Jessica: More than 50 million Latinos live in the United States. That’s a lot of voting power – enough to influence this November’s presidential election. But half of Latinos eligible to vote usually don’t. I talked to actress and political activist Rosario Dawson to find out why.
With roots in nearly twenty different nations, the Latino population in the U.S. is as diverse as the countries they come from.
Annette Roman: My family is from Dominican Republic.
Christopher Gonzalez: My father, he was originated from Puerto Rico.
Rosario Dawson: I’m Puerto Rican and Cuban.
Jessica: Uniting and igniting this diverse population is the political message of Latina actress Rosario Dawson.
Rosario: It’s important to register in September and use your voice in November, so you don’t just be complaining in December – and no one wants to hear it because you didn’t vote.
Jessica: That’s why Rosario came back to her hometown – New York City. Rosario co-founded Voto Latino, a non-partisan organization devoted to engaging young people in the political process. And according to Voto Latino, every month 50,000 Latinos turn 18. And that means they’re able to vote – which is why Voto Latino organized National Voter Registration Day with events all over the country including this one at Lehman College in the Bronx. Most of the people registering here will be voting for the first time.
What do you think are some of the most important issues for you and your family?
Annette: Basically, just trying to advance in this country and get a higher education.
Willy Taveras: More jobs. Better school benefits.
Rosa Rojas: Get everybody to really see that education’s the most important thing.
Rosario: Latino issues are American issues. We’re really hard-hit by the economy being bad. We’re really hard-hit by dropout rates in school and education issues. It’s a big deal that people who are being talked about so negatively in the press have a positive experience and say, and exercising their rights because they are Americans – and they do speak English and they do care about what direction this country is going. And know the majority of them are not here illegally, like one in three non-Latino Americans believe.
Jessica: Latinos are the largest minority in the U.S. A record number – about 22 million – will be eligible to vote in this year’s election. But less than half are expected to actually turn out.
It’s estimated by 2050, one third of the population in the U.S. will be Latino. But why is there still such this big gap between those who are eligible to vote and those who actually turn out to vote?
Rosario: That’s across the board. That’s Latinos who when we reach out they say ‘no one asked them.’ They don’t feel their voice was important or mattered. But I was told since I was a little girl that I was important, that my voice mattered. So I’m sorry if your abuelita didn’t tell that to you but I’m telling you right now, your voice matters.
Jessica: It’s a voice the presidential candidates are trying to win over. Both the Republican and Democratic conventions featured Latino speakers.
Marco Rubio: For those of us who were born and raised in this country, sometimes it becomes easy to forget how special America is. But my grandfather understood how different America was from the rest of the world, because he knew life outside America.
Julian Castro: The American Dream is not a sprint, or even a marathon, but a relay. Our families don’t always cross the finish line in the span of one generation. But each generation passes onto the next the fruits of their labor.
Jessica: Both presidential campaigns are now focusing on swing states, a handful of states that are likely to determine which candidate will win. The Latino population in several of these states has exploded. For example, in Nevada, the Hispanic community grew 82% between 2000 and 2010, and now accounts for 26% of the total population. But this powerful voting bloc can only make a difference if they get involved.
Rosario: Voting age or not, you’re making moves. I can already see it. I’m watching it online. People are fired up. I sent a link to twenty people. I’m like, get it! This is so exciting.
Jessica: A message this 12-year-old is taking to heart.
Leanette Franco: If you have a friend or a family member old enough to vote, you guys can talk about it and come to a conclusion, come to a decision, and there’s your vote.
Jessica: Jessica Kumari, Channel One News.