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.
This is a story of triumph. This is the story of a person who did not give up when facing the difficulties of life. This is the story of Rosa Mendoza, a woman that feels that helping immigrant families gives purpose to her life.
Rosa Mendoza was born in Florida to a migrant family. Her parents were from Mexico. The life of a migrant farm worker is always on the road. There is always hard work in the fields even for children of young age. School is not always priority number one for those migrant families and the living conditions are not always ideal, to say the least. Rosa Mendoza’s family was not the exception. In Florida, her family picked oranges and grapefruits, but during the school year the family moved to Texas.
“My father and his brothers were contracted to do seasonal work in different states,” Mendoza remembers from her childhood. “Each summer we traveled north to hoe sugar beets in the state of North Dakota and then went to the state of Ohio to pick cucumbers and tomatoes.”
When Mendoza turned 11, her family started to travel to Illinois where they worked and lived in a camp near New Boston. Being raised in a migrant farm worker family means schooling is not as important as day to day survival. There were times when Rosa’s family would take her out of school before the school year was over, so she could help them in the fields. And since usually the farming work comes to a standstill at around October that was the month that marked the beginning of the school year for Rosa.
“Being raised in a migrant family had its good values but it was hard for us to get the education we needed,” Mendoza explained.
At around the age of 11 and 12 years old Rosa Mendoza was already working alongside her parents in the fields. Her and her mother would wake up before everyone else did and go to bed after everyone was already asleep. It was a hard life, but Rosa Mendoza assures us that she has a lot of beautiful memories of herself working with her parents in the fields. Those were the times when her father would tell her stories about his childhood in Mexico and young Rosa always enjoyed hearing her father’s memories.
After many years of hard work and long travels, Rosa’s older sister was the first one to settle through the migrant program in Muscatine, Iowa. March of 1977 was a year that marked Rosa’s fresh start in life. That year she came to stay with her older sister and she settled in Iowa.
“I was a 9th grade drop-out and decided to get my GED through Muscatine Community College,” Rosa Mendoza told us. In July of this same year Rosa got married. Years were passing by, Mendoza had four children, and then she felt it was time to go back to school. Besides taking care of her family, she worked third shift and attended Muscatine Community College. Later she would obtain her Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts and Sociology. Even for a seasoned and hard working former migrant worker, this was not an easy task. Rosa Mendoza confided that it was very tiring and she felt that she could no longer keep working like that. So, one night she simply prayed and asked God to put her where she could serve him better and at the end of the same week her life was starting to change once more. She had received a job offer from the Multi-Cultural Center of Muscatine Center for Social Action.
“From day one I knew that this was the place where God wanted me to serve him,” Rosa Mendoza said. “There have been financial struggles, but at the same time it has been rewarding.”
For the past 20 years she directed the same programs and for seven years she worked as director of the Multi-Cultural Center of Muscatine Center for Social Action and later on the center spun off to form the Diversity Service Center of Iowa (DSCI). This center was founded by Hector Garrido, Mary Lozano, Sylvia Moreno, Elsa De La Paz and Rosa Mendoza.
Just this past week DSCI started opening full time again due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Still they require all visitors to wear a mask.
DSCI manages two important programs. The first one is Educational Outreach. This program deals with immigration issues including consultations, case investigations, help to fill out forms and referral to immigration lawyers. They also help people to petition family members, including US citizens, legal permanent residents, immigrants and refugees. On top of it they assist people through immigration process from the very beginning until the very end.
As part of this program DSCI and Ascentra Credit Union are working together to offer help to people who are struggling to pay their immigration costs.
The New Iowan Initiative began in August of 2014 and helps Iowans obtain a loan to pay for immigration costs and in the process to establish and / or improve their credit. Most of DSCI’s clients generate income below the poverty line and therefore this association gives them a great opportunity to improve or create a financial base. DSCI will create the secure shared account and let their clients fund their services with a low interest rate. People who receive the loan will have to attend a financial literacy workshop in Spanish presented by Ascentra Credit Union workers. This helps a lot especially now that the fees charged by the government for immigration form will significantly increase in cost on October 2.
The second program DSCI manages is the Senior Citizen Program. This program helps people 60 years old and older. They help to interpret, translate and connect elderly to local agencies for benefits. DSCI advocates for senior citizens before government and local offices to help them receive the benefits they are looking for, for example retirement, supplemental insurance, rent reimbursements and others.
“Our office receives 200 to 300 or more calls per month and families travel up to 3 hours to come to our office for immigration services,” Rosa Mendoza told us. “We have built trust and it is by the word of mouth that our services get promoted.”
Rosa also shared that DSCI is nationally recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals and two employees of the DSCI have partial accreditation to assist the public before immigration offices.
Rosa Mendoza’s life had a rough start. Hard work in the fields since a young age can break some people, but not her. In spite of working hard from sunrise to sunset, she did not give up, but rather made her life a success story and in the process of it she found her purpose to live and work for.
Check out DSCI Facebook page for information and updates or you can call them at 563-264-8883