CROSSING OVER

Preface

Preface by Robert Ray, Governor of Iowa, 1969-1983

Robert Ray

In 1979, my wife Billie and I visited refugee camps in Thailand, including one through which most Laotians and Tai Dam would pass while en route to resettlement somewhere else in the world.

We were greeted with incredible warmth, including signs of welcome and cheers. Then, we were led by some of the refugee elders to a small thatched-roof hut that served as the camp office. The refugees said they wanted to show us the map of what came across, in translation, as their "promised land." We didn't know what to expect.

As they ushered us into this small, flimsy building, suddenly, there it was before our eyes, affixed to the unstable wall: the Iowa Department of Transportation official state map, and all across that map pins with red and blue heads were stuck, each one signifying where a Tai Dam or Lao family was already resettled, each one signifying where an Iowa family, church, or organization had opened their hearts and homes to welcome a refugee family and help them begin new lives in freedom.

The refugees at that camp in Thailand had but one impassioned plea to us that day: "Please, let us come to Iowa." The stories that had been sent back to their camp from relatives who had preceded them were filled with accounts of love and generosity, so many that everyone wanted to replicate this experience.

I am pleased to say that, just like the pioneers a hundred years before, virtually all of these refugees overcame great obstacles, and almost all made it to Iowa. And I am also pleased to say that Iowans continued to welcome these newest settlers: be they Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, or Tai Dam.

These refugees have paid us back many times over by becoming productive and committed members of communities all across our state and region. In Crossing Over, James Schaap is providing an invaluable record of how nine of these refugees have made this transition. These stories are powerful accounts of incredible physical and spiritual journeys and of a new chapter in Iowa's humanitarian heritage, as well as that of America itself.

In April of 2005, I had an experience that brought home to me just how powerful that humanitarian legacy can be. At the Hoover-Wallace Dinner in Des Moines, an eighteen-year-old ethnic Asian woman brought the audience to tears as she recounted how she had been born in a refugee camp in Thailand, her family uncertain of the future. She then described how, thanks to an Iowa community that took them in, she had just graduated from high school and was on her way to Iowa State University on a scholarship.

That dinner ended with the singing of the Iowa Corn Song, also led by a refugee woman who had built a family and career here. As she sang, I looked around the room and saw people of all races and religions, refugees and native born, standing together to sing the words that united us all and that reflected the new identity all of these refugees could now proclaim. There could be no more clear indication that they had indeed "crossed over" and become citizens of this land.