The First Councils in Iowa
By Janet Weaver
The first LULAC council in the Midwest was founded in Chicago in 1956, followed by councils in Indiana and Wisconsin. The next year, national LULAC president Felix Tijerina approached Jesse Mosqueda, a Des Moines bookkeeper who had grown up in Fort Madison, about expanding LULAC's presence in the Midwest into Iowa. Jesse contacted Chai Vasquez in Fort Madison and in February 1957, Mexican Americans in Fort Madison organized Iowa's first LULAC council, chartered as LULAC Council 304.
Over the next few months, Mosqueda helped organize two councils in Des Moines. On June 16, 1957, LULAC Council 306 and Ladies Council 308 were officially inaugurated during an installation banquet and dance held at Hotel Fort Des Moines, attended by Felix Tejerina, national LULAC secretary Alfred Hernandez, and national LULAC coordinator Tony Campos to present the charters and install officers. Carlos Barahona served as the first president of Council 306; Ila Plasencia as the first president of Ladies Council 308 with Mary Campos serving as treasurer. National LULAC officers inaugurated Jesse Mosqueda as regional governor for Iowa and William Rocha as district governor.
Over the next two years, LULAC expanded its presence in Iowa when Mexican Americans in Mason City and Davenport formed councils. LULAC Council 319 in Mason City received its charter in 1958, followed by LULAC Council 10 in Davenport on February 16, 1959, which elected Henry Vargas as its first president. The formation of a youth council in Des Moines, Junior LULAC Council 18, brought the total number of LULAC councils in Iowa to six.
Through these six councils, Iowa Mexican Americans laid the groundwork for the civil rights activism that would be the hallmark of Iowa LULAC in the 1960s. They stressed the importance of participation in politics as a means to achieve social and economic parity and were active in the Democratic Party, forming and leading "Viva Kennedy" clubs in the 1960 presidential campaign. Membership in a national organization gave Iowa LULAC councils the credibility to participate in local government and gain a voice in pressing for change on issues of fair housing and employment rights. Iowa LULAC leaders regularly served on the first human relations commissions in their towns in the early 1960s and on executive boards of civil rights organizations such as the Davenport Catholic Interracial Council.
Women often formed the backbone of these early councils. Through LULAC's education scholarship program, they organized dances, picnics, chili suppers, and raffle ticket sales to support annual fiestas and queen competitions to raise money for education scholarships. Often excluded from PTAs and other white, middle-class, voluntary organizations, Mexican American women in Iowa used the networks and resources of LULAC to advocate their rights as they skillfully moved between family and community. In so doing, they nurtured and passed on to their children an activist consciousness firmly rooted in their cultural heritage and identity.