Press Release

iowa department of human rights

October 11, 2021

2021 Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Honorees

The Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs invites you to celebrate the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Class of 2021. Six outstanding Latino/Latina/Latinx leaders and advocates will be honored and recognized for their contributions to making significant advances in the fields of social and racial justice, communications, fair wages, journalism, and human rights.

The virtual celebration will be broadcasted via the Iowa Department of Human Rights Facebook page:, on Saturday, October 16, 2021, at 6:00 p.m.

Learn more about the honorees by reading their full biographies below. 


Elizabeth Bernal

Pronouns: She, Her, Ella

Elizabeth Bernal was born in Mexico. She has called Iowa City home for 17 years where she is raising her five children. She has attained many of her personal accomplishments, including completing her GED, receiving her U.S. Citizenship in 2017, and being involved with several community organizations that promote the inclusion and wellbeing of immigrant communities in Iowa. She has made Iowa City the place to empower, welcome and uplift Latino and immigrant communities.

Bernal is a founding member of the Prairielands Freedom Fund (PFF) (formerly known as the Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project). PFF was founded in 2016 as the only independent immigration bond fund in the country. PFF is a local community organization paying immigration bonds for detained immigrants who cannot afford their immigration bond. The organization has helped to pay over $425,000 in immigration bonds to free more than 80 people from immigration detention, reuniting them with their families and supporting them with the resources needed to get back on their feet within their communities.

Through this work, PFF partnered with the University of Iowa law school to create the “know your rights” presentations, which Bernal has presented to local churches and community organizations. Her work in support of this project, reflects her unwavering commitment to the Latino communities. Bernal also serves on the board of directors of the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa and the Catherine McAuley Center located in Cedar Rapids. The latter offers hope and opportunity through educational and supportive services that promote stability, skill-building, and connection such as women’s services for women healing from trauma, education services for adult learners, and refugee and immigrant services.

Bernal works as a Cultural Liaison for the Iowa City Community School District, advocating and making connections with Latino families in the district. She also works cleaning the local domestic violence shelter. She is a founding member of Open Heartland, a community organization that works for Latino community members to feel welcome in their community, especially people who are new to the area. Whether that is helping them to pay rent, providing food, and giving them a space to feel welcome while also providing activities for both parents and children. Her advocacy to provide a space for low-income Latino and immigrant families to close the education gap by providing them with access to the internet, mentorship, and tutoring is crucial to molding and elevating Latino youth through the power of education. When she is not working, she volunteers her time with the above listed and other organizations working for the Latino and immigrant communities.

Bernal participates in the round table meetings with the University of Iowa law school where they discuss ways to support the Latino and immigrant communities. She received the Rick Graf award from the Iowa City Human Rights Commission and received the 2020 Ovation - A Tribute to Iowa Women and Girls.


Marcela Hurtado

Pronouns: She, Her, Ella

Marcela Hurtado was born in Puebla, Mexico. She moved to Iowa 16 years ago and is currently raising a family of five in Iowa City where she is a fierce community advocate.  Hurtado is the co-founder for the Center for Workers Justice of Eastern Iowa (CWJ), where she serves as the elected President of the board. She led the organization in a successful campaign to raise the minimum wage in Johnson County and helped recover thousands of dollars in stolen wages.

Because of her leadership at CWJ and in her community, Latinos have a safe place to go in the community to seek support and assistance. Hurtado has helped CWJ secure multiple grants and put together programming that would directly benefit Latinos in the area. She not only helped lead the formation of CWJ in its earliest days, but she remained a figurehead for the organization since its founding in 2012.

Hurtado has conducted community outreach within the Latino communities for nearly ten years and has spoken about their interests in eastern Iowa. She regularly speaks publicly at City Council meetings and Johnson County Board of Supervisor meetings. In addition, she helped lead interfaith outreach efforts speaking at large gatherings about the struggles and the aspirations of Latinos in the area. She has demonstrated fearless leadership in speaking up about the injustices that Latinos have faced in the community through racist policing, poor housing conditions, low wages, wage theft, and the need to be fully integrated into the community.

Hurtado has also led successful campaigns to provide solutions to these issues including the Minimum Wage Campaign, the Community ID Campaign, and the housing campaign at Forest View trailer park to have a voice with the city to redevelop their community. She has put together dozens of adult education workshops from Know Your Rights at Work to legal clinics to assist immigrants. In addition, she has joined multiple steering committees to advocate for women, her children, and her neighbors. Recently, Hurtado co-founded a collective for immigrant women to launch their businesses in Iowa City and is a proud League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) member.

