Hola America and Hola Iowa present the Hispanic Heritage Month Special Series: Orgullo Hispano, Latino trailblazers and leaders that inspire us in the communities of Iowa and Illinois.
In recent years it became painfully obvious that most politicians do not know or understand the constituents they claim to represent. It might sound as such a pedestrian thing to say, but the time for change is now. Not only the demographics of the United States are changing, but the whole country is going through a shift. In the past couple of years, women all over the country were the ones leading those changes and shifts. They challenge and weaken centuries-old grip on the power of men by running for offices and winning in local and national elections. Maria Ramos, who ran and won a seat at the City Council in Storm Lake, Iowa last November, is one of these women.
She is not just a woman elected to office, she is also a first-generation immigrant. Ms. Ramos was born and raised in Nayarit, Mexico. She immigrated to the United States when she was 12 years old. She lived in California, but in 1991 Maria Ramos moved to Storm Lake, Iowa, where she had been living since. She is a mother of 4 grown children and even though she is still in her mid-40s she is already a proud grandmother of three. She is also a human resources director at United Community Health Center.
Ms. Ramos does not stop caring for her community. She is very proud of being an immigrant and citizen of the United States and she shows her gratitude and love for this country through service to her local community. Over the years she gained the trust and affection of various community members and its leaders. She likes to focus on helping the needy and in order to do that she serves at various local committees and coalitions. In fact, she is known as one of the founding members of SALUD!.
“SALUD! is a multicultural health coalition in Storm Lake, Iowa, that works collaboratively with others towards the physical, mental and social well-being of all our community members,” Ms. Ramos explained what the organization does. “[The Organization believes in] being inclusive (considering all minorities) in the planning of events or programming. SALUD! is a community organization that does not fundraise or solicits funds for itself. We believe in collaboration rather than competition and try to serve our community by building community.”
Advocating for the marginalized and being part of the committees is not always enough to make real change happen. The politicians hold the power that can be used for improving the lives of the citizens, but not all politicians are there to make positive advances and give that boost of confidence and empowerment to others who are contemplating to be in the front lines of the fight for those changes. Maria Ramos believes she can lead her community with passion and be an example to others to do the same.
“I would like to see some positive change and collaboration. I would like to empower others to run for office, I would like to see more Latinos involved in the decision making on changes that might affect them,” Ms. Ramos shared her goals and visions. “My goal is that every person living in Storm Lake will be counted in the 2020 Census and I will be heavily involved in making sure this happens. I [also] hope to form a small advisory group; individuals who will share their opinions and perspectives, study issues and offer recommendations and advice.”
She strongly believes that Storm Lake is ready for a strong woman to represent the community.
“We needed woman representation and what better than a Latina Woman. Also, to do more to help Storm Lake come together as a community. I also believe there is a strong disconnect between all the different ethnic groups,” Ms. Ramos shared her main reason why she ran for City Council. “As a wife, a mother, a grandmother and a first-generation immigrant who is a proud citizen of the United States, I believe I can bring much-needed diversity to our city council.”
She also understands well that it is not an easy task to convince some members of the community that the first-generation immigrant is the right person to represent them, but she does not allow this fact to bring her down. She knows well that even though there are those that doubt her capabilities there are a lot more of those who support and believe in her.
“I feel blessed to be surrounded by so many wonderful people that believe in me and believe I can make a difference,” Maria Ramos said. “I am a proud immigrant and a proud US citizen, I never forget where I come from and I share my life story with pride.”
She also shared her advice to everyone who is contemplating running for office, especially to all the immigrants who are worried they might not be good enough to represent American citizens well.
“The advice I would give immigrants is to get involved in your community, rise up and let others see how much you care about your community,” she urged. “Show them that we are not who many people think we are (trouble makers, a burden to the government, non-contributors, drug dealers, etc.), Prove to the community, through your character and your work ethic, that you are a capable leader. Share your story and as soon as you are able, run for office and focus on all the positives around you.”
“There will be negative voices. There will be those who doubt your capabilities simply because you were not born in the USA.,” Maria Ramos shared her final words of encouragement. “There will be those that are afraid of seeing people of color as elected officials or in leadership roles. Don’t let them keep you from participating. Rise above all that by doing the best you can to serve your community.”
She is an immigrant who worked hard to achieve her American dream, and now she is a member of the Storm Lake City Council and she hopes to encourage others to follow her example.