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What It Means To Find Home In Iowa

This program originally aired on 9-27-19

All this week, Talk of Iowa has explored the question “Iowa: Is this home?” On the final episode of this Iowa Week series, six stories of finding, or perhaps not finding, home from Iowans originally from other parts of the country and the globe.

Rachelle Chase moved a lot as a child and for a long time she chose to have a nomadic lifestyle as an adult, too. She wasn't looking for it, but somehow she found a home here in Iowa thanks to a ghost town. Chase is a writer of romance novels and two nonfiction books about Buxton, Iowa a fully racially integrated coal mining community that thrived in the early part of the 20th century. Her books are Lost Buxton and Creating the Black Utopia of Buxton, Iowa.

“For the first time, I started to really get to know a place that I’ve lived in.” Chase says. “I’ve never gotten to know the history of places I’ve lived in and the people as much as I’ve gotten to know the people here in Iowa.”

Shihabedin Ali moved to Iowa City in 2003 from Dallas, Texas. Ali is origionally from Sudan, and says Iowa City’s rich Sudanese community and the roots put down by his wife and three children have given him a sense of home.

“When I’m among Sudanese people, even if I don’t know them and they don’t know me, they welcome you,” Ali says. “They help you unload your stuff and their wives are preparing you food. And immediately, you feel a connection.”

Iowa’s meat packing industry brought Karla Alvarez-Ledesma to Iowa, after her family was recruited in California to work with Iowa Beef Processors, now known as Tyson Fresh Meats, in Columbus Junction. Alvarez-Ledesma’s family is originally from Mexico, and planned to only stay in state for a few years. Thirty years later, Karla and much of her family still call Iowa home, and miss it when they’re away. Even so, Alvarez-Ledesma says the political climate surrounding immigration does occasionally impact her experience.

“Especially whenever I am speaking Spanish with other colleagues or other friends, I see the stares of people,” Alvarez-Ledesma says. Nevertheless, she feels rooted in Iowa City. “Whenever I travel internationally… after a couple of weeks I get home sick, and I want to come back to Iowa. This is what I consider my home.”

It was love and land that drew Alfonso Valenzuela-Gumocio to Iowa. He’s originally from Chile, but lived near San Francisco for 27 years before deciding to move to Iowa. Now as a realtor he spends a lot of time helping other people make their Iowa dreams come true, just as he and his husband did when they found their perfect farm home in Carlisle.

“You start making friends very fast. You go to town to have a beer at one of the local restaurants and you start meeting more and more people,” Valenzuela-Gumocio says. “I’m talking to the people right next to me over dinner and I started feeling that sense of community right away. People were very engaging.”

Many have found a home in Iowa, but for some Iowa is just a place to live. For Destinee Gwee, that’s the way it feels. She moved to Iowa City from Southern California just before she turned 14, and just in time to start high school. She’s now a medical student at the University of Iowa and says the state has never quite felt like home.

“When I’m on campus in the medical school, I do feel safe and comfortable. Such a diverse population makes up the medical community compared to the general population in Iowa City,” Gwee says. “People in Iowa are very nice, but there are just small things every day that I think people don’t realize, but remind you that you don’t belong. That you’re different.”

Jim Coppoc, on the other hand, has found his forever home in Iowa. He lives in Ames with his two sons, where he’s found a home in the creative music, poetry, and theater environment fostered in the community.

“It didn’t matter where I turned. If I wanted to do some theater stuff, I could be on the board of the community theater and start a Shakespeare group. If I wanted to do poetry I could start a slam. And everything I wanted to do was supported,” Coppoc says. “From bottom to top, everyone pulls together, and everyone supports each other... I don’t know the roots of it, but it’s real and it’s here and it’s sustainable, it’s been going on as long as I’ve been in Iowa and I have found it anywhere else that I’ve been.”

Katelyn Harrop is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa