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Latinos In Iowa Speak Up In Support Of #BlackLivesMatter

In a crowd of protesters, one arm reaches above them all with a phone taking a picture of police in the background.
Natalie Krebs
Iowa Public Radio
Black Lives Matter protestors stand outside the Des Moines police station.Some Latinos say it is important to focus on Black Lives Matter during this time instead of their own hardships.

The Black Lives Matter movement has seen greater involvement in protests across the country. Its members often ask the white population to “use their privilege” to speak out about the injustice and unfair treatment of black communities.


But Latinos in Iowa do not exactly fit into the white privileged group, and the majority are not members of the black community. But they still have a place in civil justice movements.

Jorge Soto is an Iowa native studying for his master’s degree in public policy at the University of Chicago.

“I think first and foremost right now, I think Latinos, what we can really do is just, you know, be as strong of an ally as we possibly can, while also realizing just how close we are to either our whiteness or to like I don't know how to put this but like our blackness,” Soto said.

Soto hesitated before he used the term blackness. His parents are both from Mexico and although he was born in Des Moines and raised in Perry, he described himself as having an indigenous nose and being very dark skinned.

Soto said Latinos will have a closer relation to white privilege if their skin is lighter, and those people should use that to the advantage of the movement. But for people who look like him, the responsibilities look a little different.

“Like nine times out of ten, I do get confused for a black man. So there's a lot of nuance still within just what we can do physically, but you know, emotionally, mentally, intellectually. I think what we can do as a new age or a new wave of Latinos is really start talking to our families,” Soto said.

But those conversations take place outside of the protests. Giselle Sancen Valero actively participates in the Black Lives Matter protests. She moved to Des Moines from Mexico when she was two years old. Sancen Valero is a DREAMer, meaning she is a DACA recipient. This status led Sancen Valero to focus on various civil rights issues.

Over the phone, she said it is okay to not focus on Latino-specific issues at the moment, as her black and African-American friends helped her in her earlier activism.

“Yes, we also are oppressed, but this is not a competition. And right now, we're focused on a specific topic,” Sancen Valero said. “My black friends showed up when I protested the Central American children in cages. They showed up when I was protesting ICE.”

Although Black Lives Matter is aimed more specifically at gaining justice for the black community, the Latinx community still faces societal injustices, which Sancen Valero said her mother pointed out.

“One of the first things you know, my mom said was, well, you know, Latinos also face police brutality, and explaining to her that it's not a competition. This isn’t comparative suffering. And just showing them the different ways that we really need to use our voice to help,” she said.

Joe Henry, the president of the Des Moines Council of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) said Latinos have a responsibility not only to the black community, but also to themselves.

“We clearly understand the importance,” Henry said. “We have made it very clear over the last several years, especially, that racial profiling impacts us just as much as it does as the black community and that it hits us in different ways.”

Henry pointed out how sometimes it may be more difficult for Latinos to speak out depending on their immigration or citizenship status. The fear of ICE threats impacts Latinos’ decision to speak out against injustice, which is why Henry said it is beneficial for the Latino community to support its black neighbors.

“And it really is incumbent upon us in the Latino community, to stand side by side with the black community to make sure that the type of laws that the black community wants in place to address this police brutality get passed right away,” Henry said.

Henry said Latinos do have the power to end the police brutality the black community faces, but also the racial profiling against their own communities. He said one way to do this is to push for more diversity among law enforcement and legislature.