Latinx activism in Iowa


The Culver Public Policy Center and Latinos Unidos held a panel discussion among Latinos active in Iowa Politics.

by Kyle Werner, Feature Editor

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, the Culver Public Policy Center and Latinos Unidos invited five Latinx individuals in Iowa politics to speak in a panel discussion on Oct. 12. They talked about the challenges they have faced and the importance of Latino representation in the state of Iowa.

The event was moderated by Trenity Rosenberg, a junior serving as the undergraduate assistant for the Culver Center. The panel included Iowa House nominee Adam Zabner, West Des Moines School Board member Anadelia Morgan, co-founder of the Latino Politic Network Rob Barron, activist and former candidate Marlu Abarca and West Liberty School Board member Ed Moreno. 

In Iowa, 6.6% of citizens identify as Hispanic or Latinx, making it one of the fastest-growing voter blocks in the state, yet is disproportionately represented in the Iowa elector with less than 1% of elected officials being Latinx. The panelists discussed their experiences in Iowa’s predominantly-White political landscape.

Adam Zabner

Adam Zabner is the Democratic nominee for House District 90. A child of Venezuelan immigrants, he was raised in Iowa City and went to the University of Chicago, being involved with the Institute of Politics. Since graduating, he worked for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign and Jon Ossoff’s senate runoff campaign. 

Once the 2016 presidential elections came and went, Zabner said he felt demoralized and jaded. Because of that experience, he intended to get his Ph.D. in neuroscience. Yet, after political action pulled him back into the political scene in 2020,  Zabner is now in the running to be among the first Latinos elected to the Iowa legislature.

Working on numerous campaigns, Zabner has narrowed down to a definition of what it means to get voters engaged here in Iowa: it’s all about showing up.

“I think what people want is this like silver bullet [to engage Latinx voters], but there’s no silver bullet. Showing up is 90% of it,” Zabner said.  “It shocks me when people ask how to reach Latino voters. Just show up.”

Anadelia Morgan

Elected to the West Des Moines School Board last November, Anadelia Morgan has a background in federal grant management and community organizations. She also co-founded the Families of Students of Color support group. 

“The bigger picture of wanting to bring communities together, especially for underrepresented and marginalized communities, is my driving force,” Morgan said. “So I told my husband: you make money and I will make the change.”

Morgan saw disparities and inequities in the West Des Moines school district and used her voice to make change. 

“I wanted to make sure that our district was heading in a direction where all students would be treated equitably,” she said. “I needed to speak up.”

Rob Barron

Serving two terms on the Des Moines School Board as an at-large member, Rob Barron served on Senator Tom Harkin’s staff as an education policy advisor and is now the Executive Director of Campus Compact of Iowa and Minnesota. 

Barron also helped co-found the Latino Political Network, a non-partisan organization that works to empower, educate and enable future Latinx elected officials. He has seen success across the state and is continuing efforts to ensure the electoral seats in the state accurately represent the population. 

“We talk a lot about why we run and why our community has to be represented, and what happens when we are represented,” Barron said. “It can’t just be one [person], it has to be multiple because there are so many different perspectives. That’s just one narrow slice running for office.”

Marlu Abarca

In 2019, Marlu Abarca ran for an at-large seat on the Des Moines City Council. They have been involved with the Latino Caucus of the Iowa Democratic Party and many presidential campaigns. They have also served on the board of Al Exito, a statewide organization that prepares Latinx students for college.

Finding their political spark in an AP economics class with city council candidates coming to speak, Marlu has found their political passion — being able to engage with the community around them and giving others a voice — being active. 

“I loved going and talking to people about things that matter to me, even though I was only 17 and I couldn’t vote,” Abarca said. “The process [of activism] helped me feel empowered.”

Ed Moreno

Ed Moreno was elected to the West Liberty to the School District Board of Education last November, and was raised in Davenport. He currently serves as the president of his local League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and on the West Liberty Chamber of Commerce.

Moreno has worked to give Latinos a voice through the school board, giving way to accurate representation in the city with a nearly 50% Latinx population.

“If you sit at the table, you can interact with people that maybe never interacted with somebody that looked like you, or acted like you or taught like you,” Moreno said. “You are representative of who you represent.”