The Latino Forum is a group of individuals committed to the advancement of Latinos to achieve social justice for the community and furthers its full potential. The Latino Forum, a product of the Capital Crossroads initiative, would provide a focal point for the Latino Community, serve as a bridge with the community at large and represent the Latino community in Central Iowa. Members of the Latino Forum are a part of a number of committees with varying interests: civic engagement, communications, education, and youth. More than 38,000 Latinos live in metropolitan Des Moines, but there currently is not a central organization for the Latinx community.
For many years, the Latino Forum’s education committee has worked with the Des Moines School District in effort to foster equality and support for students of Latino descent. According to the district, the number of ELL students (English Language Learners) has increased almost 700% since 1990. This is partly due to the fact that Des Moines receives a large percentage of refugee students through resettlement programs and local agencies, along with migrants from other states and countries. Of the students that are learning English in the Des Moines school district, almost 60% of these students speak Spanish as their first language.
With Latino students making up more than 25% of the student population in the school district, the Latino Forum have championed rights for these students and their families. The Education committee in particular has been meeting with district representatives for years to ensure that students of Latino heritage receive the same opportunities and support as any other student. In recent months, the focus of their conversations have changed drastically. Where the committee and the district representatives used to discuss student academic success, the focus of their conversations have transformed to one about student security in case of an emergency.
“We want to make sure that our families are prepared for whatever emergency,” says Allyson Vukovich, Director of Community Outreach for the Des Moines public school district. The district is providing resources to families in the district, and across the state. The Superintendent sat down with Hola Iowa and friends to discuss current protocols: “During the fire and tornado drills at school, staff and students learn how to prepare and respond to emergency situations. We believe that they should be prepared at home, too.”
While many Iowa students may need to prepare for emergencies in case of a tornado, for many Latinx students, the worry is with having a family member deported. “I’m not sure when I come home from school if my mom will be waiting there for me, or if my dad will ever come home from work, or my older sister,” says a DMPS student, 12. In recent weeks, ICE activity has increased in Greater Des Moines with several interactions leading to detentions, leaving at least 3 families without the main source of income in their family. The following families are seeking donations for resources, both in-kind, and monetary.
“My priority as a mother and a community member is to ensure that students’ needs are being met at home so they can be successful in school.” Brenda is a member of the advisory council in the Latino Forum. Her colleague, Ale Piedras, concurs with her sentiments. In fact, Piedras has worked at Grand View University for several years to ensure that the campus community is diverse and that multicultural students feel supported. To learn more about the Latino Forum, visit latinoforumcentraliowa.org