Friday, February 21, 2020

These are the Latinos Trying to Get Latinos to the Polls

A record 32 million Latinos are projected to be eligible to vote this November and democrats are still figuring out how to get them in the party to turn out.

Latinos come from more than two dozen countries, and are of varying races, religions and cultures. Trying to find a cohesive message for such a broad and diverse group risks marginalizing some of its members.

That’s why Latino leaders on this year’s Democratic presidential campaigns aren’t doing that. They’re instead trying to understand what Latinidad — or Latino identity — means for themselves and for their work, and to use that understanding to engage their communities.

The following are a group of Latinos and Latinas making a difference and trying to get their candidate elected.

Jonathan Jayes-Green is the Latinx outreach director for Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. “My experience living at the margins of how Latinidad has been constructed, particularly being Afro-Latinx and queer, makes me fight to make sure we continue to expand it for those who want to be a part of it,” he said. Finding a way to redefine what it means to be Latino is at the core of Mr. Jayes-Green’s work.

And he’s excited to be doing that as part of the movement he sees Elizabeth Warren creating with her campaign. “What I love when Senator Warren talks about her many plans is that in order to make them be anything beyond a piece of paper, we need a movement,” he said. “We need it to be able to fight for big structural change that we need in our community.”

Laura Jiménez is the National Latino engagement director for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. It took Ms. Jiménez a long time to love her identity, and it wasn’t until six years ago that she realized that her background was valuable.

She learned early on in politics that there would often be only a few Latinos in the room. “It can be very lonely, especially when you start working in these spaces,” she said. But speaking up is essential, Ms. Jiménez said, particularly given the stakes of the 2020 race.

“Trump is using our community to win re-election. He’s demonizing us,” she said. “And because this election is about us, we have to prioritize, as a community, someone who can defeat this man.” She believes former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will fight for Latinos, and she says he has been reflective over the millions of deportations that happened under the Obama administration. She pointed to his immigration plan as evidence.

Edwin Torres is the Latino outreach director for Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Mr. Torres was part of the first wave of Dreamers approved for DACA. “I came into college with a newfound freedom, a freedom that I’ve never tasted before, a freedom that I was validated, that I had a right to be here,” he said.

Last fall, Mr. Torres stood outside the Supreme Court for the hearing on DACA. His status is set to expire this year. Mr. Torres worked on local campaigns in Minnesota before joining Amy Klobuchar’s presidential bid last March.

He said he was inspired by her ability to rally support for Democrats up and down the ballot; “She went the extra mile in 2018 to make sure we flipped the House in Minnesota, which then allowed us to have bigger conversations on licenses for all, and other progressive policies,” he said.

Belén Sisa is the Latino press secretary for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. “I grew up in a primarily white, middle-class neighborhood where for the first part of my life I felt really ashamed of not only being an immigrant, but also being undocumented,” she said. “I was just trying to assimilate any way possible, because I wanted to be the same as everyone else.”

It wasn’t until Ms. Sisa was approved for DACA that she felt empowered and safe enough to get involved in politics. She was drawn to Bernie Sanders because of his plans to fight exploitation in the workplace and improve access to education and health care.

She volunteered for Mr. Sanders during his first presidential run, in 2016, and ended up working with the campaign as a Latino outreach coordinator. She’s now the Latino press secretary for his 2020 campaign.

Cecilia Cabello is the California state director for former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind. “The story of Latinos in L.A. is really kind of the story of my family,” Ms. Cabello said.

She was raised by her grandmother, who taught her only English. “It wasn’t so much that she was ashamed of who she was, but her trying to protect me from the things that she went through,” Ms. Cabello said. It wasn’t until Ms. Cabello went to New York for college and then came back a decade later that she reconnected with her Chicano roots.

She was drawn to Pete Buttigieg because he reminded her of Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles and former President Barack Obama. “I just liked the way he talked about America,” she said. “What I truly believe in is our founding documents. On paper we’re all equal, but that’s obviously not true, so we have to work until it’s actually true for everyone,” she added. “A lot of what Latinidad is to me is getting that work done.”

NY TIMES

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