Latino outreach leader encourages caucusing, voting


Charlie Coffey/Iowa State Daily

Cesar Vargas, Latino outreach adviser for the Bernie Sanders campaign, speaks to students in Carver Hall on Saturday.

Adam Sodders

Getting Latinos to caucus and vote in local, state and national elections was the focus of a discussion that took place in 101 Carver Hall on Saturday afternoon.

Cesar Vargas, who leads Latino outreach for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in Iowa, was the main speaker at the discussion, which drew an attendance of 32 people.

“I want to be able to allow our community to speak on the changes we need in this country,” he said.

Vargas has undocumented status in the United States and was brought to New York from Mexico by his mother when he was 5 years old. He is the co-founder of immigration reform group Dream Action Coalition.

“[My mother] made a decision to give me and my family a better life,” Vargas said about his journey to the United States. He talked about crossing the border, and said his mother decided to move after his father died in Mexico.  

“I remember the dark, rough terrain and the probing searchlights in the distance,” he said. “My mom holding my hand tightly reminded me she was there to protect me.”

Vargas said storytelling is one effective way of getting the Latino community to vote, and to get politicians and non-Latinos to pay attention to issues within the Latino community.

“Most of us in here have stories to tell,” Vargas said to the audience, which was mostly made up Latinos and Latinas. We’re going to need you all to speak up.”

Mari Valencia, an ISU graduate, watched as Vargas told his story and gave his views.

“These discussions are a good way to get people organized,” Valencia said. “Hopefully this acts as a motivator for Latinos to get out and vote.”

DREAM Iowa leaders Monica Reyes of Waterloo and Maria Alcivar of Ames organized the Vargas discussion.

“I met [Vargas] in late September of 2014,” Reyes said. “I was one of his first DREAMer contacts here in Iowa.”

Reyes, like Vargas, is a DREAMer, who was brought to the United States from Mexico as a young child.

Alcivar, graduate student in human development and family studies, said the discussion and topics presented are important to talk about. Alcivar was also brought to the United States as a child.

“I think discussions like this are what we need,” Alcivar said. “Not only to get [Latinos] to vote, but to get [Latinos] to caucus and be actively involved.”

After growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y. and graduating from St. Francis College, Vargas is the first undocumented immigrant to be a lawyer in New York, having passed the bar exam.

“Right now, we have a small group of people,” Vargas said, looking over the partially-filled auditorium. “I’d rather have a small core of young leaders than a bunch of people who won’t go out and help.”

Vargas said Iowa is crucial in shaping the decisions and voting outcomes of the rest of the country once Election Day arrives in 2016. He said many votes are decided after the Iowa Caucus.

“All it takes is telling our stories and getting people in our community motivated,” Vargas said. “It really comes down to all of us.”