During the pandemic, Hurtado utilized her extensive network to inform the community of services, such as COVID-19 vaccines. She also connected communities to access food and other essential services following the compounded crisis of the pandemic and derecho storm. She has made a positive impact in her community from improving housing, health, access to healthy foods, increasing education support to children, redistributing stimulus checks to immigrants, and co-founding an organization aimed to help immigrants become entrepreneurs. She has recruited dozens of people to join the CWJ and to be civically engaged in their community. From Iowa City to Coralville and beyond, the immigrant community knows Marcela Hurtado as a leading voice and pillar of the Latino and immigrant communities.


Dr. Lorenzo Jasso


Pronouns: He/Him/El

Dr. Lorenzo Jasso was born in 1953, and he moved to Iowa in the 1970s. He pursued his doctorate in Education at Drake University, becoming one of the first Latino school principals in the Des Moines School District. 

Dr. Jasso’s enduring contributions to the Latino community impacted children, youth, as well as adults and elders. He was a mentor to many. When asked for his advice, you got a clear-eyed perspective delivered with the typical Mexican wit plus a bit of optimism. His enduring and tireless efforts to ensure that low income Latinos and Latino migrant workers as well as other immigrants would have an equal footing to attain access to education. He encouraged and inspired many to pursue a higher education. As an educator, his philosophy was to foster partnerships between staff, families of the students at school, and other decision makers both from local and state government. Knowing that about 40% of his students’ main nutrition was provided by the school kitchen; he made sure to provide breakfast and lunch to children from low-income families. He pursued relentlessly grants and additional funds to offer every opportunity he could to reduce drop-out rates, hire qualified staff, and provided after-school programs and social services both for students and their parents/guardians. He raised awareness about the plight of newcomers, now known as ELL (English Language Learner) students, hiring bilingual staff at every opportunity he could and making sure that all staff members would be good role models for the students.

As Principal of McKinley Elementary School, he encouraged his staff to go the extra mile, spend time on providing extra-curricular activities, and be part of the daily life as well as special events of McKinley’s students. As the number of new Latinos grew, he hired a family liaison to support these families, serving McKinley and Lovejoy schools, helping parents learn how the educational system worked to make sure parents knew how to be involved in the educational achievement of their students. He pursued funding to sponsor immigration law training free of charge for parents who were petitioning family members and/or applying to become citizens and who could not afford to pay for attorney’s fees. He hosted monthly meetings between decision makers, McKinley’s parents, and other neighborhood residents so all concerns from residents, parents, staff, and students could be considered by school district, city and state officials.

When the great flood of 1993 affected McKinley’s area and the families he served, Dr. Jasso made sure that all the affected families would get access to emergency services including those who were primarily Spanish speakers. His fully bilingual staff made translations of numerous documents from FEMA, the Department of Human Services, and the Red Cross as well as local associations and others; and made home visits to ensure everyone knew how to avoid getting illnesses related to the flood. He also spearheaded a drive to get donations of goods, clothes and school supplies for the families who lost it all and/or had to seek refuge elsewhere.

Dr. Jasso served as a board member of the former United Mexican American Community Center. He transformed this entity into what is now Hispanic Educational Resources (HER). At HER, he promoted the creation of the first fully bilingual preschool for Latino children. He even managed to make space to provide access to health care to low income families. He saw the needs of the local community and he understood the limitations he faced. He partnered with local health care providers and through his subtle, almost imperceptible, maneuvering he turned a small closet into a fully dedicated wing of the HER facility with multiple patient examination rooms. The initial closet-sized room was created to get prenatal and other important health care for impoverished families. The space eventually grew and became what is now known as the Clinic of Hope or Clínica de la Esperanza, which continues to serve the Latino community in Central Iowa today. Countless children and women benefited from his vision to overcome barriers that would have impeded their academic success such as ensuring they would have access to glasses, medications, or the healthcare they needed to thrive. 

Dr. Lorenzo Jasso served in numerous boards and volunteered his time generously and tirelessly not only in the areas of education, health care, political involvement, parental empowerment, and academic excellence but also leading by example. He served in the Des Moines City Council, the United Way of Central Iowa Investment Committee, the Des Moines Community Block Grant Development Advisory Committee and others. Dr. Jasso worked as the Executive Director for the Migrant Action Program serving the educational needs of migrant workers and their families in the state. He was a co-founder of the first Latino PAC in Iowa, HISPANICS Political Action Committee. In his political activism, he sought to stop and later to reverse the impacts of the English only law, to make drivers’ licenses available on a non-discriminatory basis and was an early, continuous supporter of an Iowa Dream Act. There are countless people who can and continue to write and speak about Dr. Jasso’s credentials, activism, and legacy supporting the Latino Community. 



