Madam Speaker, I rise today to recognize a tireless advocate for the Hispanic/Latino community - Joe Gonzalez. Joe immigrated to Iowa in 1957 when he was 5, along with his mother and two younger brothers. Like many Iowa immigrant stories of the time, his family followed his father who came to work on the railroad. Joe is a retired member of the Des Moines Police Department where he worked for 42-years and he remains a vital liaison in the department’s outreach to the Hispanic/Latino community. Gonzalez was a longtime volunteer for Iowa’s Latino Heritage Festival. He took over the reins of the festival as the executive director of Latino Resources Inc. in 2015, and has shaped the festival to what it is today.
In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed a week in September as National Hispanic Heritage Week. The observance was expanded in 1988 to a month-long celebration (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15). During this month, America celebrates the culture and traditions of U.S. residents who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. September 15 was chosen as the starting point for the celebration because it is the anniversary of the independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively. There are 22 countries from Latin origin represented in Iowa.
The Latino/Hispanic community brings so much value to our state, and Joe’s work with the Latino Heritage Festival is a great way to highlight that value. The festival provides the public with a family-oriented event filled with learning through music, dance, food, children’s activities, arts, and cultural exhibits from various Central and South American countries. It also emphasizes the uniqueness of the culture by demonstrating the diversity within the Latino community. Lastly, it creates a venue to showcase Iowa-based performers, artisans, cultural craftsmen, and artifact producers.
Through distinct activities and exhibits, this event educates the youth and gives them a better understanding of the Latino culture, while teaching them tolerance and appreciation of diversity. Part of the mission for Iowa’s Latino Heritage Festival is to give back to the community through academic scholarships to Iowa high school and college students. The festival last year presented nine $1,000 scholarships to students.
Joe's hard work and dedication to uplifting the Latino/Hispanic community in Des Moines has changed the lives of countless young people in the area. He has helped folks understand why it is important to have a diverse community in Des Moines, and he puts a spotlight on all of the wonderful the Latino community has brought to the metro area. It is my pleasure to honor Joe Gonzalez as Iowan of the Week.