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Love's story and mine
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

So, Mia Love wants to "revive that American story we know and love" — you know, the one about self-reliance and taking nothing unless you earned, paid or worked for it. How noble!

Well, Love, the Republican candidate for Utah's 4th Congressional District, isn't the only one with fresh immigrant roots. I, too, had poor immigrant parents, and here's my American story:

Abandoned by my father, my mother, who subsequently remarried and later divorced an abusive American, struggled to raise five children alone. Ironically, she wasn't "entitled" to receive any government assistance because of my stepfather's sufficient salary.

Unfortunately, he would disappear for months, gambling most of it or supporting various mistresses, leaving us without food, electricity or heat.

As a naturalized citizen, my mother would certainly have been "entitled" to government assistance. We received none until she finally divorced him; we then got on welfare. We paid little or no taxes. We were Mitt Romney's 47 percent, not because we "won't take responsibility for (our) lives."

My mother was uneducated and barely literate. Occasionally, she cleaned houses or helped elderly shut-ins. The compensation was meager, so, yes, we relied on the government but were still self-reliant. My mother's idea of self-reliance: selling everything she owned, including her jewelry, her prized guitar from Italy, even the kitchen sink! But it wasn't enough to lift us out of poverty.

So when I grew up, I decided to get an education, with Pell grants and subsidized loans, the very ones Mia Love benefited from and now proposes cutting. She claims the government "interfered with the marketplace" and thus subsidized loans were her only option.

In fact, she had another option: Don't go to college, just like the rest of low-income or poor Americans who would otherwise be denied private loans from selective lenders. Regardless, Love got her higher education and now believes balancing the budget should rest on those who are most vulnerable, who truly have no other options. Love had two loving, hard-working parents (poor immigrants or not). I and others come from abusive, dysfunctional homes, in addition to the hardships of being poor immigrants.

Love also proposes eliminating school lunch programs, cutting food subsidies to Utah's poor by half, and trimming WIC, the federally funded health and nutrition program for women and children. So, if you are poor, you can starve physically and intellectually. That should eliminate poverty!

Love's proposals are not only radical but also unrealistic, uncompassionate and naïve. She says "poverty programs ... are supposed to end poverty, but it continues to grow." Perhaps she should recall the biblical verse John 12:8, which says that "you will always have the poor among you."

The point of government programs is not to eliminate poverty but to show compassion for the poor. Poverty is perpetuated when we fail to take responsibility for helping the poor. Eliminating poverty is not the point.

Love says that " the best way to help the poor and hungry is to help them get work, rather than keep them dependent on government."

Just because the poor depend on government doesn't mean they don't believe in their own abilities (nobody "keeps" them dependent). Like my mother, perhaps their souls as well as their bodies are broken. They have never learned how to thrive because they were too busy trying to survive.

Yes, I am indebted to the government, actually indebted, for offering me so much to which I was supposedly not "entitled." But now I am a taxpaying college ESL professor. I make a difference. My American story ends with me giving back. Love's American story ends with her taking away.

Teresa A. Stillo Swenson lives in Taylorsville.

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