Denison is the home for one of the newest chapters of LULAC, which is the League of United Latin American Citizens.
“We just opened in October of 2019 and our focus is on engaging the Latino community,” said Alma Puga, who is the acting president of the Denison chapter.
Puga is a 2015 Denison High School graduate.
LULAC has been around since the early 1900s, according to LULAC Denison acting secretary Robert Lyons.
“It’s a national advocacy group that promotes Latino civil rights,” he said.
Lyons is a 2013 DHS graduate.
Patricia Ritchie, a legal assistant at Zupp and Zupp Law Firm in Denison, has also been very involved in the organization, Lyons said.
LULAC Denison does not currently have a permanent home, so the organization meets once per month at the Norelius Community Library.
A major goal of LULAC Denison is to encouraging civic engagement among members of the Latino population,” Puga said.
“We offer scholarships to high schoolers here in our community – especially Latinos – and we also want to engage them to take part in activities like running for office in the future.”
“It’s the three E’s – empower, engage, educate,” Lyons said.
With the November election in mind, LULAC Denison will conduct a mock caucus starting at 6:30 p.m. on January 27 at the library.
“It will be nonpartisan,” Puga said. “We’ll go through the Republican and the Democratic process of doing a caucus.”
The AAPI & Latinx Outreach Director of the Iowa Democratic Party will travel to Denison to explain the caucus process in Spanish to participants.
A LULAC Denison member will explain it in English.
“We want to try to empower our Latino population to take part in the Iowa Caucus this year,” Lyons said. “Having an actual mock caucus is the best way to do that.”
Puga, Lyons and Ritchie have been the primary individuals pushing LULAC Denison forward.
“We’ve been bringing in people from Iowa LULAC and we’ve gone to events in Des Moines – Alma and Patty (Ritchie) are going to the Black and Brown Forum (a minority-focused presidential forum) next Monday,” Lyons said. “We have also been working with the Latino Political Network, which sends people out to talk to Latinos who are thinking of running for office. We’re working to bring all these resources to the Denison area.”
LULAC Denison is the only chapter in western Iowa right now, he said.
Muscatine and Des Moines are the two major bases for LULAC in Iowa.
“There was a period in U.S. history when more Latinos were being lynched or attacked by mobs than African Americans, particularly down in the South,” Lyons said. “Latino American soldiers were also being denied their benefits by the U.S. government.”
LULAC was formed to address those actions.
“It started in Texas,” Lyons said. “They were fighting for their rights and the things they had been promised and it grew from there.”
Iowa’s first chapter was formed in Des Moines area in the 1950s.
“It spread quickly to Muscatine, which has had a high concentration of Latinos for much of Iowa’s history due to the kind of agriculture practiced there,” Lyons said.
LULAC Denison started after a trip to Salud of Storm Lake.
“Salud is a locally-run organization. Their focus is pretty much just on health. ‘Salud’ is ‘health’ in Spanish,” Puga said.
“They work with the communities to engage police officers with children; they do activities with them and with the schools, too.”
“We went up there and talked to some members and from there we decided we needed an organization that had a bit more structure and more of a statewide and national imprint, so we went with LULAC,” Lyons said.
“They have been very helpful throughout the entire process.”
Puga said the stresses of the current national conversations on immigration and race were driving factors for getting a Latino organization started in Denison.
“We didn’t have any large organizations here that actually helped Latinos stand up for themselves,” she said. “With everything happening at the borders and with this current administration, we feel it’s necessary.”
“There have been efforts in this community, but they haven’t been coordinated,” Lyons said. “LULAC is definitely going to act as a funnel for those efforts so people can bring us their concerns.”
LULAC Denison is working to coordinate with local religious organizations and Spanish language media.
Puga has been helping with citizenship classes in Denison.
LULAC Iowa will be hiring an individual to help LULAC Denison with Latino voter registration toward the fall.
About 400 Latinos in the area who are eligible to vote - but are not registered to vote - have been identified by LULAC Iowa, Lyons said.
Following the mock caucus, Puga said LULAC Denison will spend time raising funds for scholarships for next year’s high school seniors.
Puga and Lyons said they welcome input from community members about the organization’s goals.
To contact LULAC Denison, email LULAC.Denison@gmail.com or visit LULAC Denison on Facebook or @LULAC_Denison on Twitter.