On His Soapbox: Gilbert Sierra Thrives on Commitment


ggThe July sun had drawn beads of sweat to the brow of Gilbert “G.G.” Sierra, yet he refused to settle for the shade of the building just a few feet away.
Mr. Sierra was in mid-sentence, and a move meant he’d have to come down off his soapbox. For the good of many, he rarely goes anywhere without his soapbox.
“My father was colorblind,” says the 59-year-old Iowa state director for LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens. “I mean he really was colorblind. Being colorblind kept my father from becoming an engineer with the railroad.
“But he taught my family to be colorblind — that the only colors that matter are red, white and blue. It’s not the tone of your skin;
it’s what’s inside. Too much is set in stone in our world by one’s skin color, and that bothers me.”
Mr. Sierra recently received LULAC’s President’s Citation for his work locally and statewide. Another past LULAC President’s Citation winner is President Bill Clinton.
The national citation is another in a lengthy list of accomplishments for the retired Davenporter. He was the first Hispanic elected to the Davenport City Council, the seventh Hispanic alderman in the state of Iowa, and the 23rd to be elected in a U.S. city of 100,000 or more. Mr. Sierra’s civic accomplishments and contributions would take hours to list.
“I’m from a family who believed it was our duty to be part of the process, to take stock in our community,” he said. “I had uncles who worked to improve life for migrant workers in Illinois; an uncle, Joe Terronez, who was elected to the Silvis City Council in 1967 and then as mayor of Silvis in 1990. I had great people to watch and learn from, and they all believed in being involved.”
Mr. Sierra said he has no regrets about his lengthy civic career but wishes he’d had more than two years on the Davenport council.
“I went in with an open mind and heart and tried to do what was best for the city and for my ward,” he said. “We made great strides as a community, but the politics of the job were too much.”
A Kraft Foods retiree (he refuses to call the Davenport plant anything other than “Oscar Mayer”), Mr. Sierra may be busier now than in his 35 years of working full time (never missing a day for 31 of them).
In addition to LULAC and involvement with several other organizations, Mr. Sierra serves as an immigration liaison for several companies across the two-state region. In the last 12 months, he’s driven more than 3,000 miles to serve as an advocate for immigrants seeking work and status as America citizens.
There’s been time for family, too. He’s been married to Susan for 39 years and is the father of four and grandfather of three.
“Never tell anyone you don’t have time,” Mr. Sierra said. “If it’s family that needs you, take care of that. If it’s your church, your school, your community, your employer, your city, state, nation or organization that needs your help, step forward. Your help and your opinion make a difference.”
Being a difference-maker still motivates Mr. Sierra, who balks at the notion that one voice won’t be heard.
“Reaching young people to be involved still motivates me,” he said. “That one voice, if you make sure you try to reach people in an honest and respectful manner, will turn into many voices.”
Once the eternal optimist, Mr. Sierra said time and close-minded thinking have him worried about the direction our country is headed.
“The issue of immigration, and how discriminatory it has become in this country, still puzzles and bothers me,” he said. “I work each day to change those attitudes, to present facts to people on the issue, and hope and pray people explore all the facts and then make a decision.
“I still worry about our involvement in Iraq and wonder what we could do with the billions of dollars spent on the war. I’m thinking education, health-care reform and a number of things we could do with that money.”
Despite the frustration, Mr. Sierra said, he’s not going anywhere, nor will he step back from being involved.
“It’s a right we have and a duty we have,” he said. “Make a contribution. Your toes might get stepped on once in a while, but you’ll be glad you helped.”

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