Nixson Benítez

Iowa Latinx Youth Leadership Award

Pronouns: He, His, El

Nixson Benítez was born and raised in Des Moines in a Salvadoran immigrant household. He is a junior at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), majoring in Digital Media Journalism with a cumulative GPA of 3.77.   Benítez is a first-generation college student striving to uplift his

community in all that he is involved.

Benítez is opening doors and creating spaces for Latino writers. He does this by fighting stereotypes that Latinos endure through storytelling and facts-based information. He also does this through representation. He believes that Salvadorians do not see themselves represented in many occupations, including writing. This encourages him to work to inspire others in the community as a young person showcasing his roots.

As a first-generation college student, Benítez has stepped into spaces that he was not welcomed in or where there was no previous Latino, or Salvadoran representation. He carries his identity front and center while uplifting other people of color. He started the process to start a National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) chapter at UNI and continue to uplift Black, Indigenous and other writers of color.

Benítez created a Spanish column in the UNI newspaper called Northern Iowan en Español. His column is the only Spanish column in a college newspaper in the state of Iowa. This platform is tailored to Spanish readers and is engaging other Latino writers on campus. The column is the first time that Spanish readers have information of opportunities at UNI in their native language. The column showcases the needs of the Latino communities and it uplifts the Latino and Latinx identities, where Latino immigrants come from and where they are going. Because of this work, he will be serving as the Executive Editor of the Northern Iowan for 2021-2022, a role traditionally held by white students.  Benítez is an inspiration to other Latino students. He is well on his way to be one of the first Latino writers in charge of a university newspaper in the history of Iowa.

Benítez  is active in the community. This summer, he is the Arts and Culture Editor and Tik Tok Reporter for Hola Iowa. In this role, he established a platform on Tik Tok to engage Latino youth and bring news directly to them. He works tirelessly to ensure Latino youth are informed about current events. As an AmeriCorps Youth Specialist at the Iowa Department of Human Rights, he was chosen to lead a Youth Justice Council for youth who are involved in the juvenile justice system. This platform gives youth a voice and the support to bring systemic change and end youth returning to detention centers. Benítez leadership was recognized with the Governor’s Volunteer Award, Mentor of the Year Award, Servant Leader Award, and the Diversity Matters Award. There is no doubt that this list will continue to grow as Nixson Benítez will continue uplifting the stories of the Latino communities and as he becomes a well-known Latino - Salvadoran - Iowa reporter.


Itzel Padrón Zuñiga

Iowa LGBTQIA Leadership Award

Pronouns:  She, Her, Ella

Itzel Padrón Zuñiga was born in Reynosa, Mexico, and immigrated to Ames as a teenager. She attended Iowa State University (ISU) where she majored in Sociology and Women and Gender Studies. While at ISU, she studied abroad in the Netherlands to attend NOISE summer school for Ph.D and MA students as one of few undergraduates. While abroad, she gained experience as a researcher. She conducted independent research on non-profit organizations in Utrecht, Berlin, Prague, and Krakow. She was also a Research Assistant for ISU’s Department of Sociology. She became a Research Assistant for the Iowa Coalition for Collective Change. She also served as a volunteer Sexual Assault Advocate. While at ISU, she received several scholarships and awards for her leadership including the Outstanding Student Leader Award and the Undergraduate Social Action Award.

After graduation, Padrón became the Violence Prevention Coordinator for Monsoon Asian and Pacific Islanders in Solidarity. She was elected to the National Youth Summit Planning Council where she planned and developed the mission and vision for the Youth Summit Conference in Washington, D.C.  Padrón is a skilled facilitator who uses her skills to present at conferences across the country. She has presented on Latino youth, community-based violence prevention and mental health. She has also used these skills to teach HiSET Spanish at Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC).

Last year, Padrón received a Mental Health Program Fellowship with ¡Al Éxito! where she coordinated a statewide youth task force advocating for school policies to better serve Latino students, conducted research, and co-authored a groundbreaking report on her findings which is used for policy advocacy today. Her work for Latino youth mental health has been critical for the advancement of students in Iowa. The findings provide “crucial and unprecedented insight into how the current context in which Latinx youth live, work and go to school affects their mental health and what barriers prevent them from accessing mental health care services”. The report found that sources of stress included the political climate, family separation, identity, gender stereotypes, sexual orientation and gender identity, family life, and financially supporting their families. They also identified barriers to care such as family and parents, cost of care, fear, lack of support, and stigma. The recommendations of the report offer concrete strategies to improve mental health, and therefore, educational success.

