“Out of the Iowa Cornfields” provides the long awaited account of the first 25 years of Sigma Lambda Beta’s rich history. Written by Brothers Murali Balaji and Derrick A. Jones, the book establishes itself as the first volume in the forthcoming series of books depicting the rise of Sigma Lambda Beta since its humble beginnings in 1986 at The University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa. The book cuts no corners in its portrayal of the short but profound history of one of the nation’s largest Latino-based fraternity; it exposes some of the organization’s long forgotten lows and celebrates the brotherhood’s countless triumphs.
Many readers, both brothers and non-brothers, will be taken a back by much of the honesty of the book. Whether delving deeply into the history of JJRC, bringing light to the fraternity’s first coup d’état, or shedding light on the often miscommunicated fall of Eta Chapter’s fraternity house. The book is, if nothing else, honest in its attempt to dispel the, as the authors state “lionization of Sigma Lambda Beta’s history and traditions – which inspire images of men cloaked in secrecy and bathed in enlightenment” (Introduction, page v). The authors take complete ownership of the fact that in an attempt to validate 25 years of existence, the authors will inherently generalized, overstate, and understate the truth.
While the style of writing is an easy read, some may find it difficult to keep up with the pace of the book and shift in topic, as the authors expand upon the story of the growing purple nation, much as the fraternity itself expanded across the nation. Readers will enjoy hearing specific accounts and details on how some of the fraternity’s first chapters were started, and will further appreciate a logistical understanding of how the fraternity grew from the cornfields in Iowa to the four corners of the United States.
“What struck me most in finishing the book was a sense of completion; one of fulfillment.”
The book makes quick transitions between topics and covers areas of the fraternity’s history that many likely would not have thought existed. An array of personal narratives and insights provides a factual basis for stories that would otherwise be forgotten, yet at the same time humanizes specific chapter histories that many brothers may only know as legend. What the book lacks in actual pictures, the authors make up in descriptive detail that the avid reader can appreciate, as a guide towards an imaginative recreation of the last 25 years.
“It effortlessly strums the heartstrings of any man who lives by the scales.”
What struck me most in finishing the book was a sense of completion; one of fulfillment. Anything that needed to be mentioned was. It was very satisfying to see the official word of the history of the fraternity thoroughly discuss issues that have plagued email listservs and Facebook threads for my time as a brother. There was a seamless integration of the tumultuous conversation of the fraternity’s dual existence as being Latino-based and as having a multicultural membership and direction. The mention of Sigma Lambda Gamma in our history was ample and telling, but did not write so much of the narrative that their first book would be unable to write their own. Clarity was brought to our initial connection to Phi Beta Sigma, and effectively, Zeta Phi Beta. Distinctions and characters of regions were unearthed and all of it was done in a way that was educational, not argumentative. At no point, did I feel that I was purely hearing someone’s opinion, more so a factual account of the collection of dozens of brothers’ perspectives of the fraternity and how it brought us all to do.
Decorated with chapter titles like “Purple and White Evangelism”, “Congressi Superamus” and “To Better Serve” “Out of the Iowa Cornfields” truly is a book for Betas, that can be read by any non-Beta. While the book aims to educate anyone interested in expanding their knowledge of the purple and white fraternity, it effortlessly strums the heartstrings of any man who lives by the scales. Many may finish the book with a sigh of contentment, but many will be wondering what’s next, and as the authors alluded to, it is up to the reader to create that new HIStory.