A story about mariachi and Iowa’s future

Sunday July 3, 2022 cover of the Des Moines Sunday Register.

By Carol Hunter, Des Moines Register’s executive editor

The pride is palpable in Amy Estrada’s voice as she talks about performing in Denison High School’s top mariachi group.

“We show diversity in our community,” Estrada told Iowa Columnist Courtney Crowder. “We represent Denison, and I love representing Denison.”


Crowder’s uplifting story and Bryon Houlgrave’s photos and video show how Denison’s decade-old mariachi program has helped unite Latino and white students, their parents and the broader community in a stronger web of acceptance and understanding.

Denison High School junior Amy Estrada sings as the Mariachi Reyes del Oeste, the high school’s top mariachi ensemble, performs during the 2022 Fiesta Mariachi at the Denison High School gymnasium in Denison, Iowa, on Saturday, April 9, 2022.
Photo by Bryon Houlgrave / The Register

I’m proud to publish this story on this Independence Day weekend. The war in Ukraine poses an ever-present reminder of how precious and tenuous freedom is. And these polarized times remind us that our nation has often hit bumps in its road toward fulfilling our founders’ declaration 246 years ago that “all men are created equal.”

But our history is also replete with people of goodwill who rise above division, like the band director and superintendent in Denison, who thought that maybe, just maybe, a mariachi program could help Latino kids feel more at home and other kids get to know them better through a shared joy in music.

This spirit of coming together as a community is especially important for slow-growing Iowa and its rapidly growing Latino population, which has soared more than six-fold from about 33,000 in 1990 to 216,000 in the 2020 census. At nearly 7% of the state’s people, Latinos make up Iowa’s largest racial or ethnic minority. 

I’m also proud to publish this story in partnership with Hola America, a news outlet serving Iowa and Illinois that publishes its articles in both English and Spanish. Hola America is simultaneously publishing this piece in Spanish on its website and in the Hola Iowa newspaper, available at retail outlets across the state. The simultaneous publication represents the next stage of our partnership: For more than a year, Hola Iowa has published Register articles in Spanish on its website and in print after the Register’s publication. The Register has shared these translations on social media.

Tar Macias, who lives with his wife, Erika, and their daughter in West Des Moines, founded Hola America in August 2000 and Hola Iowa in 2014. He and Erika have been the company’s sole employees for most of that time, and they also work with six to eight freelancers. They publish two print editions: Hola America serves eastern Iowa and western Illinois, and Hola Iowa serves the entire state of Iowa, including the top 10 Latino markets, spanning from Davenport to Council Bluffs and including smaller towns such as Muscatine, West Liberty, Columbus Junction and Marshalltown .


His publications seek to connect Latino communities with one another and with the broader community.

Macias has long partnered with other news organizations to provide as much information as possible to his audience. He sees the partnership with the Register as a way to help the Latino community be better informed.

Recent stories from the Register that are posted on the Hola America website include a utility regulator’s warning that Iowans could face rolling blackouts this summer in periods of extreme heat; announcement of a year’s delay in construction of the planned downtown Des Moines soccer stadium; and the Register’s annual guide to Des Moines-area swimming pools. 

“The pandemic, the social unrest of the last few years along with the recent tragedies that hit our Iowa Latino communities (the East High shooting and the fatal hit and run of a student walking home) made it clear to many that there is a huge lack of information for our Spanish speaking community,” he wrote in an email. “And the Register’s resources and this partnership give me the opportunity to inform our community as the news and current events develop.”

Likewise, we at the Register welcome this partnership as a way to reach out to Latinos beyond our current digital and print subscribers and demonstrate that the Register is a trustworthy news source across our communities.

Beyond delivering more news coverage to his audience, Macias said, “My bigger dream would be to assist the Register in engaging with the Latino community in a way that would feel organic and culturally sensitive to the needs of our community.” 

That’s our goal, too. 

Carol Hunter is the Register’s executive editor. She wants to hear your questions, story ideas or concerns at 515-284-8545, [email protected], or on Twitter: @carolhunter.

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