For the love of pigs

In one Florida farm, pigs were used to help the children of an autistic family. Photo reprinted courtesy of Doug Engle of the Ocala

By: Kristine Crane/The American In Italia

Recently a friend and his kids paid a visit to my house. It’s funny what kids pick up on. I have a two-bedroom 1940s Bungalow with a metal roof. It’s not exactly a cracker house, but it has character, and I’ve filled it with motifs of myself: pictures of Rome, poetry books, National Geographic magazines.

And then, there are my pigs. I have pig paraphernalia all over. I didn’t realize quite how much until the kids found my two plastic pigs (facing each other) that oink when squeezed, a stuffed pig on the kitchen window sill, a pig light on my key chain that also oinks when lit up, a stuffed Peppa pig for the baby on the way, pig storybooks, the perennial pig Christmas ornament from my aunt, pig slippers, and the pig footies I happened to be wearing.

I took inventory after they left, which is when it hit me: You can take the girl out of Iowa, but you can’t take the Iowa out of the girl.

I grew up in a pig-happy state. Iowa has the country’s highest pig population. Sadly, even for a lightweight vegetarian like me, most of the pigs have short, consumer-culture driven lives — another story entirely.

I was raised far from the pig farms, in a university town, but my fondness for pigs started early. I remember wanting a pet pig the way many little girls wanted a horse. I would eye our backyard, imagining a mini Wilbur grazing on the grass. My father cut short my daydreams: Pigs grow up and get big, he said.

I dropped the idea of ever having a pig until I moved to North Central Florida a few years ago. I took a reporting job covering Marion County — a big, rural county best known for its champion horse industry. Once on a reporting assignment, I did a double take when I saw a sign advertising pigs for sale. Excitedly, I took a picture, and then sent it to my companion, who quickly wrote back: “Don’t do it.” I wasn’t seriously considering getting a real pig, since I lived in town, where pigs were illegal, but I did know people in the countryside with pot-belly pigs, and being in such close proximity to pigs was enough to appease my pig-loving appetite.

The author at the 2005 Iowa State Fair: You can take the girl out of Iowa, but you can’t take the Iowa out of the girl.

One family in particular lived on the outskirts of town, in a trailer with patched-up windows and a muddy front yard that served as the pig pen. I went there on a reporting assignment, and regretfully wore white linen pants and strappy sandals that sunk into the ground. The pigs oinked and pooped. They were also, at least nominally, serving a purpose, as therapy pets for the family’s four autistic children. Their mother claimed only the pigs could calm her children down. The children poked at the pigs all they wanted, and the pigs just calmly took in their aggression, she explained. The pigs slept in bed with the kids, too.

I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at the mother’s explanation, but she polished it for the Marion County Commission when pleading her case to keep the pigs —which were technically illegal, since the family lived just within city limits. When the Commission voted to allow the family to hold on to the pigs, the room erupted in applause. That was, incidentally, the boldest decision I ever saw come out of the Commission, which was known for being sluggish and conservative.

Why pigs? The kids wanted to know. I didn’t have a good answer at the time. Now I do. It’s well-known that pigs are smart. They’re also cute and cuddly. They’re mostly sweet, unless you disrupt their feedings. I find them soulful, similar to th way many people find dogs soulful. I might not go so far as trusting a pig with my life, but I wouldn’t protest a pig companion. In fact, I may unconsciously look for the pig in people. I don’t mean that I look for gluttony (although I like people with a hearty appetite). And I certainly don’t mean the trite comparison between men and pigs. I like people who are smart, sensitive, reliable, and have an unpretentious zest for life. How pig are you?

My mother might have something to do with my pig obsession. Since her death, both big and small things about me seem attributable to her influence. She read me “Charlotte’s Web” when I was a child, and cried more than I did at the ending. It was one of her all-time favorite books, even as an adult, and she was a voracious reader.

Interestingly, her own death reminded me of the book. Hours after she passed at our home, I went out to the front porch swing with my earmarked copy of Emily Dickinson’s “Final Harvest.” I noticed a perfect spider web in suspense between the swing and the porch perimeter.

