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In Iowa, Latino Voters Have a Reason to Caucus Like Never Before 

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The Iowa Caucus is finally here, and America’s Voice has been on the ground in Des Moines telling the story of the 2020 Democratic caucus through the lens of Latino and immigrant voters.

Voters of color have often been ignored by mainstream Democrats campaigning in Iowa, a state that is more than 90% white. And non-white communities know it; as one woman told us in Spanish, “there are a lot of Latinos in Iowa. They’re hard-working people. They work, and they vote. And most campaigns don’t realize that.”

In fact, there are almost 200,000 Latinos in Iowa — some who can vote, and others who cannot. But the relative complexity of the caucus system has long kept many away from participating. As Manny Galvez, a community organizer and radio host in Iowa said, “you need to participate, you need to know your neighbors, you need to convince the people next to you. It’s intimidating in the beginning.”

That’s why a group called the Latinx Voters of Iowa spent yesterday holding a caucus training for new voters at the Mercado Iowa Market in Des Moines. Next to displays of Mexican bread and multiple vendors selling tacos, pupusas, pozole, the group asked attendees to show their support for different colors (so as to not bias them toward specific candidates). Multiple event organizers told us that Latino voter interest in the caucus was stronger this year than in others — and indicated that the reason was obvious.

“As a Latino, I can tell you it is obvious that we are having this really hard time — nationally but also locally,” said Galvez. “It’s the environment against immigrants. The best way to respond to the hate is to participate. The best way to respond to people trying to change politics in this country is to tell them — in the ballots — that we are disagreeing.”

A recent poll from “Qué Pasa Iowa?”, a talk show for local Latino audiences, found that a whopping 91% of its listenership listed immigration as their top electoral concern, 11% more than the next-highest-rated (and closely related) response: racism.

Zuli Garcia, an organizer with Latinx Voters of Iowa, agreed that immigration and what Trump represents for immigrants is pushing new voters to caucus. “The main thing is that we’re tired,” she said. “We want our voices to be heard. We want things to change. That’s the reason why everybody’s getting more involved than four years ago.”

She added, “We shouldn’t have to be worried if somebody’s family member is going to be taken away because today they got pulled over or something happened. Before, [deportations happened] if they had a warrant for your arrest. Now, if they come for me and you’re present, they’re taking everybody. If the mom and dad don’t come home, a child is left at home in an apartment or a school, not knowing where their parent is. So that to us is very important.”

When asked whether candidates and their campaigns had done enough to reach out to Latino voters, community organizers generally said they had not, though Galvez noted that one candidate — Bernie Sanders — has “not just been trying to reach us, he’s been talking with us.” At the mercado caucus training, at least three Spanish-speaking Sanders volunteers were relentlessly organizing attendees. Multiple media stories have recently noted Sanders’ apparent success with voters of color.

Ultimately, what matters most is for the Iowa Latino voters who can, to vote. As Mary Chinchilla, also of the Latinx Voters of Iowa, said, “It’s necessary for that dragon that’s been asleep to wake up. It’s our turn. Let’s be the voice for those who can’t vote, who can’t speak.”

Added Garcia, “If you’re tired of what’s going on, come out and make your voice heard. Your voice is important. Stop posting on social media about what you’re upset about, and actually do something about it.”