It’s no secret that voter apathy is at an all-time high among Latinos.
According to a Pew Research study, in 2016 there were 26.7 million Latinos eligible to vote but less than half (about 12.7 million) casted ballots. Latino voter turnout was more than 17 per cent below that of white people and 12 percent less than black people.
As a Mexican immigrant who has voted in every election since I became a naturalized US citizen in the mid-1980s, I am distraught by this. But I understand why it happens, because I witnessed it firsthand with my parents.
My parents, like many Latino immigrants of their generation, left behind corrupt governments with fake democracies. When Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) announced a candidate, it was understood that they were receiving confirmation on their next “elected” official.
It didn’t matter who they voted for. Their government had already decided who to put in power. This created a culture in which people felt like no action they took yielded real results.
But that has not been my experience. I became a citizen before them and went to college in the US. There I learned the importance of civic engagement. I knew the power of my vote and took every opportunity to exercise it. I witnessed the power of democracy and voting in 1986 when President Ronald Reagan, signed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) bill, known as Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA).
This bill had bipartisan support in a divided Congress. Republicans controlled the Senate, 53 to 47, and the House was controlled by Democrats by 253 to 182. Ultimately IRCA passed 69 to 30 in the Senate and 230 to 166 in the House. To me this signalled that bipartisanship is real, and change is possible.
The last attempt to enact CIR occurred in 2013 when the Senate, control by Republicans, passed the Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act (EOIMA) 68 to 32. If passed, this bill would have given a path to earned legal status, and eventual citizenship, for millions of undocumented individuals who have been in and contributing to the US for many years.
Unfortunately, EOIMA was never brought for vote in the Republican-controlled House, even though most experts believe that it would have narrowly passed. I suspect that if Latinos would have voted in par with whites and blacks in 2014 and 2016, we would have seen a more positive environment for CIR and it may well have become a reality.
Even with a sitting president who spews toxic rhetoric against immigrants and Mexicans, I’m hopeful for the future. I believe we can see immigration reform in this election cycle if Latinos are willing to participate in their government. Decisions that impact their lives are being made. Not voting does not exempt them from this harsh reality. Latinos, like any US citizen, have the power to shape policy — if they’re willing to show up and get involved in order to change the power dynamics in Washington.
We can shape the future through political participation: by working the polls, running for office, donating to political causes or volunteering for a favourable candidate. But one of the easiest ways to get involved is to vote.
One of my primary motivations to vote then, and now, is immigration reform. Like many Latino and immigrant families, mine represent a mix of status. My wife and children were born citizens. My siblings and parents became naturalised citizens, but I have several extended family members who are undocumented or Dreamers.
Not that I need another reason to exercise my civic duty, but I do vote for them. If Latinos refuse to show up at the polls to voice their displeasure with the policies we’ve seen Trump enact the last two years, the only guarantee is more pain and suffering.
In this election, there are 2.4 million more Latino voters than in 2016. This increase is driven by US-born children of Latino immigrants. My son is part of this new wave of eligible voters.
On Tuesday, my wife, son and I are going to vote together for the first time. My daughters, who will be of voting age in two in years, are also coming. We are asking our family and friends to do the same. We cannot ask our children to do something they don’t see us do ourselves.
It took my parents into middle age to realise their power, by seeing me accept mine. I share this gift with my children in the hopes of creating a ripple effect.
Today, there are 29.1 million eligible Latino voters. They are not a monolith but many are directly affected by today’s immigration laws. Imagine the kind of change we could see if all of them showed up to the polls. They’d be a part of dictating what happens next, instead of merely reacting to decisions made for them. And civic engagement is the most American thing of all.
Raul Raymundo is co-founder of The Resurrection Project, a Chicago-based community organisation
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies