Presidential hopefuls and their staff, advocacy groups and hundreds of national and international media outlets descend on the state every four years for the Iowa caucuses.
Being first in the nation is exciting for Iowans, including Latinos. The buzz, hundreds of text messages from presidential campaigns making sure we are invited to their events, committed volunteers knocking on every neighborhood door, and an endless stream of TV ads.
I have great admiration for campaign staff and volunteers; their passion and commitment toward making real change in our country is contagious.
Days before the caucuses, I noticed all the attention Latinos get at the national and international level. I have received numerous calls and messages from reporters requesting interviews with Latino voters. Keep in mind, there are about 65,000 eligible Latino voters in Iowa, a significant and growing voting bloc. Latinos in Iowa are increasingly participating in the political process. Their future, and that of their families, depends on it.
Latinos and immigrants have endured constant and demeaning insults from the Trump Administration. Those seeking refuge at the U.S.-Mexico border have found mistreatment, and even death, at the hands of immigrant detention centers. The cruelty of family separation is faced everyday inside our country and at the border. These are some of the issues that have motivated the Latino community in Iowa, elevating the importance of letting their voices be heard.
I know many Iowans can’t wait for Feb. 3 and the caucus circus to be gone, but for me, as a Latina that likes the noise of the fiesta, it’s bittersweet.
I feel like a little niña waiting months for her birthday to come, and when the day finally arrives, for the tíos and tías, abuelos, to come to your party and celebrate. Your primos and amigos break the piñata and sing the traditional Mexican birthday song, “Las Mañanitas.” You blow the candles and open your gifts. Then, finally, the party is over and you are all alone. You must wait one more year (and in this, case four years), to get all that excitement and attention back.
So, with caucuses around the corner, I thought it would be good to talk to Latinos in Des Moines and ask them which candidates they will support on Monday. Their responses are as diverse as the Latino community itself.
Carlos Marroquin, 31
Marroquin was born in California and is a team leader at a local nonprofit whose mission is geared toward eliminating poverty through empowering vulnerable populations.
Marroquin will support Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
“The reason I’m supporting him is because I like that he’s very articulate, level headed, smart and most of all, I think he can be the voice that can bring us together,” Marroquin said. “Since there’s so much division in our country, we need a voice like Mayor Pete’s because his heart is in the right place. He talks on issues of poverty and I think he’s a strong leader.”
“For me, human rights, immigration and education are extremely important. Working with people in poverty makes you realize how many obstacles these people have and the social change we need so people can overcome those barriers. Immigration and education are very important to me, too.”
Nela Blanco, 45
Blanco is from Costa Rica but has lived in Iowa for 26 years. Blanco works in the public sector in education. She supports Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“I’m supporting Sen. Warren because she has a very good attitude and energy, she’s strong and she doesn’t let anyone mess with her,” Blanco said. “I like her message about all the corruption in Washington and how she wants to change that. She says that she’s going to replace [Betsy] DeVos as secretary of education. Sen. Warren was a schoolteacher and believes in public education, besides funding schools adequately and equitable so that all students have access to a great public school, and she also supports teachers. Besides education, immigration and gun control are very important.”
Ruben Rodriguez, 39
Rodriguez is from California and has lived in Iowa for 25 years. He works in Marshalltown as a project manager. Rodriguez will caucus for former Vice President Joe Biden.
“The reason I like Joe Biden is because he was with former President [Barack] Obama and he has the experience needed to lead the country. They tried to accomplish many things, including a comprehensive immigration reform, but Republicans in the House blocked them constantly,” Rodriguez said. “I believe Biden is the only one that can win against Trump, people like him and trust him. At the end of the day, no matter who wins, we all need to get behind that candidate in order to change things and get Trump out.”
“We need immigration reform so many people can come out of the shadows,” he continued. “Another urgent issue is health care, going after drug manufacturers. Many people travel to Mexico to get medical attention and buy their medications there because it is cheaper, how is that possible in this country?”
Vanessa Marcano-Kelly, 34
Marcano-Kelly was born and raised in Venezuela, but has lived in Iowa for eight years and became a U.S. citizen in 2019. She owns her own interpreting and translating business.
Marcano-Kelly is supporting Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“My support for Sen. Sanders started in 2014 when I met him and I was a community organizer. Because of the contact I had with the community at that time, I was able to witness their struggles and problems. People from other countries feel forced to move to this country because of extreme poverty, and/or violence, and once they are in this country, their lack of documentation makes them vulnerable for exploitation and intimidation,” she said.
“When I understood that dynamic and heard Bernie talk about workers and how they were treated by the big companies and about corruption, I knew those ideas aligned with mine. When you check his trajectory and what he’s been talking about for years, you know he understands these problems and will fight to get the best,” Marcano-Kelly continued.
Elly Nunez, 40
Nunez is from Mexico and has lived in Iowa since 2000. He works in law enforcement. On Feb. 3, Nunez will support California businessman Tom Steyer.
“The reason I support Mr. Steyer is because he was the first one that called Trump a fraud and a racist; he said it when nobody would be bold enough to say it,” Nunez said. “In the past, other candidates had opportunities to say it, but they didn’t. I think you can’t address a problem until you call it the way it is, and that’s what Tom did.”
“I also like him because he started from the bottom up and he understands people’s struggles,” Nunez continued. “He’s also pro-immigrant and wants to give felons the right to vote. I also feel that he’s made himself accessible for minorities like us. Realistically speaking, Vice President Biden has more a chance to win, but Steyer is my first choice. For me immigration, social justice and the economy are topics that are very important.”
See You At The Caucus
Latinos are paying attention and plan to caucus. Folks outside Iowa are also paying attention to Latinos. I only wish this was not as fleeting as the caucus season. The way many Latinos see it, there should be an ongoing and consistent relationship building to increase participation. This “courting” of the Latino vote must become a “marriage.” Latinos want to be included beyond caucus time, beyond checking a box, beyond the noise of “Las Mañanitas.”
The Latino vote in Iowa is a growing 65,000 opportunity waiting to be included and treasured.
So, regardless of who our favorite candidates are, how passionate we are about her or him, where we come from, or our skin color, now more than ever we must participate to uphold the values our country stands for — equity, freedom, good health and happiness.
Do the right thing, do the Iowa thing, and caucus Monday at 7 p.m.
By Claudia Thrane