The Office of Latino Affairs was originally established as the governor’s Spanish-speaking task force through legislative action 1974. At the time its primary mission was to study the issues facing Spanish-speaking populations. Soon after, the Task Force produced a report titled “Conóceme en Iowa”.
Two years later on July 1st of 1976 the Sixty-sixth General Assembly approved and the Governor at the time, Robert Ray, signed into law the Spanish-Speaking People’s Commission. Ten years later, in 1986, during a comprehensive re-organization of state government, the Iowa Department of Human Rights was formed, which housed the Spanish-Speaking People’s Commission. And in 1990, the Commission and the Division were renamed Latino Affairs. During reorganization that took place in 2011, the Division of Latino Affairs was renamed again as the Office of Latino affairs. According to Iowa Code 216A.14, the Office Latino Affairs was established to do the following:
• Advocate for Iowans of Latino heritage
• Serve the needs of Iowans of Latino heritage in participating fully in the economic, social and cultural life of the state by providing assistance and coordinating the efforts of other state departments and agencies
• Assist in the development and coordination of other public or private organizations which serve Iowans of Latino heritage
• Inform Iowans about programs and agencies operating to assist the Latino community.
The Iowa Commission on Latino Affairs is composed of 7 commissioners. Executive Officer of Latino Affairs, Sonia Reyes-Snyder, describes commissions as “group[s] of volunteers from the community that come together to promote and make change in whatever it is they’re passionate about.” Currently, there are over 100 boards, councils, and commissions in Iowa. The Department of Human Rights has the ability to endorse a bill and recommend legislative and executive action to the governor and general assembly; however, executive officers, like Reyes-Snyder, cannot. The Department, instead, does this through the work and advocacy of several commissions. The Commission on Latino Affairs serves several duties, including:
1. Studying the opportunities for and changing needs of the Latino population of this state.
2. Serving as liaison between the department of human rights and the public, sharing information and gathering constituency input.
3. Recommending to the board the adoption of rules pursuant to chapter 17A as it deems necessary.
4. Recommending legislative and executive action to the governor and general assembly.
5. Establishing advisory committees, work groups, or other coalitions as appropriate.
On March 1, 2016 the Office of the Governor announced new appointees to the Iowa Commission on Latino Affairs; all of which are set to begin their term on May 1, 2016 and are subject to Senate confirmation. Appointees undergo a screening process by the Governor and his office, and State law requires that a majority of boards and commissions be balanced according to gender and political affiliation. Geographical location and diversity is also considered. Appointments are made to most boards and commissions annually. Commissioners are required to attend 4 mandatory quarterly meetings, along with other meetings as set by commission and its committees and advisory councils or coalitions. Here is a list of this year’s appointees:
Marlu Abarca, Des Moines
Jeannette Martinez, Clive
Michelle Reuss, Riverside
Juan Rodriguez, Des Moines
It will be interesting to see what the Office of Latino Affairs accomplishes with new Commission membership. In the past, the Office of Latino Affairs established an interpreter/ translation certification, which led to a partnership with Des Moines Area Community College, which now houses the Interpretation and Translation (ITR) Program. Other initiatives that Reyes-Snyder hopes to see come out of the Office and Commission include an annual conference, awards ceremony, and increased and strengthened connections to the Latino community.