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Iowa Latino Hall of Fame

Iowa Latino Hall of Fame LogoMany outstanding Latinos, Latinas & Latinxs helped shape Iowa and continue to contribute their talents and skills to improve the quality of life in this state. These Latino leaders are essential workers, political, racial justice, and social activists, scientists, educators, writers, and spiritual and community leaders.

To recognize and honor these achievers and to provide visible examples for tomorrow’s Latino leaders, the Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs established the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame in 2017 to ensure that their efforts are honorably recognized, celebrated, and remembered. The Iowa Latinx Youth Leadership Award and the Robert D. Ray Award for Equity & Justice were added in 2018.  In 2020, the LGBTQIA Leadership Award for Iowa's People of Color was added. 

Their induction into the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame will enhance the visibility of their contributions to their work, communities, and the status of Latinos in Iowa, the country and the world. Each year, the inductees will be recognized during the annual Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Ceremony, which takes place during National Latino Heritage Month, September 15 — October 15.

2023 Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Honorees

2023 Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Honorees



All nominations must be submitted electronically by July 1st. to


Nomination Form

Nomination Instructions 


Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Nomination Criteria


Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Members

Dr. Edith Cabrera-Tello   

Joe Gonzalez 

Emilia Marroquin

Alexia Sánchez - Iowa Latinx Youth Leadership Award 

Marlú Carolina Abarca - Iowa LGBTQIA Leadership Award 

R. Samuel Braden - Robert D. Ray Award for Equity and Justice


2022 Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Inductees

Dr. Edith Cabrera-Tello   Joe Gonzalez Emilia Marroquin Alexia Sánchez Marlú Carolina Abarca R. Samuel Braden

Edith Cabrera-Tello, Ed.D (she/hers), born in Guatemala City, Guatemala — Fairfield, IA

Joe Gonzalez (he/his), born in Yurecuaro, Michoacan, Mexico— Des Moines, IA

Emilia Marroquin, (she/hers), born in San Salvador, El Salvador — Storm Lake, IA


Alexia Sánchez, (she/hers), Iowa Latinx Youth Leadership Award recipient. Born in Toluca, Mexico — grew up in Des Moines, IA


Marlú Carolina Abarca, (she/her/they/theirs), Iowa LGBTQIA Leadership Award recipient. Born in Torrance, California —  Waukee, IA


R. Samuel Braden, (he/his), Robert D. Ray Award for Equity and Justice recipient. Born in Elkhart, Indiana  — Fredonia, IA

2022 Iowa Latino Heritage Month Proclamation

2022 Latino Heritage Month Proclamantion.jpg

2022 Selections Committee Members

  • Abigail Cortez, Public Member
  • April Rank, Public Member
  • Karen Ruiz, Public Member
  • Caleb Knutson, Commissioner
  • Dalila Sajadia, Commissioner
  • Isabel Yanez, Commissioner 

Elizabeth Bernal

Marcela Hurtado

Dr. Lorenzo Jasso

Nixon Benitez - Iowa Latinx Leadership Award

Itzel Padrón Zuñiga - Iowa LGBTQIA Leadership Award

Juan Manuel Gálvez - Robert D. Ray Award for Equity & Justice

2021 Latino Hall of Fame Honorees

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Elizabeth Bernal Marcela Hurtado Dr. Lorenzo Jasso Nixson Benitez Itzel Manuel


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



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. Mrs. Hurtado is the co-founder for the Center for Workers Justice of Eastern Iowa or 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. 


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
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. elders. He was a mentor to many.



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

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.



Itzel Padrón Zuñiga was born in Reynosa, Mexico, she 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.

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. Manny 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.


Latino Heritage Month Proclamation

2021 Selections Committee Members:

  • Caleb Knutson, Commission Chair, Committee Ex-Officio

  • Dalila Sajadian, Commissioners

  • David Suarez, Community Member, Ottumwa

  • Gabriela Rivera, 2020 Honoree, Iowa City

  • Marlu Abarca, Commission Vice-Chair, Committee Chair

  • Vanessa Santos-Nila, Community Member, Des Moines

Elizabeth Balcarcel

Michael R. Reyes

Gabriela Rivera

Crystal Ambriz - Iowa LGBTQIA Leadership Award

Buffy E Jamison - Iowa LGBTQIA Leadership Award

Henny Ohr - Robert D. Ray Award for Equity & Justice

2020 Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Members2020 Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Inductees

Elizabeth Balcarcel

Michael R. Reyes

Gabriela Rivera

Crystal Ambriz

Henny Ohr

Buffy E. Jamison

Elizabeth Balcarcel rom Zacatecas, Mexico - Des Moines, Iowa


Elizabeth is a state and national leader in the anti-violence movement, working tirelessly for safety and immigrant rights. Her compassion and diligence have improved many lives.

Michael R. Reyes of Mexican heritage - Davenport, Iowa


Michael has a long history as a role model for the Latino communities in Iowa. He was the Iowa LULAC director, a U.S. Army veteran and a member of the Rock Island American Legion post 200 for over 23 years.


Gabriela Rivera from Mexico City, Mexico - Coralville, Iowa


Committed to expanding the educational opportunities to Iowa students and residents, Gabriela Rivera demonstrates the importance of Latino values through advocacy, service, and community.

Iowa Latinx Youth Leadership Award:

Crystal Ambriz from Tijuana, Mexico -Columbus Junction, Iowa


Advocate for workers rights and housing discrimination, 
She is a DACAmented, community organizer, referee, artist, runner, and leader for young people that are ready to make change to happen.

