A trip to Perry brings home why we need immigration reform

September 14, 2022 8:00 am

Photo by (Nath Rocha/Courtesy of Nath Rocha Photography)

I went to Perry, Iowa (population 7,836) on Friday to help train a new news guy at Raccoon Valley Radio. Perry is about an hour and a half long drive away from home. I had planned to arrive mid-morning, but at about 5:30 a.m., a gut feeling told me to leave soon. So I did.

I arrived at the radio station in Perry at about 7:30 a.m. and was told the new guy was going to start his day at a Perry Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting at Quality Marble and Tile. I figured I would meet him there and arrived about fifteen minutes early. Like any good small-town news person, I introduced myself and started chatting with people, nosing around for news. I wanted to learn who was who and who had stories to tell to help the new guy get a good start.

As 8:00 a.m. approached, I wondered where my new guy was. When the Chamber of Commerce Director started speaking at 8:02, and the new guy still wasn’t there, I knew it was good that I had trusted my gut to come to Perry early. Otherwise, we would have missed the ribbon cutting.

We gathered in a circle in front of the Quality Marble and Tile fabrication shop, where they make stone cabinet tops and more. Their showroom is in Grimes. Before the ribbon was cut, the chamber director asked those assembled if they had any updates to share. Most did. It was a goldmine for potential news stories, and I passed out my business cards like I was tossing confetti.

And my news guy? He showed up at 8:18, when most of the discussion was over.


Standing outside Quality Marble and Tile in Perry are, from left, Niho Kahrimanovic, Dina Kahrimanovic, Samira Kahrimanovic, and Hajro Kahrimanovic. The business also has a location in Grimes. (Photo by Robert Leonard)

Dina Kahrimanovic, the young woman center-left in the photo to the left, did an interview with me about the business. To her right is her Uncle Niho. To her left are her mother, Samira, and her father Hajro.

When the Kahrimanovic family fled Bosnia during the 1992-1995 war, Dina was a girl. They first went to Germany and then to the United States to find their home in Iowa. In our interview, she told me about their company and their journey. Since the shop was noisy, we stepped outside and into the shade. Please listen to Dina.


She says the family started the business in Des Moines in 2001, moved to Grimes around 2010, and then moved the fabrication shop to Perry in 2018.

Hajro Kahrimanovic speaks about stonecutting with intensity, love, and joy. (Photo by Robert Leonard)

A stone-cutting table at Quality Marble and Tile in Perry, Iowa. (Photo by Robert Leonard)

The Kahrimanovic family in front of a marble table in their Perry shop. (Photo by Robert Leonard)

I wanted to take a photo of the family in front of that table (Dina’s mother was busy with other tasks). Hajro insisted that the table be tilted so the granite could be seen behind them. He is very proud of the quality of stone they have and their craftsmanship.

The Kahrimanovic family are immigrants. They arrived with a vision, started with nothing, and built a successful business. We are lucky they chose us; we are all better off because they did.

Food photographer came from Brazil

As we were doing introductions at the ribbon-cutting, a young woman told us she was a food photographer. Her name is Nath Rocha, and the photo of the strawberry at the top of this post is hers. Nath came to the studio for an interview.

Please listen. Let her speak to you. Hear her important voice.

Nath Rocha, a food photographer from Brazil, records an interview at Raccoon Valley Radio. (Photo by Robert Leonard)


Nath is from Brazil, arriving in the United States in 2016. She fell in love with a young man whose father lives in Perry, and they married. They spend the summer and fall in Perry and winter and spring in Phoenix. If you go to just one website today, choose hers. Click here! You won’t regret it.

Nath is an immigrant. She chose us. We are lucky to have her. She has created a successful business in Iowa and Arizona and uses her art to grow local businesses and our economy.

Nath tells me she likes to photograph food because food brings us together, no matter our culture. Here is her beautiful work on Instagram. She, and her work, are a gift.

After an “interesting” day with the new guy, and as I was about to head home, some breaking local news came in. The Perry High School Homecoming Court was named!

Perry High School’s Homecoming Court: Back row, from left: Jefry Gonzalez, Jonathan Chavez, Anthony Chavez, Fithawi Andemichael, Kyle Hernandez. Front row: Sarai Ramos, Lydia Olejniczak, Yamilet Ortega, Cloe Nance. Not pictured: Taylor Atwell. (Photo by Robert Leonard)

As you can see from their names, many of these students are likely from recent immigrant families. We are lucky that their families chose to live in Iowa.

Iowa needs immigrants

As of this writing, Iowa has 83,681 jobs open. I know business leaders want immigration reform. One local manufacturer told me she could put 100 people to work tomorrow.

In the first months of 2022, more than 100 million individuals were displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations.

Immigrants have proven, time and time again, how much they have to offer, and it’s clear we need them to help solve our labor crisis. Congress needs to act now.

I’ve written more about how much rural America needs immigrants in The New York TimesTIME, and why immigration reform isn’t happening in this substack if you are interested.

I’m going back to Perry tomorrow to help the new guy. I hope he’s on time…

About this column

Robert Leonard’s column appeared originally at “Deep Midwest: Politics and Culture.” It is republished here through the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.

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Robert Leonard
Robert Leonard

Robert Leonard is the author of the blog "Deep Midwest: Politics and Culture," on Substack. He also hosts a public affairs program for KNIA/KRLS radio in the south-central Iowa towns of Knoxville, Pella, and Indianola. His columns have been published in the New York Times, TIME, the Des Moines Register and more.