We should all be so lucky to have a mayor like 73-year-old Margaret Hornaday—a politician who is one tough lady and speaks the truth.
We first learned about Mayor Hornaday, here in 2008, when she burst on the scene by stating a truism in the New York Times. This was in the wake of a complaint by Somali workers of religious discrimination at the JBS Swift meatpacking plant there.
The New York Times reporting, in a story about tensions between immigrant groups, that brought the wrath of Somali activists down on her:
Ms. Hornady, the mayor, suggested somewhat apologetically that she had been having difficulty adjusting to the presence of Somalis. She said she found the sight of Somali women, many of whom wear Muslim headdresses, or hijabs, “startling.”
“I’m sorry, but after 9/11, it gives some of us a turn,” she said.
Not only do the hijabs suggest female subjugation, Ms. Hornady said, but the sight of Muslims in town made her think of Osama bin Laden and the attacks on the United States.
“I know that that’s horrible and that’s prejudice,” she said. “I’m working very hard on it.”
She added, “Aren’t a lot of thoughtful Americans struggling with this?”
We had lost track of the story until yesterday when I saw the article about her upcoming retirement (she obviously finished her term).
Two years later we pick up the story here
Asked by The Independent what she found most difficult during her tenure, she responded:
“Biting my tongue,” Hornady said after an uncharacteristic pause while she ruminated.
Then she went on to tell the story about the New York Times and the Somalis’ rage. (I don’t know if this, below, all happened before or after they were demanding she step down as mayor.)
The Independent story goes on, Somalis wanted her to meet their women:
Her straightforwardness also led to what Hornady considers one of two regrets during her term ” comments made to the New York Times about post-raid Grand Island. Swift recruited refugees from Sudan and Somalia to fill voids left by undocumented Hispanic workers. The Somalian workers encountered difficulty in accommodating their prayer schedule and fasting during Ramadan and engaged in a walkout all the way to City Hall.
The mayor commented that, in a post-9/11 environment, the clothing worn by some Somalians was startling and may even evoke images of terrorists.
“What ticked them off is when I said the hijab, the head scarf they all wear, was to me a symbol of women’s suppression and that angered them,” she said. “They see it as religious or respect.”
Sudanese residents had already met with the mayor to discuss assimilation into the community. Her comments in the Times prompted a fervored request from Somalis for a meeting, as well.
“It created such a brouhaha, the Somalis wanted to meet with me. I told them I would be happy to meet with them,” Hornady said. “They wanted me to meet with their women.”
Mayor Hornaday planned a tea party for the women and hardly anyone came
A date was mutually picked, and City Hall set up for the 40 women and some men that the mayor was told were coming.
Instead of using the city’s rectangular meeting tables, the mayor had round tables brought in. She bought round mirrors and flower-filled vases for each table and bought a rose for each woman.
She even brought in her mother’s silver tea service and arranged for cucumber sandwiches and apple and lemon tarts from Sutter Deli.
“I carefully avoided any pork or anything that might be a problem,” she said, in respect of the cultural diet restrictions.
The 9 a.m. event was pushed back to 10 a.m. on a rainy, cold morning.
“By 10:10 a.m., one woman and her father had arrived,” the mayor said. “Maybe by 10:30 there were half a dozen women and 12 men.”
Unfortunately, the mayor’s brother had died just days prior to the tea party, and she had to catch a flight to his California memorial service the morning of the event. It left her little time to spend with the few who did show up.
“The women spoke not one word,” she said.
Racial tension was all around (not limited to white on black racism)
The Independent story continues:
What was said to the mayor at that meeting and at others during her tenure leading a culturally diverse community is that tensions occur all around.
The mayor said Sudanese and Somalian people don’t always get along and are “suspicious” of Hispanics. Hispanics can be negative toward blacks, she said.*
“White Americans don’t have a lock on bigotry and racial prejudice,” the mayor said.
In hindsight, it might have been good to “rephrase” the statement to the New York Times reporter, Hornady said, but she has no regrets in making it.
“I didn’t say anything that other people don’t think, haven’t thought. I’m just more honest about it,” Hornady said. “I got a huge number of e-mails in response to that from all over the world.”
The responses were “mostly supportive, primarily supportive,” she said, noting that things that are new or different stand out more in a small community such as Grand Island. [I would like to think we had some role in her supportive e-mails because we sent her address around the world at the time!]
Thanks Mayor Hornaday for your service to your town and our country!
* We have posted several stories on Grand Island racial tension, and one of the most telling tales was one reported in the Los Angeles Times of all places about how the different cultures are fighting with each other in that meatpacking town. Diversity is beautiful or chaotic anarchy?
New readers! See our category (80 posts!) entitled Greeley/Swift/Somali controversy for all of our posts involving those western meatpacking plants targeted by Somali Muslim activists (and CAIR with handmaiden EEOC!) demanding religious accommodation in the workplace.