The rest of the family came out, one by one, to join me —slowly and sadly. No one said much, but you could feel the loss, and unity within the loss — like all the farm animals gathered to mourn the beloved Charlotte.

There wasn’t a spider in sight, but in the sunlight, the web shone like a silver thread.


Dave Wilson, the cut and paste Black Man


Hoodwinked, scammed, bamboozled and down right pissed  is the feeling shared by some African Americans who voted for Dave Wilson in Houston Texas.   If your Dave Wilson, your chuckling

(the experiment was successful)

Dave Wilson is well known in Houston Politics.    In 2001, Wilson successfully pushed a city charter amendment barring benefits for the same-sex partners of Houston.  The Anti -Gay electrician unsuccessfully ran for mayor ,during the election he mailed 35,000 campaign fliers that attacked Annise Parker an openly gay candidate in the race for mayor.

In the flier, Wilson says “I have nothing but compassion, respect, and sensitivity towards those trapped in homosexual behavior. I have family members and friends who have been ensnarled in this behavior, and I know something of the incredible pain and sorrow it has brought to them and their families.”    He said, Parker should not be mayor because “homosexual behavior leads to extinction.”

Last week Parker successfully won her third term as mayor of Americas fourth largest city.   Last week, Wilson defeated 24-year incumbent Bruce Austin for a seat on the Houston Community College Board of Trustees.  The Republican won in predominantly African American district.


Dave Wilson printed direct mail pieces strongly implying that he’s black. His fliers were decorated with photographs of smiling African-American faces — which he readily admits he just lifted off websites — and captioned with the words “Please vote for our friend and neighbor Dave Wilson.”

One of his mailers said he was “Endorsed by Ron Wilson,” which longtime Houston voters might easily interpret as a statement of support from a former state representative of the same name who’s also African-American. Fine print beneath the headline says “Ron Wilson and Dave Wilson are cousins,” a reference to one of Wilson’s relatives living in Iowa. Mr Wilson’s picture wasn’t in the picture was not in the League of Voters,

There are some who believe because the election was the Board of Trustees,Mr Wilson candidacy fell  under the radar.

There are others who blame the incumbent Bruce Austin. People in his district may not have known about Wilson’s notorious background but he or someone on his staff should .

This story has gone global Europe, Japan and South American.  As this story grows, the anger and embarrassment follows. Cries of foul is echoing in Houston, people want another vote.   Despite his deception, Wilson did not break any laws, he won by 26 votes.

Hope lies in the re-count.

Forever and a day, Dave Wilson will be known for misleading an African-American community.

Out of the Box

 Writer Jodi Jill tells her extraordinary story of being raised in a 10-by-20 storage unit, cut off from society and denied school — and how she finally found the strength to change her life.

jill jodi     For most people, making the trip to their childhood home may include visiting an old swing set in the backyard or a bedroom with posters of teen idols lovingly preserved on the walls. But when online entertainment columnist and former literary agent Jodi Jill recently returned to the place where she grew up, there were no nostalgic mementos. Jodi’s family “home,” which she shared with her parents and four siblings, is a 10-by-20-foot storage unit.

For the first time in two years, Jodi visits the unit in Loveland, Colorado, hoping the trip can help her make sense of a bizarre and troubled childhood. As she drives up to the desolate facility, her blue-green eyes are sober and wary. Walking across the lot, she enters unit 151 and runs her fingers along the cinder-block walls. Overwhelmed with emotion, she turns to leave, grabbing the handle of the metal door and rolling it down — ca-clunk, ca-clunk. The sound is enough to trigger panic, and she quickly ducks back outside into the sun.

“I’d forgotten how bad it was,” she says. “The only things living here are weeds.”


Jodi didn’t always live there. For the first seven years of her life, she lived in a two-bedroom house in Buffalo Center, Iowa, with her little sister and her parents, Pam and Donald Wubben. When her parents announced that they were moving to a new house with a yard and a swing set, Jodi was sad to leave her grandparents who lived nearby. The family packed up whatever belongings they could fit inside a small trailer and hit the road in their ’68 Ford station wagon. But after a few days of roaming the highways of the Midwest, it became clear to Jodi that they had no destination. The family spent their days driving aimlessly and sleeping in their car at night. “No one explained anything to my sister and me,” says Jodi. “To this day, I don’t understand … We kids weren’t allowed to speak in the car or listen to music, and the only food we really had was one or two $1 fast-food hamburgers per day.”

