Grand View University has been a welcoming place for Latinos for a long time, not only for students but also for Latino organizations such as Latina Leadership Initiative, !Al Éxito! and ¿Que Pasa Iowa? to mention a few.
So, I was curious to learn more about this educational institution and decided to interview Alex Piedras, director of multicultural and community outreach, and students he works with and serves.
Piedras is originally from Puebla, Mexico. He moved to this country at 14 and knows exactly how it feels to be that young immigrant trying to adapt to a new country, language, friends and school. He graduated from Hoover High School and later obtained his business administration degree at Grand View College (now university).
After working in different places, he applied to be the university’s director of multicultural and community outreach; he has been and continues to be an advocate for the Latino community and young people.
He learned early on, while living in Mexico, how politics play an important role in everyone’s life. When Piedras became a U.S. citizen, he knew this important stage of his life came with a great sense of responsibility in regards to voting and participating in the democratic process, including the Iowa Caucus.
“Attending the caucuses for the first time was confusing and intimidating; not knowing what to do entirely and not seeing people of color was out of my comfort zone,” he said.
As an advocate, he believes Latinos never become citizens with the idea of running for office; they are worried about paying their bills, considering the median income for Latino households is $48,328, compared to the overall median income in the state at $59,955. Basically, Latinos are working hard and at times are in survival mode. They also don’t get involved in the political process because they don’t trust the system.
“Candidates need to talk to us with a direct message, talk about our problems as a community and their proposals; many of them use only a generic message,” Piedras said. “Beto O’Rourke is the only one with an immigration plan so far.”
When it comes to where he leans politically, Piedras chose to became an Independent because he feels Republicans don’t show any interest in the Latino community and Democrats only show up for elections.
“The Democratic Party needs to have a permanent position for a Latino/a dedicated to developing a strong and trusting relationship with our community, so the party can have a connection with us, not just with a few self-appointed leaders in our community,” Piedras said.
As a person working with young people, he sees them showing more interest in the elections this time around, giving him hope for the future. After talking to Piedras, I wanted to learn directly from young Latinos, those who are awakening and realizing how important it is to participate in the political process.
It is a known fact that Latinos are family-oriented — our relatives play a very important part of our lives. We care about what tía (aunt) Rosa says about us and we better pay attention to our abuelo’s (grandpa) stories of when he was young (even when we heard it 200 times).
That’s why I needed to know if this generation was going to be driven by what their relatives think and say, and so I spoke with six Grand View students. The results were surprising and eye-opening, to say the least.
When asked about the Iowa Caucuses, Ruben Salgado, 21, knew exactly what it was, and after learning more about it, agreed to participate next year. It was not surprising one of young Latinos’ top priorities was immigration, even when most of them were citizens and most of their parents were first-generation immigrants.
Education, wage equality, climate change and gun control are also of high importance for this group of young people. With the exception of Salgado, they all identify with the Democratic Party, and so far, their favorite candidate is O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman. All six students were Catholic, and although they were personally against abortion, they didn’t believe the government should make decisions about a women’s bodies.
They all expressed that although their parents watch Univision for news, they pay more attention to social media, like Facebook and Snapchat. To my surprise, they all recognized that their parents’ opinion was important, but did not feel their vote would be solely influenced by them.
This was a tremendous opportunity to learn from this group of young Latino students, their thoughts on politics, issues that impact them and how they plan to participate in the political process. I now have a better understanding on how Piedras’ years of service at Grand View University have made this institution a welcoming place for Latinos and other diverse groups.
Special thanks to Piedras for facilitating the interview with these students and to Yris Guzman , Jessica Ramirez , Salgado, Jasmin Barroso ,and Derly Beacom  for taking the time to talk to me and for being so open in regards to their political views. You definitely are the hope of our community.
By Claudia Thrane