Robert D. Ray Award for Equity and Justice:

Henny Ohr from Seoul, Korea - Johnston, Iowa


Henny Ohr is a Founder and Executive Director of EMBARC, Iowa’s first refugee-led, non-profit service provider.  Henny supports immigrant and refugee communities with the knowledge and resources they need to feel at home in Iowa. She has helped many.

Iowa LGBTQIA Leadership Award:

Buffy E. Jamison from Des Moines, Iowa


An educator who lives at the intersection of Blackness, Queerness, and disability. Her work in the community unites these issues to create collective liberation. Buffy is the co-chair of the Iowa Queer Communities of Color Coalition.

2021 Latino Heritage Month Proclamation

2020 Iowa Latino Heritage Month Proclamation

2020 Selections Committee

  • Christina Fernadez-Morrow, Public Member

  • Christina Velasquez, Public Member

  • Lilian Sanchez, Public Member

  • Lorena Gingerich, Commissioner

  • Caleb Knutson, Commissioner

Carlos Portes

Dr. Hector Avalos

Lando X. Valadez

Lilián Sánchez - Iowa Latino Leadership Award

Jan Mitchell  - Robert D. Ray Award for Equity & Justice


2019 Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Inductees


Carlos Portes (posthumous) – Marshalltown, IA (from Havana, Cuba)
Recipient of Ellis Island Medal of Honor Award for his contributions in this country; served as Special Ambassador for Latin American Affairs; numerous other achievements.


Hector Avalos, PhD – Ames, IA (from Nogales, Sonora, Mexico)
Founder and inaugural director of the first US Latino/a Studies program at Iowa State University; internationally recognized and respected scholar in the area of biblical studies.

lando avalos

Lando X. Valadez (posthumous) – Des Moines, IA (Mexican heritage)
Latino migrant worker who became a community leader, political activist, advocate for Latinos, court interpreter, historian, mentor; founder of a number of Latino and Hispanic based organizations; World War II hero; recipient of the Purple Heart and Silver Star Medal.


The Latinx Youth Leadership Award recipient: Lilián Sánchez – 

Des Moines, IA (from Mexico)

First generation college student; first Latina Vice President of the University of Iowa Student Government;

advocate of diversity issues; fellow at Amnesty International.

Jan Mitchel

The Robert D. Ray Award for Equity and Justice recipient: Jan Mitchell – Des Moines, IA

Teacher who paved a path for lifelong success in her students; founder of Al Exito, a program whose mission is empower Latinos for success through education, leadership, and community engagement.


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2020 Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Ceremony Video 

Ernest M. Rodriguez

Salvador (Chavo) J. Lopez

Warren Morrow (posthumous)

Vanessa Espinoza - Iowa Latinx Youth Leadership Award

Governor Robert D. Ray - First and only recipient of the Latino Ambassador Award for Equity & Justice

2018 Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Members

2018 Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Inductees

Ernest Rodriguez

Salvador Lopez

Warren Morrow

Ernest M. Rodriguez, Bettendorf, IA 

A founding father of what is now the Iowa Commission & Office of Latino Affairs and long time activist.


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Salvador (Chavo) J. Lopez, Davenport, IA 

Champion of social and economic justice for all races, but especially those of Hispanic heritage.


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Warren Morrow (posthumous), Des Moines, IA 

Honored by the Warren Morrow Latin Music Festival, he was an activist, visionary and game changer in the state.

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Vanessa Espinoza

The First recipient of the Iowa Latinx Youth Leadership Award: Vanessa Espinoza, Columbus Junction, IA - A young activist, educator, and co-founder of  Latinos for Washington, Inc.



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Gov. Robert D. Ray

The first recipient of the Iowa Latino Ambassador award for Equity and Justice: Governor Robert D. Ray (posthumous), Des Moines, IA - Governor, a humanitarian and civil rights activist. Served as the 38th governor of Iowa for 14 years, signed into law the Spanish-Speaking People's Commission which is now known as the Office of Latino Affairs, and charged it with coordinating services for the states expanding Latinx population.

From October 20, 2018, this will be the Robert D. Ray Award for Equity & Justice.


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2018 Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Selection Committee:

  • Lorena Gingerich, Committee Chair
  • Marlu Abarca, Commissioner
  • Michelle Reuss, Commissioner
  • Marta Codina, Public Member
  • Nick Salazar, Public Member


Mary Campos

Ila Plasencia

Henry Vargas

2017 and First Class of the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame 

2017 Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Inductees

Mary Campos Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Inductee Ila Plasencia Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Inductee Henry Vargas Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Inductee

Mary Campos (Des Moines): Mentor, role model and advocate. First Latina appointed to the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women, and co-chair of the Iowa Brown-Black Presidential Forum.



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Ila Plasencia (West Des Moines): Community volunteer, organizer and activist. Served in the first Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs, Iowa Civil Rights Commission, Iowa Commission on the Status of Women, and many more organizations.




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Henry Vargas (Davenport): Founding member of the Davenport Civil Rights Commission and what is now called the Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs and the Office of Latino Affairs.

Click here to see pictures from the induction ceremony.

2017 Iowa Latino Hall of Fame Selection Committee

Jeannette Brown, Commissioner and Chair of Selections Committee
Lorena Gingerich, Commissioner
Alejandro Pino, Commissioner
Dawn Oropeza, Public Member
Tar Macias, Public Member