Neither Donald nor Pam was raised for a hardscrabble transient life. Both came from educated families. They met at Iowa State, although when Pam became pregnant with Jodi, she dropped out. After Donald grad-uated, they moved into a home Donald’s parents owned in Buffalo Center, where Pam waited tables and Donald built motor homes for Winnebago. The couple, who believed that the government was trying to “control” their lives, began withdrawing from society. When Donald and his par-ents argued over his and Pam’s increasingly odd behavior, he and Pam packed up their kids and took off in their car.

For as long as Jodi can remember, her parents seemed strange. “They never bought milk because they said people put ‘stuff’ in it. And we had to use a P.O. box because they said the government was reading our mail and following us,” says Jodi.

For three years they lived like nomads. Finally they landed at the self-storage facility in Loveland one winter night, where Donald announced they would be sleeping in unit 151. “Tomorrow we’ll move into that house with a yard and swing set,” Pam promised. As Jodi fell asleep in the cold storage shed, watching rats skitter across the rafter overhead, she squeezed her hands together, pretending that someone — maybe God — was there with her to comfort her.

When the next day came, the Wubbens didn’t leave the shed, and eventually Jodi realized that unit 151 was now “home.” With wood pilfered from construction sites, Donald built a sleeping loft. For a toilet, everyone used the same bucket, emptied only once a day in a nearby ditch; to bathe, they filled another bucket from a spigot in the parking lot. A propane heater kept the temperature just above freezing. To cover the $45 monthly storage-rental fee, Donald obtained an old printing press and created flyers for local businesses.

Because the facility barred people from living in the units, Donald and Pam avoided suspicion by refusing to let the kids out during the day, even to attend school, and forbade them from speaking to people outside the family. “Never tell anyone your name — they’ll use it against you,” their father warned.

To relieve their boredom, Jodi and her sister drew faces on their fingertips, with pens they found in trash cans, and staged puppet shows. At night, they were sent to dumpster-dive, searching for food and furniture. The family didn’t own a mirror, and when Jodi caught her reflection during a trip into town, she didn’t recognize herself, with her tangled brown hair and dirty-looking skin.

Once, when Jodi smiled at a woman on the street, Pam slapped her, so Jodi never looked at strangers again. “My parents told us that everybody hated us,” says Jodi. “I wondered, What awful things have we done? But soon I started to believe them.” Maybe the world was a perilous place, Jodi thought, and the shed was where she belonged.


After a year of living in the unit, Jodi found a brown-and-white mutt tied up outside; she named her Jingle for the bell on her collar. “I wondered who left her there and why,” Jodi says. “Maybe someone knew we needed a friend.”

The storage facility owners, Bob and Carol Colock, had always suspected that the Wubbens lived in the unit. “My husband drove through the lot daily, and they were always there,” Carol says. “After a while, you suspect.”

Her hunch was confirmed one afternoon when Pam invited Carol into the shed. Carol saw cooking utensils, a grill, and Jingle tied up in the corner. “Their living conditions were shocking,” Carol says, and yet she didn’t feel comfortable prying. “I didn’t think they could afford to live elsewhere.”

Others knew the Wubbens’ secret, too. There were the guards who patrolled the two-acre lot and often chatted with Donald. And Ron Denton ran a tire shop next door and allowed the Wubbens to grow vegetables on his property. “I pitied them,” he says, but never reported the family. “People live like that. Back then, homeless people were living under the bridge. That was worse.”

But no one reached out to the children. And completely cut off, Jodi lacked the most basic knowledge, living in her parents’ warped world: drawing her own conclusions that money was a toy and cops wore uniforms because they came from privileged families, and believing the stories that her parents told her, like that storks delivered babies. Pam had told Jodi the tale when she was 10 to explain why Pam had disappeared for a few hours and returned with Jodi’s new baby brother. By her teens, Jodi still had no idea how babies were born.

