that he was spending only $4 on his campaign. He no doubt spent many times that by using his own print shop for the campaign, but he made a big deal out of that $4 number and sent out press releases on the back side of rejected photocopies. Dunham lost a landslide, but given King's later success maybe he was just ahead of the curve.

“The relatively high numbers of employees with names from Asia and the Near East is interesting," opines Dunham. "While there are SMiths [sic] and Jones, there are eleven Ahmeds to only 30 Browns."

That's the growth in Iowa, and if you look below the tenured faculty and football coach salary level, you see the even greater growth in the Garcias and Gonzalezeseses.  We're becoming a multicultural America, a multicultural Iowa, and yes even a multi-lingual Iowa. Difference is, here in Iowa City and increasingly in places like West Liberty and Columbus Junction, we know that's a GOOD thing.

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