BY ANNA JENSEN
Jose Garcia-Fuerte came to the United States as an undocumented citizen at age 3. For part of his childhood, he was sharing a two-bedroom house with three families. He was working construction with his uncles by the age of 11.
He took on a fatherly role for his younger sisters. He lived in a Latino community in Denver, Colorado, where many of his classmates didn’t graduate high school with him.
“When my family ended up in Denver, we found ourselves in a very low-income area,” the first-year law, politics and society major said. “My mom had to drop me off and go to her first job, then pick me up and go to her second job. It was a lot of living minimally.”
Garcia-Fuerte went to public schools through high school, which were majority Latino. Eighty-seven percent of students were on free and reduced lunch and roughly 74 percent of their families lived below the poverty line, Garcia-Fuerte said.
“The experience made me grow up,” he said.
With time, each of the families moved into their own house and found better jobs, which Garcia-Fuerte shared as “chasing the quote-unquote, American Dream.”
Much of this was attributed to the passing of Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which grants a two-year work permit for anyone under the age of 15 who is permanently residing in the US.
“It allowed me to get a driver’s license and exempted me from deportation for two years,” Garcia-Fuerte said. “There is a renewal process I have to keep on doing as long as it’s in place, but as soon as that passed, I knew things would (start to) look up. I had security to go to college and make that investment. And it wouldn’t risk my safety or my family’s.”
The summer before his senior year of high school, Garcia-Fuerte participated in a summer program through Junior Achievement and one of the coordinators was a graduate of Drake.
“The university name always stuck with me,” Garcia-Fuerte said. “When the college application process came, without doing any further research and without visiting Drake, I applied and got in. Drake offered me the most financial aid, along with support from outside scholarships, that made it the best choice.”
The decision to go to college was one Garcia-Fuerte knew he wanted, but the change in environment made him second-guess at first.
“The first two weeks I was a bit homesick,” Garcia-Fuerte said. “(Coming from Denver was) a huge change. It was a bit of a culture shock, because my high school was 97 percent Latino, and Drake’s number is (closer to) 3 percent. I didn’t know how my interactions would play out here.”
“I wasn’t really clicking with anybody,” Garcia-Fuerte added. “I started to wonder if a university in Iowa was the right step for me. But I started to look past that and got involved in La Fuerza Latina. I got involved in politics. I got to give the opening speech for Hillary Clinton when she came (to campus). … All of this helped me feel at home.”
He attributes his comfort at Drake to finding this community.
“My work as a Latino advocate must continue here,” Garcia-Fuerte said. “That’s how I found my home within Drake.”
Garcia-Fuerte admitted that, although he found comfort within La Fuerza Latina, it can sometimes be difficult being one of the only male members.
“I don’t want to be mansplaining or taking up too much space within the organization itself,” Garcia-Fuerte said. “I love to sit back and watch the way the women in this organization absolutely thrive and are able to surpass every obstacle and barrier put in front of them. They have set a precedent for each of us to follow.”
Garcia-Fuerte enjoys the culture within La Fuerza Latina. A female-dominated culture is not one he was often accustomed to.
“I have found myself being a lot more open and vulnerable because I am not upheld to the patriarchal role,” Garcia-Fuerte said.
The dialogue also pushes Garcia-Fuerte and all members to open up.
“We have created a tight community,” Garcia-Fuerte said. “We talk about how we want to advocate for our community here at Drake, as well as the larger Latino community in Des Moines. How do we want to make sure our culture isn’t lost because we go to school that is predominantly white? As well as addressing how to do to that in a nonpartisan way.”
Garcia-Fuerte was prompted by some of the other La Fuerza Latina members to run for the Equity and Inclusion this past March. He was unsure earlier this year if he wanted to, knowing how he ran his campaign for first-year senator which resulted in a loss, but he ending up winning the seat as the Equity and Inclusion senator for the 31st session.
“My first-year senator campaign was the first one I had ever run,” Garcia-Fuerte said. “I don’t think I was ready to take on that responsibility quite yet, but just this past year I have grown a lot as a leader … which is eventually why I ended up running.”
Many of the multicultural organizations under UNITY Roundtable came together to discuss who should take over the senator role this next year.
“It wasn’t a decision versed in self-interest,” Garcia-Fuerte said.
One of Garcia-Fuerte’s goals as next year’s equity and inclusion senator is for UNITY is to allow for administrative accessibility, because a lot of miscommunication has stemmed from this issue in the past.
Other goals in the works are creating an equity and inclusion vice president on senate and to allocate funds efficiently with the new budget UNITY received after officially being declared a governing body this semester.
Although Drake has offered Garcia-Fuerte a community and a home, safety is a continuing concern. These safety concerns move beyond Drake and point to the larger issue facing the nation.