One freezing November night when Jodi was 14, she awoke to the sound of her mother’s screams. Donald had left after arguing with his wife. Pam lay on the floor, yelling for hot towels, which Jodi rushed to warm in the skillet, then placed them on Pam’s bulging stomach. A pool of blood was forming beneath her. Mom’s dying, Jodi thought.

“Hold my hand,” Pam ordered. Jodi laced her fingers with her mother’s, for the first time ever.

Pam groaned and screamed for hours. And then something red and round emerged from between her legs.

“Pull it,” Pam panted. “It’s stuck.”

Feeling sick, Jodi reached in, found her baby brother’s armpit, and eased him out, handing him to her mother, who sighed with exhaustion.

Two years later, Pam gave birth in the shed again, to another boy. Typically, she referred to her children as Things 1, 2, 3, 4, 5; on bad days, Mistakes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. When the kids upset her, she beat them with a phone book, which didn’t leave a mark.


Every Sunday, the family visited the public library so Pam and Donald could read magazines. The kids roamed the children’s section, trying to understand the books, as their parents hadn’t taught them how to read. One day when Jodi was 15, she was studying a book about a monkey on a bicycle. There was a cassette tape player attached, and Jodi popped the cassette into it. Placing the headphones over her ears, she realized that the words on tape must match the words on each page.

Jodi replayed Curious George over and over again, beckoning to her sister. For the next few months, the sisters played the tape hundreds of times, slowly teaching themselves to read, using hand signals to alert each other when Pam was nearby. After mastering Curious George, they moved on to Clifford the Big Red Dog. At night, they practiced their new words: CarJumpJungle.

When Jodi was 18, she advanced to the adult section. From a plumbing manual, she learned that water in sinks comes from underground pipes. An atlas introduced her to the concept of oceans and the fact that Colorado is a state within the United States of America. And from an anatomy book, she finally learned where babies come from.

“Books showed me that our life wasn’t normal,” Jodi says. The more she read, the more restless she became, wondering about the world beyond the shed.

A year later, while Pam and Donald were out, Jodi and her sister, then 15, fled to the nearby town of Longmont, where Jodi mowed lawns to afford rent for a small room in a house. The sisters embraced their independence, going to the movies and seeking out free attractions — from fish farms to candy factories.

But it was Jodi’s love of books that sustained her. Four years after moving to Longmont, Jodi decided to pursue a career as a literary agent, a job she’d heard about through friends — the first she’d ever made. Saved again by her own imagination, Jodi invented a boss named Karen Eden, who was always unavailable because she was “stuck in traffic” or “at a conference.” As manuscripts trickled in from writers she met at workshops, Jodi submitted them to editors whose names she culled from books; over the course of three years, she says, her operation represented dozens of writers. She began keeping a journal about her life in Colorado, and at age 32, decided to write her own book. The following year, she published Tours for Free Colorado based on her experiences exploring free fun in her home state.

But Jodi couldn’t stay off her family’s radar. Although she had legally changed her last name to Jill to avoid being found by her parents, somehow Pam discovered where her daughters lived and one night came pounding on their door. When the sisters wouldn’t answer, Pam camped in her car outside the house for days, and Jodi and her sister used their back door to bypass her. Eventually Pam drove off, but over the next five years, she repeatedly showed up and left. Jodi knew that she needed to put more distance between them.

jill jodi


Three years later, Jodi moved to L.A., a city that provided the anonymity she craved. She got a job at a costume manufacturer and in her spare time, relied on her trusty companions: books, magazines, and newspapers. After stumbling upon the website, she learned she could get paid per click for writing about celebrities. Jodi began sneaking into Hollywood events (posing as security after purchasing a $26 dark suit from Goodwill), chatting with stars like Justin Bieber and Ryan Seacrest, then blogging her stories. “I became a writer because I spent my childhood silent, and writing is how I can be heard,” says Jodi.

Today, now a highly paid columnist for, Jodi earns as much as six figures a year and regularly makes the rounds of L.A.’s media parties. The matted brown hair of her girlhood has been straightened and dyed blonde, and she lives alone in a sunny studio apartment where she writes on her patio, owns a dog, and enjoys hanging out with friends. But there are still many ordinary experiences that seem exotic. At 42, she’s never been on a date or kissed a man. “I’d like to have a boyfriend, but the idea of physical intimacy terrifies me,” she says.

