On Monday evening, during question time at a community gathering, Hana Yuisa Vargas rose to speak from a seat in the second tier of the auditorium at Monroe County’s public library.
Vargas said, “My ancestors helped [Christopher Columbus] to survive. We indigenous people, we’ve been helping everyone. White people. African people. Asian people. And we’ve been mistreated and invisible until today. And I’m raising my voice, because today is my day and supposed to be not just one day—supposed to be three hundred and sixty-five days, all my life, every single year.”
Vargas had earlier identified ancestors from the Taino, Mexica, and Apache tribes, as well as the Yoruba nation in West Africa.
It was the second Monday in October, a day that in some places is still called Columbus Day, but recognized this year by President Joe Biden as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Locally, the designation was put on the calendar by Bloomington’s city council two years ago.
The occasion for Vargas’s remarks was the first annual “State of the Latino Community in Monroe County” event. The evening was sponsored by the La Casa/Latino Cultural Center at Indiana University, the city of Bloomington’s Latino programs and outreach, Bloomington’s commission on Hispanic and Latino affairs, and the 9th District Latino Caucus.
Vargas put a question to the panelists: “Why do you generalize the Hispanic or Latino community in general, like it was one community, where in reality it is a division of languages?”
Vargas continued, “You need to divide: What is race? What is ethnicity? White means European. You need to identify yourselves. You’re from Europe—you need to classify, not erase the culture and erase the race.”
Responding to Vargas was host for the evening, Luis Fuentes-Rohwer, a professor of law at Indiana University and a member of Bloomington’s commission on Hispanic and Latino affairs.
Fuentes-Rohwer had started off the evening with a recitation to acknowledge the history of local lands: “We recognize the myaamiaki [Miami], Lënape [Delaware] , Bodwéwadmik [Potawatomi] , and saawanwa [Shawnee] people as past, present, and future caretakers of this land.”
In his response to Vargas, Fuentes-Rohwer said, “I completely agree with your point: The complexities of the Latino community are tremendous.” He continued, “And we don’t think about them enough…We try to think about how to package that information in a way that’s most helpful to most people. We’re not perfect, we didn’t quite get it right.”
About Vargas’s point, Fuentes-Rohwer said, “We failed on that.” He told Vargas, “What you said, …I take it to heart.”
Vargas reacted to a panelist’s use of the word “immigrants” by saying, “We are trying to get in the border, because we know we are natives. We are not immigrants. We are natives of this continent. We are indigenous.” Vargas added, “We’re still here. Just you guys making this narrative invisible.”
Serving as one of the panelists for the evening was Christie Popp, a local immigration attorney. One of the points that Popp highlighted was requests for detention made of local authorities by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). They’re known commonly as “ICE holds.”
Monroe County sheriff Brad Swain has said that it’s only serious crimes that trigger ICE holds. Countering that claim is Popp, who has described previously how she’s had clients who faced deportation because they were held in the local jail on non-serious crimes.
On Monday, Popp said, “I think the current sheriff has decided that he likes ICE holds, and he’s going to support them until the end of his term, which is next year.” Popp added, “But any new sheriff, we can certainly put pressure on any new sheriff not to support ICE holds.”
Swain was first elected in 2014, which means he’s nearing the end of his second four-year term. That means he’s not eligible to stand for re-election in 2022, because of Indiana’s constitutional term limits on sheriffs.
Attending Monday’s event was a potential candidate to be elected sheriff in 2022, based on the statement of organization he filed with the county clerk’s office in mid-May: Ruben Marté. He’s currently a captain with the Indiana State Police.
Marté’s paperwork indicates he’d be running as a Democrat. Marté serves on Bloomington’s commission on Hispanic and Latino affairs. He grew up speaking Spanish as his first language.
A potential Republican candidate who has filed paperwork with the clerk is Nathan Williamson, a sergeant with the Monroe County sheriff’s office.
Other panelists for Monday’s event included: Patricia Marvin, a bilingual family liaison with Monroe County Community Schools: Rodrigo Armijos, Indiana University professor of public health; and Elizabeth Lopez, a case worker with Bloomington Township.
Attending Monday’s event were several elected and appointed officials from state, county and city government.
Photos: State of the Latino Community in Monroe County (Oct. 11, 2021)