Latinx candidates made history last week in city council elections and school board races across Iowa.
We wanted to know about some of the challenges they faced running for office and what comes next in their political careers.
To find out, we interviewed Rob Barron, co-founder of Latino Political Network, to understand more about a new wave of Latinxs candidates running for office.
“We are really proud and excited with the results of the local elections,” said Barron. “When we started four years ago with LPN, we could only name eight or nine Latinos running for office in Iowa, but now we know that at least we can name 24 candidates or more.”
Barron said it was hard to know exactly how many ran for office this year, but they were able to track at least 30 Latinx candidates.
Barron also pointed out that history was made this year in two important areas: Scott Syroka, a Mexican-American, was the first Latino elected to the Johnston City Council. And in Storm Lake, Emilia Marroquin was elected to the school board and Maria Ramos to the city council.
Even for those who didn’t win, Barron pointed to accomplishments like Daniel Salazar, who at 19 ran a close race for a seat on the Muscatine City Council. He lost by only 61 votes.
“He definitely should run again,” Barron said. “One of the challenges is that, like Salazar, you are running against brokers and people with power.”
But that wasn’t the case for Syroka, 25, elected in Johnston.
When asked about the challenges he faced during his campaign, he said, “There was only one time someone said to me when I was door knocking — ‘Oh your skin is dark, where are you from?’”
“I was in shock when he asked me, but I explained to him that I grew up here in Iowa and that my ancestry is Mexican-American,” Syroka said. “It’s very important to not let this kind of distractions or negativity get in your way.
“If you are thinking about running, please consider running,” he said. “I think Iowans are willing to listen to anyone regardless of your background, as long as they see that you stand up for the community and you want a better change.”
With Ramos’ victory in Storm Lake, she became the first Latina elected to the city council.
“The challenges faced are those same challenges that any immigrant will face — that I wasn’t born here, and many people look at me as a brown Latina running for city council,” Ramos said. “But, thankfully, I had a great team that supported me, trusted me and here I am.”
For Ramos, her victory was not only personal, but a testament to those who came out and voted, some for the first time.
In Des Moines, Heather Anderson-Morrow said she was surprised to be reelected to the Des Moines School Board.
“This year was different for me,” she said. “Last year we had school elections in September and this time they were held Nov 5.”
Anderson-Morrow is a teacher and third-generation Mexican-American proud of her cultural roots. With this victory, she wants to continue her focus on advocating for education, especially students who have a passion for politics.
“As a Latina elected, it’s an honor to be celebrating this success with my family,” said Anderson-Morrow. “They have been here for 100 years.”
But why are so many Latinas running for office? We asked Cara McFerren, a fourth-generation Mexican-American, who won the at-large seat on the West Liberty City Council.
“Women have a lot of responsibilities that translate across the board,” McFerren said. “Not only are we leaders in our families, we are also in the workforce. What I have seen is that a lot of participation from younger generations, we have seen a lot of younger leadership here in West Liberty who had a lot of community involvement and civic enrollment. I’m hoping that this will translate into more participation in the future.”
McFerren has a lot of experience serving her community in West Liberty.
“I want to make sure that we are a welcoming city, we are a community city that is open to all citizens’ involvement and participation,” she said.
Given the increased Latinx participation in politics, both in Des Moines and in rural Iowa, the Latino Political Network had two messages:
“We are here and we are ready for leadership,” Barron said. “We want to make leaders in our community, and you’ll see more and more every time.
“We can shape our own destiny,” he added. “If we support each other, if we empower each other, then we can be the ones knocking the door, raising the money and making the phone calls and be out there and learn from this, that people like us can be elected.”
By Fabiola Schirrmeister