Robbed of a normal life for so long, Jodi still can’t believe that no one came to her and her siblings’ aid. Once freed from the shed, she and a brother wrote a list of 173 people in Loveland who knew of their living conditions but didn’t report them. “Nobody cared,” she says. “I had to save myself.”

The Wubben family has scattered. Jodi speaks to one of her brothers. She doesn’t know where her two other brothers are, although she suspects they live near — and are in contact with — their father. Her sister moved to Florida and is no longer in touch with anyone. Jodi cut off all contact with her now-divorced parents 15 years ago.

She has no photos from her childhood. The only connections to her past are the copies of Curious George and Clifford the Big Red Dog she purchased at thrift stores. “I read them every week because I’m still trying to sort out who I am and they give me perspective,” she says. “Some people call their parents for this; I have my books.

By Judy Dutton/Marie Claire

Iowa family rebuilds life after immigration raid


Four years after a federal immigration raid upended an Iowa town, one reunited family aims to make a new life for itself in Postville.

Above: Rosa Zamora and Fermin Loyes relax with their daughters, Merlin, 10, and Ilvana, 5. The family was split up after the 2008 federal immigration raid in Postville, but have reunited after years of struggles and challenges with the kindness and love of American strangers.

Above: Rosa Zamora and Fermin Loyes relax with their daughters, Merlin, 10, and Ilvana, 5. The family was split up after the 2008 federal immigration raid in Postville, but have reunited after years of struggles and challenges with the kindness and love of American strangers.villaI


Don’t run!”
she remembers the federal agents yelling.

“You have nowhere to go!”

So true. Rosa Zamora and husband Fermin Loyes had nowhere to go to make a decent living, so they illegally migrated from Guatemala to Postville, Ia., 10 years ago and worked in a packing plant that offered low wages, mistreatment and dark memories.

Zamora and the other women were herded in one line, Loyes and the men in the other, as a woman fainted and others cried for their children. Zamora and Loyes wouldn’t touch each other again for three years.

The 2008 morning of the federal raid on Agriprocessors is still a wound, a memory of nowhere to go. But Rosa Zamora found that Postville became a somewhere.

The small northeast Iowa town is where she learned an American dichotomy — cruelty and exploitation of immigrants mixed with love and kindness from American strangers.

The family that became a face of the raid, appearing in documentaries, newspaper reports and lectures, will now tell the other half of their story — how an Iowa senior citizen, a priest and a lawyer saved the family.


“Where is my dad?” asked Zamora’s daughter Merlin, then 6 years old. “When is he coming back?”

Zamora made a promise to her daughter after the Immigration and Custom Enforcement raid. One day she would see her father again.

It was a slim hope. But hope was all the family knew. Fermin Loyes came to America alone in 2002 with a dream to give his children a better life, education and a comfortable home that had become impossible in Guatemala, working for a florist for barely enough to feed his family. He moved to Postville and began working at Agriprocessors, one of the country’s largest processors of kosher meat.

Two years later, Zamora arrived with Merlin on New Year’s Eve after Loyes gathered enough money to pay so-called “coyotes” to get them across the border illegally. She joined her husband at Agriprocessors.

The rural town of 2,200 had been transformed into an island of diversity in the years before, the Orthodox Jewish plant owners hiring Russians, Ukrainians, then Mexicans and Guatemalans to work the lines. Postville’s town slogan was “Hometown to the World.”

Loyes, 32, cut up meat and Zamora, 42, packaged it. Some days, she said, she arrived at 9 a.m. and didn’t finish until 2 a.m. if managers demanded it.

Loyes quickly learned of screaming managers and their manic approach toward immigrants. One day when he nearly dropped from fatigue, he said he needed to stop for a few minutes. He was fired.

He gathered his things, but when another supervisor saw him leaving he said, “You come back tomorrow.”

It happened more than once, Loyes said — one supervisor would fire him and another rehire him the same day.

“People withstood this treatment because we didn’t have papers,” Loyes said through a translator. “You had no rights to say anything.”

