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Activists Mobilize Iowa's Growing Latino Population Towards Caucuses

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When you think of Iowa, you might think lots of white people. While that's true, the state is also home to an increasing number of Latinos.

Although Latinos make up less than 6 percent of the population, that's twice the size they were during the 2000 caucuses.

And, this year, for the first time, they're trying to systematically organize themselves to caucus.

At a caucus training session in Iowa City, presidential candidates are being replaced by beans — as in bean dishes from Mexico, Puerto Rico and Colombia. A couple dozen Latinos are caucusing for these beans.

The event is put on by LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens. They've been knocking on doors, handing out flyers and organizing training sessions, like this one. The goal is to make an arcane system relatable to new people.

In case you were wondering, there was a tie between pinto beans with bacon and Colombian style pinto beans.

Manuel Galvez moved to Iowa 11 years ago, but has never caucused until now.

"In the past, there were just few Latinos in Iowa," he says.

But now, he says Latinos have the numbers to send a message if they do get involved.

"The Latinos they don't participate, nobody pays attention to them," Galvez says. "No Democratic Party or the Republican Party, and we believe we can be heard if we mobilize ourselves."

Part of the challenge is that Iowa's Latino community is incredibly diverse. There are new immigrants coming for blue-collar jobs, and second-generation millennials, like Vitalina Nova, who moved to Iowa in September for a gig as a librarian.

"When I found out that there are majority-minority towns in Iowa, I thought that's really unique," Vitalina says. "How are they being represented? And, how come it seems to me that a lot of the white population doesn't know about this?"

Just go east and you'll see how Latinos are changing the state, she says.

And she's right. An hour or so car ride away in Muscatine County, Iowa, the Latino population essentially mirrors the country's demographics. There, Latinos make up 17.2 percent of the population.

Local resident Karina Beltran says she's voted in presidential elections and she wants to caucus, but doesn't know how it works or where to go.

"I haven't heard anything about political caucus or whatever," she says.

LULAC's goal is to get at least 10,000 Latinos to caucus. But here, in Muscatine County, you get a sense of how hard that may be.

Down the road at a Mexican restaurant, Yaridia Sosa says she's familiar with the word, "caucuses," but doesn't know much beyond that.

But even if someone did explain the process to her, it's a big time commitment on a Monday evening.

"I work here all day, so I don't have any time to go, I don't have no one to cover for me," she adds.

Sosa mentions that her daughter was going to see Hillary Clinton speak. And, that level of political engagement in the young population may be a sign.

Because regardless of whether 10,000 Latinos caucus on February 1, the Hispanic community here is young, and will likely be a force in campaigns to come.

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