Iowa, immigration, and the best show I've watched this year

20 Nov 2020

Blog, Letter from the CEO

“Be curious, not judgmental.”


That quote, Apocryphally attributed to Walt Whitman, became the through line for one of the very best scenes of Season 1 of the “Ted Lasso,” comedy series about a small-college American football coach who moves to England to take over a Premier League soccer team.


If you have access to AppleTV and haven’t watched “Ted Lasso,” please do so. It is warm, cheering, traditional if somewhat vulgar, and very funny—the perfect antidote to 2020.


As for the quasi-Whitman quote, it came back to me in a new light Wednesday during the Iowa Lakes Corridor Development Corporation’s Quarterly Investor Meeting. Our guest speaker was Carlos Argüello, a Nicaragua native and University of Northern Iowa alum who was part of the first Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute class back in 2006.


Argüello’s latest venture, Latino IQ, helps businesses and organizations connect with Latinos. His opening statistics were striking. Iowa’s Latino population has grown some 140 percent since 2000, to 200,000 people. That number will more than double in the next 30 years. In 2050, Latinos will make up 20 percent of the state. Perhaps the most striking comparison: The median age of a Latino in Iowa is 23.7, compared to 38.5 for the state as a whole.


But what brought me back to Whitman and Ted Lasso came later in Argüello’s comments. While his comments were nuanced, I’ll paraphrase them this way: Spanish-language signs on the shop floor and Spanish-language forms from HR are not enough. Welcoming companies and communities have welcoming cultures. And part of being welcoming is having a genuine interest in the backgrounds, customs and beliefs of others, Latinos included.


“Be curious, not judgmental.”


This is a vital message for our region. Are we like the fellows who used to underestimate Ted Lasso: “They thought they had everything figured out so they judged everything and judged everyone.” Of course not. Iowans have our faults, but one of them is not thinking we have everything figured out. We’re too self-deprecating for that.


On the other hand, we can be quiet about our curiosity. Rather than asking a question, we let uncertainty linger until our imaginations swell up and fill the gaps with misinformation.


As Argüello’s statistics make clear, there will be a great many new arrivals to Iowa in the next few decades. The rest of us will be challenged to demonstrate genuine curiosity about and compassion for them. Perhaps that’s another reason to watch “Ted Lasso.” There’s a lot to be learned from imagining ourselves in his soccer “boots,” swallowing tea when he wants coffee, leading “training” instead of practice, and somehow smiling amid the struggles of making a new life thousands of miles from home. 


NOTE: For those who were unable to attend, a recording of the Iowa Lakes Corridor’s Quarterly Investor Meeting will be available soon.