An Iowan Combining Latin Music With Environmental Activism

By Claudia Thrane

September 27, 2021

Artes Latinas director Karin Stein lives the Spanish saying of “trae la música en la sangre,” meaning she has music in her blood.

She’s used that spirit to lead Artes Latinas, an Iowa consortium of Latin ensembles and music theatre productions that cover a large variety of musical genres. Karin, a rural Colombia native, and Panamanian musician Edgar East, collaborate on the project. It allows her to combine her passions of music and environmental activism.

“I have always been musical,” Karin said in an interview. “I had a very musical mother and when I was a teenager in Costa Rica, I started taking lessons from various people who were exiled in Costa Rica in the midcentury. Most [were] running from political unrest in Latin America and extreme right dictatorships. Costa Rica was and continues to be considered a neutral country.”

The 59-year-old Kellog, Iowa, resident’s love of music comes by way of her upbringing.

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Karin grew up in the Colombian countryside, which is called “Los Llanos” or the plains. Her father was an independent farmer and she was homeschooled by her mother while Mother Nature served as the backdrop of her childhood.

When she was 12, the political situation in rural Colombia became difficult as the crisis between the “guerrilleros” and the government created a long-lasting conflict in the country. After Karin’s father was threatened with kidnapping, he moved his family to Costa Rica where she began to explore more music.

Llanero music, or the Cowboy music of the plains of Colombia and Venezuela, was a familiar sound for Karin; however, while living in Costa Rica, she was exposed to all kinds of Latin American folk music.

Karin migrated to the United States in 1980 for college and she missed the musical part of her Colombian roots. She decided one way to bring Latin America with her was to learn as much as possible about music and became a professional performer.

She not only become a strong vocalist, but she learned to play a variety of Latin American string and wind instruments, which lead to the founding of Artes Latinas.

For this “llanera,” her hobby became her profession.

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Besides music, Karin’s other passion is protecting the environment. She and her family are involved in environmental issues, which brought about her relationship with Mom’s Clean Air Force in 2019.

Moms Clean Air Force works to protect children’s health by fighting pollution and the climate crisis. They are one million moms and dads strong.

“We fight for Justice in Every Breath,” said Karin, citing the organization’s tagline.

Moms Clean Air Force was looking for a Latin American in Iowa to work in Latino outreach through the EcoMadres program, which is how Karin became involved.

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The EcoMadres program was created specifically to inform the Latino community and other persons of color who are disproportionately affected by climate issues—because of where they work and live—about the resources and information they might lack because of language barriers or lack of easy access.

Karin’s role with Moms Clean Air Force is perfect for her since it combines her love for the environment, her culture, and her native language into one. Climate change affects us all, regardless of where we come from, or who we are, something she tries to convey.

“It shouldn’t matter whether you are wealthy or not, you have a right to breathe clean air, and you have a right to be protected from the ravages of the climate crisis,” Karin said.


By Claudia Thrane

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