Georgia NeSmith
3 min readJun 21, 2018
Photo by Georgia NeSmith. A horse stable falling apart on a farm near Iowa City, IA, 1987. See also Mud Road.

A 48 year-old Iowa farm woman, a freshman at the University of Iowa in the 1980s, had much to teach me as a doctoral student. It seems particularly appropos now as we fight back against the incarceration of babies and children from Central and South America by the trump administration.

One of the people I learned much from in graduate school in Iowa was Juanita. No, she wasn’t Hispanic, she was Norwegian. Not sure exactly how she came by that name. And she was not a professor.

At the time she was 48, the mother of six children, and, like her youngest daughter, was attending the University of Iowa as a freshman for the first time. She came from Worth County, just south of the Minnesota border: a farm woman who “signed her life away” at age 18 to her high school sweetheart and his farm — after exacting from him the promise she would attend college after the last of the six children they agreed upon left home. (All six of her children either had completed B.A.s or were in various stages with them — in subjects ranging from business to biology to clinical psychology to music.) She waited 30 years to fulfill her other dream. I say “other” dream because she loves farming, too. She is incredibly articulate and wise. (“Incredibly” only to a dumb city slicker like me.)

Jaunita said she had a special reason now to go after her education — her people were hurting, and she wanted to help. Worth County was in a depression she said — in many ways more a psychological depression than an economic one.

I met Juanita at one of the series of programs on Central America. (At the time I was participating in the Iowa City Sanctuary Project, a project of two churches — The Iowa City Religious Society of Friends, and the Iowa City Church of Christ — that for two years provided sanctuary for a family of refugees from Guatemala). She spoke up at the end of one of the programs, saying she could identify with the peasants in Central America. She said independent American farmers were being dispossessed of their land, their culture, and their dignity by multi-national agribusiness corporations. She said some day those corporations will, like OPEC, hold the world hostage for higher food prices.

Eventually I interviewed her for a feature story I never got around to finishing or publishing. The paper copy of the draft is somewhere in my files, and I don’t have the time to look for it now.

But one of the things she told me that stuck with me was this: it may very well be that you won’t win what you are fighting for. But if you give up, you are a goner for sure. As long as you are still fighting, you haven’t lost.

I bring up Juanita now because I keep hearing so much in the local newspaper (Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY, 2008) about how bad the city is and how hopeless the cause. But I thank God for all the people who, like Juanita, have not given up. Because the moment they do, all is lost.

I don’t know what happened to Juanita. I’m certain, though, that she graduated and went back home to do what she could to address the problems her people were facing. Maybe it wasn’t enough. But whatever she did, gave something back. She gave hope.

Without hope, change is impossible. Though we must face the truth about what happens on our streets, long as people keep harping on how terrible things are, all they do is encourage hopelessness. Hopelessness ensures not only that things will go on the same: they will only get worse.

Call me Pollyanna, or as someone else in the (Democrat and Chronicle) forums did, call me “Mary Poppins.” I don’t give a rat’s patootie what people call me.

I will never give up hope.

Posted: Fri — March 21, 2008 at 10:50 PM Random Acts of Love / Taking Back the Neighborhood |

*I wrote this on my blog, Random Acts of Love in 2008. Random Acts of Love is now defunct and inaccessible because Dot Mac was purchased by Apple, and then shut down.



Georgia NeSmith

Retired professor, feminist, writer, photographer, activist, grandmother of 5, overall Wise Woman. Phd UIA School of Journalism & Mass Communication, 1994.