Latino Heritage Festival in Des Moines Highlights Growing Hispanic Community In Iowa

The masked faces and shiny spandex pants of the Lucha Libre wrestlers shimmered under the hot sun. And as the announcer yelled in English and again in Spanish, the luchadores lunged at each other. 

This particular fight was part of the entertainment at last week's 11th Annual Latino Heritage Festival in Des Moines, Iowa, a state that according to recent estimates will almost triple its Latino population by 2040. 

This past Sunday marked the start of the Hispanic Heritage Month nationwide. The tradition began in the 60s as a single week in September, but in 1988 the week turned into a full month of observance. 

Des Moines hosts the Latino Heritage Festival that kick-starts the month across the U.S. The director of the event JoAnn Mackey, who runs the community center Latino Resources Inc., sees the festival as a way to bring attention to Hispanics' growing presence in Iowa. 

Gary Krob, Data Warehouse Analyst at the Data Center of Iowa, recently put together a study on Latino population in Iowa. 

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According to a report by the Data Center of Iowa, currently Latinos make up 5.3 percent of the entire state population, up 96 percent since 2000. And by 2040, according to a report by Woods & Pool Economic Inc released this year, Latinos will make 13 percent of the Iowan population. 

Mackey said that she’s watched the demographic of the Latino Heritage Festival attendees evolve to an equal number of Latino and non-Latino. She says it is because people are interested in the Latino community and want to know more. 

Mackey said that she believes that, “it’s inevitable” that other communities see Latinos in a different and more positive light than they have before.

As more Latinos move to Iowa or begin to raise families in the state, Mackey noted that many of new Latinos she sees are much younger. She also has found that many are working professionals from other countries.

The Data Center of Iowa report supported Mackey's observation: the median age of Latinos in Iowa is significantly younger, about 23 years old, than the median age of Iowa as a whole, which is 38. 

Mackey believes that the young Latinos in Iowa are “not going to be like their parents.” The older generation, she says, came to work in factories and on farms. However, Mackey has found that the younger population is turning to computers and technology-based work.

“Companies call me wanting Latino workers. That speaks for itself. They’ve proven to be very faithful. People can trust that they’ll show up to work every day and they’ll give them good work while they’re there,” said Mackey.

“The Latino has proven how similar to the Iowans they are. They have standards like Iowans do,” she added.

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