The Iowa City Latino Festival has been postponed. It was scheduled for Saturday, but has been put on hold out of respect for the family and friends of Mollie Tibbetts, festival founder and organizer Manny Galvez explained.
“We wanted to express our solidarity with her family and friends,” Galvez told Little Village. “Mollie’s friends, professors and other people are in Iowa City, and we know they are mourning and now is not the time for a festival downtown. We don’t want to do anything that could be interpreted as disrespectful.”
Tibbetts, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student, disappeared while jogging near her home in the Poweshiek County town of Brooklyn on July 18. On Tuesday, Cristhian Bahena Rivera, who lives in rural Poweshiek County, was arrested for her murder. That same day, Rivera led authorities to Tibbetts’ body, which he had hidden in a cornfield.
Rivera, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, worked at Yarrabee Farms in rural Poweshiek County.
According to the Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS), Rivera confessed to following Tibbetts and having a confrontation with her, during which she threatened to call the police, but claims not to remember committing the murder.
Galvez said the decision to postpone was made during online discussion with festival organizers and vendors on a Wednesday night. In addition to wanting to show respect for Tibbetts’ family and friends, Galvez said safety concerns had also been raised during the discussion.
“Some vendors told me they were afraid there could be an incident,” he said. “On social media, we’re seeing a lot of hateful rhetoric. There are a lot of hateful comments being directed at the Latino community.”
“Some politicians in Iowa are addressing this issue in the wrong way, I think,” he added. “We need to talk about violence against women, but that’s not what they are focusing on.”
Galvez pointed to the official statement issued by Gov. Kim Reynolds minutes after DPS concluded its press conference announcing the arrest of Rivera.
“As Iowans, we are heartbroken, and we are angry,” Reynolds concluded. “We are angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community, and we will do all we can bring justice to Mollie’s killer.”
“Like everybody, we want to hold [Rivera] accountable,” Galvez said. “But saying to the public that the problem is people without documents is wrong. I think the roots of this situation — crime and violence against women — is beyond that.”
Galvez, who has lived in Iowa for 13 years, said he’s never before seen anything like the reaction on social media to Rivera’s arrest.
“Member of the Latino community are concerned, and some are afraid,” he said. “There are a lot of angry things being said. And [the people making the angry statements] aren’t distinguishing between people without documents and Latinos.”
“Much of the rhetoric we’re seeing is dangerous.”
Galvez said he’s working with the city in hopes of rescheduling the festival for the end of September. This year makes the seventh year of the Iowa City Latino Festival.