Latino Leaders: Be involved, Dubon says

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Clerk-Treasurer Thomas Dippel administers the oath of office for José Dubon as his wife, Edith, holds the Bible, accompanied by his daughters Ruby, 5, and Melisa, 18. at Old Town Hall in Huntingburg on Jan. 1.


José Dubon believes people should be active and involved in their community.

He learned that from his father, Luis.

“My dad loves to be involved,” José said. “I watched him and learned.”

Luis always tried to help others understand their community and encouraged them be involved, especially in bringing the Latino community and the non-Latino community together as one.

José, 41, has moved to a more prominent platform in that effort. In November, he was elected to be a Huntingburg councilman, the first Latino to fill that role.

“That is what I say now to the other Latino people, 'Get involved,'” he said. “A lot of Latinos, they maybe don't have any idea of the programs we have in the city. And we have a lot right now.”

Born and raised in El Salvador, José came to the United States as an 18-year-old in 1997.

“When we came, it was in two groups,” he said. “My younger brother, me and two sisters, we came here together with my mom. After, I think, six months later, my mom went to Salvador to bring the others.” There were 11 siblings total.

They settled in Maryland, close to Washington, D.C., with relatives. His father, who had been living in California, moved to Maryland as well.

“I don’t like the big city,” José said. “I grew up in rural El Salvador. Where we was living, we had a big mountain on the side. We had a river. I miss that part.”

In 1998, José and one of his brothers moved to Huntingburg. A cousin who lived here told them about working at Farbest Foods. So they came to work at the company.

When José arrived, he knew he found his home.

“When I come here, I really liked this place. It’s like El Salvador,” he said. “In the summertime, we can grow things here, like beans and corn. It’s like where we come from, rural farm area. That’s why I like it here.”

His father and the rest of the family came soon after. They all settled in a house near Clay and Eighth streets. “When my daddy bought the house, it was a big house,” José said. “It was like five rooms, and we was together. After that, everybody was moving.”

After three weeks of working at Farbest, José moved to a job at MasterBrand. And in 2000, he visited El Salvador.

“I had a girlfriend over there, who became my wife,” he said. “I drove from here to Salvador. It take eight days.”

José and his wife, Edith, got married that year, on Christmas Eve. And while he was there, a major earthquake hit the area. He ended up staying in El Salvador for a month and a half.

“When I came back here in February, two days later, there was another earthquake,” he recalled. “My wife, she was still over there.”

Edith ended up coming to the United States in April and José filed paperwork for her permanent resident status.

José, who already had his permanent resident status, became a citizen in 2004. “I still have the newspaper on that, when I make my citizenship,” he said proudly.

But a few months later, Edith received a letter from immigration stating that she had to go back to El Salvador to wait for her resident status to be approved. She left in 2005.

“But she only stay for four months,” José said. “She got the visa to come back. So that was good.”

José and Edith have three children: Melissa, 18, William, 11, and Ruby, 5. He has worked at MasterBrand for 19 years and is a team lead. They live a couple blocks from where José and his family lived originally, and José’s parents live next door. They use the land between the houses to plant things like corn and beans.

“I like this place for that reason,” he said. “In the big city, we can’t do that. With the apartments and houses, they don’t have enough space.”

With the guidance of his oldest brother, he has added two rooms to his home, and he has laid flooring. Helping family is an important trait José and his siblings learned from their parents.

“If I don’t know something, I ask my brothers, because they have more ideas,” he said. “We help each other. And we work [with] each other.”

While living in El Savador, José studied accounting. But that changed when he moved to the United States.

“I had to work to help my dad to bring the other brothers and sisters here,” he said. “So, being the oldest brothers, we had to work really, really hard.”

He took English GED classes while living in Maryland. But he would like to take classes locally, to improve his English skills. Learning the local language is a goal of many non-English speakers, he said.

“A lot of families living here, they would like to learn English. There are classes at St. Mary’s church, and that is really cool,” he said.

Most of his English-speaking skills came through his job.

“I learned a lot at work, working with people,” he said. “When I say something wrong, they say, ‘No. You have to say this.’ So they help me a lot.”

But he remembers the early days, when did not speak very well.

“When my first daughter was born, it was really hard for me. I wanted to speak and could say nothing,” he said. “I did not know much English. I had to find somebody to translate. It was hard.”

Over the years, between the classes he took and listening at work, José learned enough English to read, write and have conversations.

Now, his children, who are bilingual, help him improve with the English language.

“So when I have a question, I ask them and they help me. Right now, Ruby is teaching me,” José said. “She likes teaching. She's in school and she has learned a lot. She speaks a lot of English, and she speaks Spanish. So that’s really good.

“I like when they speak both languages.”

One day, he would like take his children to El Salvador and to other Latino countries. “I want my daughters and my boy to see the different countries,” he said. “But right now, what I hear on the news is that in Mexico, there’s danger. So not yet.”

True to the Dubon heritage, José stays active in the community. He is a member of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Huntingburg, and serves as choir director of the Spanish Mass; he also plays the guitar. He and some of his brothers have a band, Grupo Guanaco, that has performed in the area at various events and festivals. They practice at their father’s house, and are teaching William and some of his cousins how to play instruments. José is also a member of the Asociación Latinoamericana del Sur de Indiana, or the Association of Latin Americans in Southern Indiana, also known as ALASI.

Former Mayor Denny Spinner saw him as a great candidate to run for the District 4 council seat last year.

“When he called me and asked, 'Would you like to run for councilman?' I had to think about it,” José said. “I had no idea what a councilman does. I did not have any political background.”

He talked to his friend, Primo Niño, about the idea. “Primo said, ‘I know you can do it.’ And then, I decided that I could,” he said.

Many people were elated that he was going to run.

“My dad was really happy. And my family, they was happy too,” José said. “A lot of my friends were happy. They say, ‘If you win, you will be the first Latino to represent our community.

“But I was a little bit confused, because I had no idea of what I would have to do, what I need to do in that campaign for this.”

Spinner and other Republican counterparts helped him through the process: file paperwork, make a public announcement of his candidacy, have signs, talk to people in District 4, get his name out into the community even more. And on Election Night, Nov. 5, 2019, José won, and became the first Latino person to sit on the Huntingburg Common Council.

“It was a surprise to me,” he said. “But the other thing is what I saw on Election Day. A lot of American people who live here, who are not Latino, told me that they were voting for me. One guy told me, ‘I come in this day to vote, because you are running.’ So that made me glad.”

José is learning the ropes about his councilman role. He makes himself accessible to all constituents and encourages the Latino community to reach out him.

This past summer, when the state was encouraging residents to follow recommended health guidelines because of the COVID-19 virus, Dubon and Spinner went door to door to Latinos’ homes to let them know of the guidelines.

“I tell the Latinos, if they need some information, I can get you that. If I don’t know, I can tell them how to get it,” José said. “And I still tell them that it is important to be involved in the community. That is how you get to know your community, and your community gets to know you.”