They were at work only 10 minutes when workers ran. Zamora found Loyes, futilely looking for hiding places, when he told her: “Tell them the truth. Tell them your real name. Tell them you have children.”

Zamora did and was given two bracelets to wear, signifying she had children, Merlin and little Ilvana, born in the United States just the year before. The women without children wore one bracelet. Taken to a bus to wait for eight hours, Zamora refused food because she was worried about her children at school and the babysitter.

There were 389 undocumented workers arrested that day. St. Bridget’s Catholic Church had become a sanctuary for families caught in the raid. Zamora’s children weren’t there. It was the worst day of many to come. She didn’t sleep all night. The children had been hiding and she found them the next day.

The next three years, she survived only by the goodness of people, including a senior citizen from nearby Decorah.


Priscilla Sliwa, 73, had worked for years at Luther College in Decorah and for government job training programs. She retired to tend a small orchard in the country with her husband, David. She was driving her car on the day of the raid and over the radio heard the frightful sounds of helicopters during news reports. She couldn’t forget it.

By Sunday at her Quaker worship service, she felt a “welling up” and a call to go to Postville to help. The next day she showed up at St. Bridget’s and saw this tiny woman named Rosa and her two small children. She had to help.

Sliwa had traveled through Guatemala in a Volkswagen bug with her children and husband on a research trip years ago and saw the vibrancy and the tragedy of their culture. The latter, she had concluded, was caused by U.S. meddling in their government.

“I felt that if there was something I could do to connect with one family’s life I would do it,” she said.

The second time she met Zamora, she was in her home, piling all her belongings in a huge box. Zamora figured she would have to go back to Guatemala.

But she was allowed to stay, wearing a monitoring anklet to assure she would not stray far, and Sliwa began to help Zamora. She took the children to the swimming pool or on trips outdoors. She helped with transportation and food, entertained the children on overnight stays, and tried to teach Zamora English. One day in a sandbox, building castles with the family, Sliwa watched Zamora construct tiny mountains in the sand.

“These are the volcanoes I could see from my home in Guatemala,” Zamora said.

Sliwa said it was the only time she talked wistfully and lovingly about Guatemala.

The children began thinking of the Sliwas as grandparents.

The couple even hauled Zamora and the children to the jail in Waverly where her husband was detained. Loyes put his hand to the glass that separated him from his family. The children put their hands up to the glass opposite their father’s.

“It was heart-wrenching,” Sliwa said.


The Rev. Paul Ouderkirk and Sister Mary McCauley and many others began to take care of the mothers wearing anklets at St. Bridget’s. After the raid, some 200 a day packed the place. They had nowhere to go.

“I discovered this tiny lady named Rosa. You couldn’t help but sense this inner strength, courage and willingness to sacrifice for her family,” Ouderkirk said.

He watched Zamora load a container of charity soup in the bottom of her stroller and push it through the snow back to her roach-infested home.

Zamora had to charge her monitoring anklet for two hours every couple of days, and it cut into her tender leg. But she was astonished to find so much help.

“The Catholic Church was helping me pay rent and all the bills of the house. They gave us cards to buy things at Walmart,” she said through a translator. “A woman helped us make jewelry to sell. It was the way I was surviving.”

It was a difficult time and she often thought of returning to Guatemala.

“Sometimes, the children are sick. Alone, I cry. But I never lose hope. Something good will happen.”

Ouderkirk, who is retired, began to become a “professional beggar” as he asked people for help to care for the 50 women with anklets. Yet he saw Zamora, herself growing thin from worry and missing her husband, become concerned about how much Ouderkirk was eating, and she begin to serve meals to him.

“Out of their necessity, they fed us,” he said. “Can you believe it?”

In the months that followed, he began taking Zamora to public presentations about the raid at universities, where the uneducated woman showed no fear of getting up to tell her story, which in the years that followed she would also share in the documentary “abUSed” and in the New York Times.

“One day I teased her, ‘Rosa, you are going to become famous. You are going to become a college professor.’

“Yes father,” she said, “one that cannot read or write.”

A year, then two, passed and she was away from her husband.