As part of her fellowship with ¡Al Éxito!, Padrón took the initiative to raise funds and led students on a volunteer trip to Brownsville, Texas, to volunteer at a respite center for newly arrived immigrant families who were seeking asylum and staying at the center while they contacted loved ones in the U.S.  Padrón and the students organized and sorted clothing donations, provided items that the newly arrived immigrants needed to survive such as clothes, shoelaces, shoes, and food. She led the group as they assisted with interpretation, organizing and sorting clothing donations, delivering items and raising funds for the families at the center.

This experience exposed students to community building and organizing strategies being implemented in ways aligned with their cultural identities and provided them a first-hand look at what new immigrants experience at the border, one they would take with them for the rest of their lives.

All of Itzel Padrón’s work with youth creates lasting relationships built on mutual trust and respect. Her relationship with the students gives them a trusted adult to emulate and confide in. As a youth advocate, Itzel has supported students who were pregnant, who had difficult home lives, who needed academic support, and more. The Latino youth in our state are lucky to have such an advocate, queer role model and mentor in Itzel Padrón. 


Juan Manuel Gálvez Ibarra

Robert D. Ray Award for Equity and Justice

Pronouns: He, Him, El

Juan Manuel Gálvez Ibarra, known in the community as Manny Gálvez, was born in Sahuayo, Michoacán, México. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a master’s degree in Regional Studies. Gálvez worked in the Mexican Capital Government and the Mexican Federal Government. As a Cultural Program Coordinator in Mexico City, he developed and implemented popular budget and policy strategies in which people and civil organizations decided where, when, and how to spend part of the public budget. After moving to Iowa in 2003, he spent over a year serving the community at the Catholic Worker house in Des Moines.

In 2005, he worked as the Community Resources Coordinator for the Raíces Project at the University of Iowa and as the Coordinator of the Iowa Radio Project conducted by the University of Iowa School of Public Health to reduce unintended pregnancies among Latinas in Iowa. Gálvez is one of the few Latino press individuals in the state as the owner of El Trueque Iowa, a Latino magazine launched in 2006.

Through the magazine and social media, Gálvez gives spaces to Latino writers, reporters, activists, and multimedia specialists to develop and showcase their skills. He inspires Latino youth to become reporters and to question what is occurring by never staying quiet when they witness injustice. During the Iowa caucuses and local elections, he elevated Latino policy priorities. He interviewed candidates and organized candidate forums to highlight the importance of the Latino vote and the array of issues in which Latino voters are interested.

He is also the founder of the Iowa City Latino Festival started in 2012. Through the festival, he strives to make the Iowa City community one that is diverse, inclusive, and equitable for all its residents. The festival provides an opportunity for the Latino community to celebrate their many cultures and for the Iowa City community to learn about Latinos through traditional foods, authentic music, regional art, and small businesses. He collaborates with many organizations and businesses to plan the Iowa City Latino Festival, but also with neighboring towns including Washington and West Liberty to establish their own Latino Festivals.

Through these partnerships, he encourages other Latinos to celebrate their cultures and their pride in being Iowanos (Latinos and Iowans). Additionally, he provides graphic design, webpage development, and advertising services via his business, Gálvez & Hoover Services.

Gálvez works hard to provide access to the Latino community. From access to information or to resources, his work always demonstrates that he understands the needs of Latinos in the state. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he partnered with the University of Iowa College of Public Health to produce a series of videos in Spanish with COVID-19 information for Iowa Latino communities. The videos were distributed in many ways--the most influential being through social media.

He is adaptable and changed the ways of providing access to information to the Latino community as it was needed at the time. He started with a physical newspaper, later went digital, and maximized his skills, resources, and reach via social media with over 30,000 followers. Through access and advocacy, he provides information and educational materials for Latinos. He advocates for worker rights, challenges local and national elected officials on anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislation, supports pro-immigrant initiatives, and centers black and brown voices and stories.


Sonya Streit, Public Information Officer, 515-242-5640, 
Sonia Reyes, Office of Latino Affairs, 515-281-4080, 

Iowa Department of Human Rights
321 E. 12th St. 
Des Moines, IA 50319