Mt Pleasant News

Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 20, 2018

LULAC marks 2-year anniversary in MP

Local chapter remains focused on immigration, student scholarships
By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News | Jul 24, 2018

Invisible people.

That’s how David Suarez, bilingual community development manager at Community 1st Credit Union, saw the Latino and Hispanic families living in Mt. Pleasant only a few years ago.

Now, they are coming up on the two-year anniversary of Mt. Pleasant’s League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) chapter, a national organization that aims to advance the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, housing, health and civil rights of Hispanic Americans through community-based programs.

“The community knows we have some Hispanic families living in Mt. Pleasant. They are not different from anyone. They are humans with children, going to church every Sunday. They have to work daily. It’s the same as the other people,” Suarez said.

While the chapter’s first anniversary in Mt. Pleasant served as more of a launching point after months of hard work in getting the chapter organized, this year, the chapter proved themselves an effective network and support system following the arrest of 32 men from MPC Enterprises in Mt. Pleasant on May 9.

“There have been pros and cons about the raid. Mostly cons,” LULAC President Dina Saunders said. “ … But if you try to find the good stuff, what was good was we had an infrastructure in place when this happened. We had LULAC, a way to network with Latinos.”

The arrests forced people to come together — and not just those involved in LULAC. In the months following the raid, LULAC members have joined the Iowa Welcomes Its Immigrant Neighbors (Iowa WINS) Commission in Mt. Pleasant, strengthening the impact the two organizations can have.

Suarez said Iowa WINS opened up local connections to the community with law enforcement officers and the City of Mt. Pleasant. In turn, LULAC gave Iowa WINS the strong link they needed to the Latino community in Mt. Pleasant and throughout the U.S. as they stood alongside the families affected by the raid.

“Even though we are members of LULAC, we are members of Iowa WINS,” Suarez said, stressing the importance of both separate but compatible organizations.

While there are officially 20 LULAC members in Mt. Pleasant, many more are involved. Membership requires dues paid to the state and national LULAC organization, which not everyone can afford. “Our focus is more about including people,” Saunders said. “We want to have as many voices represented as possible.”

In addition to helping calm the storm at home following the immigration arrests, members of LULAC raised $500 for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico and additionally created three scholarships for local students.

Saunders said the money was raised in big part thanks to the hard work of Ana Pamg, who owns the Little Mexico restaurant in Mt. Pleasant. She donated meat and kitchen help for dinners held to raise money for LULAC. Saunders also thanked the employees at Little Mexico and other LULAC members for their efforts.

The chapter raised $1,000 for the scholarships — matched 60 percent by LULAC nationally — which went to Mt. Pleasant Community High School (MPCHS) graduates. The recipients are as follows: Stacey Apodaca, 2018 MPCHS graduate who will be studying nursing at the University of Iowa; Yaritzeli Gonzalez, 2018 MPCHS graduate attending Hawkeye Community College; and Camila Leunis, MPCHS graduate currently studying elementary education at Western Governors University.

“I know these three young women will do great things, and this money will help them,” Saunders said.

Saunders originally sought increased support for Latino families three years ago as an English Language Learners (ELL) teacher at Mt. Pleasant Middle School. Reaching out to her contacts, she came across LULAC and saw it as a good way to empower parents, show them they can be a part of the community, work together and know their voices are important.

Since founding, however, LULAC nationally is changing. That’s for the better, Saunders said.

While other LULAC councils in Iowa like the one in Davenport that is more established may make waves in raising money for student scholarships, Saunders said the first-generation immigrants in Mt. Pleasant have different needs that need to be met on a policy level. That’s one reason she’s excited about young people — high school and college students — getting involved.

“These are interesting times to be an immigrant and to be Latino,” Saunders said. “LULAC just encourages people to go out and vote and educate people on how to do that,” she added about the bipartisan organization.

“LULAC is a civil organization, so they are fighting for our rights at the state and United States level,” Suarez said.

Even so, Saunders recognizes that there are still a lot of barriers to overcome in Mt. Pleasant — language standing out the most. “It’s not that people are against working with other people who may not speak your language, it’s just that it’s hard,” she said.

Despite the hardships brought on by the immigration arrests, it has opened doors for greater partnership between LULAC and the rest of the community. Saunders herself is pleased by the ways they have stepped up to put in the time, effort and financial help for families in need.

Although taking care of each other after the immigration arrests has been a focus of both LULAC and Iowa WINS for the past few months, Suarez said that they were trying to show the community even before that they are present and active.

“They are not only expecting help from the community, but able to provide help to the community like serving as a volunteer or whatever the community needs from us,” Suarez said.

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