Latinos first discussed forming a new LULAC council in central Iowa in the early 2000s when the Iowa Legislature considered and later approved in 2002 a bill – referred to as “English only” – that designated English as the state’s official language, which then gave state officials the authority to print literature in only English.
The history of LULAC in central Iowa dates back to 1957 when the former Latin American Club, which had 100 members, voted to merge with LULAC. The merger resulted in the formation of two councils: Council 306 for men and Council 308 for women. Mary Campos, a member of Council 307, was the original treasurer for the women’s council.
The Des Moines councils functioned separately until they merged in 1965 to retain Council 306, which is still active today. Through the decades, Council members were active in trying to attain equal educational opportunities for Latino students. They also vocally advocated for fairness on the job and other employment issues. LULAC sponsored citizenship classes, and offered immigrants access to interpreters, as well as, a general equivalency diploma program class through Des Moines Area Community College.
During the 1980s, members regularly spoke out at Des Moines City Council meetings about issues that negatively affected Latinos and actively recruited Latinos and Latinas to run for public office. They lobbied to increase the number of Hispanic teachers, police officers and firefighters. They endorsed candidates for public office including the Des Moines School Board. Mary Campos ran for Des Moines City Council in 1985 and again in 1987.
While Campos’ bids were unsuccessful, members were successful in advocating for the Des Moines police department to do away with certain restrictions that limited Latinos from becoming police officers. As a result, more Latinos were able to meet the requirements and were hired to the city police department. LULAC members also worked with the police department to improve mediation skills and to hire interpreters to help in disputes with Hispanics.
Over time, Council 306’s role switched mainly to one of raising money for scholarships. Council 307 has formed to take on a more active and vocal role in advocating for Latinos in the areas of jobs/employment issues, education and healthcare.