By Jeanina Juanita Messerly
Community Organizer, Latino Political Network
It was 9:30 in the morning and my first stop was for coffee at West End Perk. This was my first time in Marshalltown and before I could initiate a conversation with any of the local residents I was approached by a coffee shop regular who immediately asked, “What are you?”
The changing atmosphere of our political climate has increased the weight of this question for those of us that it has been posed to and, in a way, we are only what we have been allowed to be. For Marshalltown and the many pockets of Iowa that have seen an increase of Latino residents a better question to ask is, “who are you and how can we help you grow our community?”
For the past month I have been organizing Marshalltown for the Latino Political Network, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that trains Iowa Latinos to run for elected office. While employment in primarily manual labor positions began the immigration of Latinos to smaller Iowa cities, it has contributed to a younger and more diverse population that has yet to see proper government representation.
This is why the future of Iowa’s economy depends on how well our government engages, services, and protects the Latino community and to do this, we need Latino representation at every level of government in the state. The goal of the Latino Political Network has never been to demand solutions to what we have encountered in cities across Iowa. Instead we focus on supporting the talents of Latinas and Latinos that have already been working hard and demonstrating the values of their community and culture.
During my time in Marshalltown I had the pleasure of getting to know 4-H Youth Development Field Specialist Norma Dorado-Robles, whose passion is to help young people develop life skills and become successful. Afterwards, I had lunch at La Carreta Mexican Grill with its owner Alfonso Medina whose love for his community became a template for my own impression of the city. I was also able to meet with business owner David Barajas Jr. whose complete investment in the future of Marshalltown is undeniable and inspiring.
It is clear that now is the time for Marshalltown to support and welcome the advice of more Latino public servants. Making up nearly 30% of their total population, the only current representation falls on the shoulders of newly-elected school board member Karina Hernandez. This is not a unique problem, in fact there are fewer than 25 Latino elected officeholders out of 7,500 here in Iowa.
While equal representation is a founding principle of our democracy, it is never handed to us or guaranteed. This is why the empowerment of the Latino community cannot be left to the devices of well-meaning neighbors who seek to fill vacancies and pocketbooks. The power and magic of Latino revitalization in Iowa has always been in our own hands and the leaders of these movements have been staring at us in the mirror every day, just waiting for us to notice them.
This is why Saturday, April 13th the Latino Political Network will be holding a free candidate training session for anyone who is interested in running for office or getting involved in their community. Join us from 9:00 am- 12:00 pm at El Portal Mexican Restaurant as we discuss how to build your own campaign for elected office and communicate with voters.
For our session, special guest Karina Hernandez will be discussing her challenges and successes as the first Latina to serve on the Marshalltown school board. We will also have council member Bill Martin and Times-Republican political reporter Adam Sodders joining us. We look forward to helping the Iowa Latinos on their journey to make positive changes to their community.
Column courtesy of the Times-Republican