'A process of time, trial and error'
As a city employee and public servant, dealing with the increasing immigrant population can result in some unique problems. There is the language barrier and a mistrust of people in authority. Mike Wilson, Storm Lake's Project AWAYSIS manager, says with a little hard work and professionalism these problems can be overcome by local Iowa governments and others.
Issues facing a community with a growing immigrant population was the topic at the Iowa American Institute of Architects' annual meeting, titled 'Designing Cool Communities,' in Des Moines last week.
Wilson gave a presentation comparing Storm Lake issues with Scandinavian-influenced Decorah.
"You have to just relate to the immigrant population, do a good job and understand where they come from and what their mindset is and adjust for it to make it work," Wilson told the Pilot-Tribune.
"We talked about issues the community, faces in a growing immigrant population. What a community should try to do is try to understand the culture and background, especially their native systems of government. That will go a long way to understanding why people do the things they do."
Wilson was filling in for city council member Sara Huddleston, who was supposed to give the presentation, but was unable to attend.
An example Wilson gave was that many people from Mexico have a mistrust of the government. In their native land, the government may have been corrupt, so they have learned mistrust of officials.
"They do not have the same rules and regulations to follow as they do in this country, like building codes and sanitation codes," he said. "They are more accustomed to being able to bribe an official to get what they want."
He says in most cases problems between city employees and immigrants don't arise from malice, rather from misunderstanding.
"It is not a disrespect of our rules and regulations, just a lack of knowledge of them," Wilson said.
A language barrier can further aggravate problems, especially in specific issues of such things as municipal codes where technical jargon is used.
Even though city customers may be from another land, Wilson says that makes their satisfaction no less important. In many cases, he says, part of working for the city is to educate the public as well as to provide city services.
"It is a process of time, trial and error. We consider everyone in the city to be a customer of city services and we want to be customer friendly. If you just relate to the immigrant population and understand where they are coming from, you can make it work," Wilson says.