Ouderkirk, eventually penniless from years of helping the immigrants, couldn’t afford an apartment and later moved to Wisconsin to live with religious sisters.

Loyes was deported to Guatemala, with bitterness over an ordeal that lasted more than six months after the raid.

He described long nights without proper food as the undocumented men were processed in Waterloo. As they slept on bunks, a man would awaken them by rattling his nightstick on their bed posts as he passed, he said. After a few weeks in a Waverly jail, he was shipped to a prison in Louisiana, where he fulfilled a five-month sentence.

Again, he saw competing forces of cruelty and understanding. One day, he said, he had a bothersome tooth pulled and a prison guard told him he was OK to rest for the afternoon instead of working. Another guard saw him lying down and he was put “in the hole,” or solitary confinement, for shirking his work duty.

On the only airplane rides of his life, his deportation trip to Guatemala, he said, he ate like a dog with arms and legs chained to the floor. There he worked as a security guard, always thinking of his family in Iowa.

They could talk on the telephone, and Merlin continued to ask, “When am I going to get my father back?”

“I never lost hope,” Zamora said. “A lawyer came to help me and she said, ‘Wait, something good will happen.’ Sonia, bless her, didn’t ask for money.”

Sonia Parras Konrad, a Des Moines immigration lawyer, represented more than 200 immigrants claiming to be victims of violence or sexual assaults at Agriprocessors. Her goal for Zamora and more than 50 workers was a U-Visa, which allows victims of violence to stay in the United States.

“They were in a virtual trafficking situation. They understood they couldn’t leave,” Parras Konrad said. “This was a crime that happened to these people that they endured for many years. It moved me to help.”

On May 5, 2010, Parras told Zamora she had been granted a U-Visa.

“I was jumping, so happy,” Zamora said. “But still I worried about my husband.”


She also needed work. Agriprocessors had closed, its chief executive Sholom Rubashkin sentenced to 27 years for financial fraud.

Postville had already gone through sweeping changes as the town emptied, then refilled with new workers from Texas with questionable pasts and even from a far-flung Pacific island called Palau before new ownership opened Agri Star at the same plant. Zamora had no other options, so she returned to work at the plant, she said, with a couple of others from her native country who were also caught in the 2008 raid.

“When I went back there it is very sad for me. I cried remembering (the raid),” she said of her July, 2010, return to the packaging line. “But I have needs and am alone.”

But Zamora’s U-Visa allowed Parras Konrad to work to reunite the family. Family members of those with a U-Visa could return to the United States legally.

After months of waiting, it finally happened last May.

Sliwa took the family to Des Moines International Airport and watched the children leap into their father’s arms.

“There was just pure joy of a father with his children in his arms,” she said.

Zamora turned to her children that day.

“Here is your father. Like I promised you.”

In the year since, a lot has happened. Loyes finally got a work permit and is employed with a roofing and siding company. The children, now 5 and 10 years old, both entered Postville schools in August, where 45 percent of the student population this year is Hispanic, another 9 percent is African American and 2 percent is European.

“It’s never totally stabilized when you have a meat-packing plant,” said school Principal Chad Wahls. “But the town is once again pretty stable.”

The great diversity experiment continues. The town, according to some, is still wounded, but healing. New Somalians have brought their children (the number has doubled in schools) and as many as a dozen children of deported Guatemalans have returned.

“A year ago we hit bottom and are slowly rebuilding,” said Aaron Goldsmith, a former city council member who owns a local company. “Postville could have exploded after the raid. But there were no attacks on Jews or Hispanics, no graffiti. That speaks to the character of the citizenry.”

Some locals say the plant still doesn’t offer living wages for a family and a steady churn in the workforce keeps the town destabilized. Agri Star officials did not return telephone calls.

But there is a pride here among those who can look at the family of Zamora and Loyes and feel good, including the Sliwas, who are still a constant in their lives.

“I know there are good people here and I know there are people who are racist,” Zamora said. “But the pay is better and no more screaming. We feel more freedom and no more are afraid of police. Soon we will fill out papers to be residents. I’m asking God to make it okay. But if not, OK, he gave us this opportunity to be here together.”

Written By: Mike Kilen/Des Moines Registar