National VLPower Summit and Tech Contest: Voto Latino's Devotion to Emboldening the Latino Community [INTERVIEW]
Voto Latino, the non-partisan organization that's charged with helping millennials claim a better future for themselves and their community, and is committed to continual acts of Latino progression, has helped to promote the knowledge that Latino issues are American issues.
Immigration, for instance, greatly affects the Latino community; however... Voto Latino recognizes that it does not affect Latinos exclusively. In fact, individuals with family hailing from China, India, the Philippines, Vietnam and South Korea are involved in the immigration conversation, as well as the general population. Even non-immigrant individuals are likely to feel the rippling effects of poor treatment of the undocumented and documented immigrant population, yet Latinos are continuously made the poster child for immigration, as if they are the only ones shouting for reform.
The proactive vehicle for positive Latino change, Voto Latino, hopes to impart on the nation that matters that Latinos hold close are matters that are of great importance to individuals outside of the community.
Steve Alfaro, Voto Latino's (VP of Digital and Creative) is the master behind the curtain when it comes to actually engaging youth through marketing efforts, and wielding promotion tools. Alfaro took time out of his busy schedule to speak with Latin Post about voting, immigration, and how technology has eased the effort to embolden Latinos. Social media has been a major instrument when intending to reach and rally Latinos, and this something that Alfaro and the association is grateful for.
"We started off with MySpace back in 2008, and we eventually ended up moving to Twitter, Instagram and Google+. We try to do social media to get [millennials'] attention. And, our partners and our celebrity supporters help us spread our message so that we can expand and have a louder voice," Alfaro said about the organization that was co-founded by Puerto Rican/Afro-Cuban screen star Rosario Dawson.
When discussing Latino millennials and their concerns, the topic of immigration reform wandered into the conversation; which has a great deal to do with their affiliation to the D.R.E.A.M. Act.
"I think that we're all connected through this immigration issue, which is why I think it's risen to the top, above everything else, but unfortunately with the immigration reform right now. That's caused focus to sway a little bit," said Alfaro, who started with the organization as a volunteer and eventually moved up the ladder. "We need to work together to get it done. The senate passed the bill, and now we need the House [of Representatives] to come forward. Even if the [the White House and the House of Representatives] aren't in agreement, they need to bring it to the floor and let it be. At this point, it's more painful ... because we got halfway there, and now ... there's nothing happening."
Jimmy Hernandez, Voto Latino's Communications Director who was also a part of the conversation, shared details about the organization's health campaign, saying, "We make also make it our duty to inform Latinos about healthcare ... and no, it's not a sexy topic, but it's important, nonetheless."
Pushing for more Latinos to sign up for the Affordable Care Act prior to the March 31 deadline, Alfaro shared that Voto Latino coordinated a number of hangouts, info-graphics, and information on social media in order to get the word out. He made a point of saying that it's important for Latinos to at least browse the website, and become acquainted.
While the ACA health insurance enrollment deadline was Monday, March 31, customers who went on the Healthcare.gov or Cuidadodesalud.gov and indicated that they began the application process prior to the deadline still have an opportunity to receive healthcare. Additionally, states running their own exchanges have set their own deadlines, so it's important to see what options are still available. Failure to sign up or acquire health insurance is a fine of $95 for the year.
"We were trying to see how to break down the importance of insurance for our audience. Firstly, it's a good investment. We want to be healthy, and we want to make sure that we don't have to worry our families if we get sick. In the long term, if you do end up getting sick or something really bad happens ... your family has to support you. You'd be putting them in a position that they shouldn't have to be in," Alfaro said, mentioning that Latinos United for Healthcare is a source of great information regarding health care as it relates to the Hispanic community.
Steps that Voto Latino has taken to involve Latino millennials in the continual progression of the group include launching a technological contest that will ask young Latinos to create technology that helps Latinos at large.
"We're asking that Latinos develop ideas... technology that helps their community. It's something that's very different than we've never done before. It not specifically for voting, but it could be. We don't know what we'll get from it," Alfaro said. "The idea is for them to think about it, and submit creative ideas. We'll be selecting winners, and Voto Latino will be funding those ideas. We're looking forward to seeing the results in the summer."
Some things that Voto Latino has done in the past include pioneering voter registration text message awareness; they've also sent out reminders before the deadlines using the same technology. Also, when those deadlines have passed, the "get out there and vote" movement starts, pushing that Latinos vote using text messages, Gmail, knocking on doors, making phone calls, and etc.
"We don't stop reaching out; telling them to vote for whichever candidate they'd like to support," Alfaro said.
Hernandez agreed with Alfaro's remark, saying, "The reason that we're online is because we know that Latino millennials live online, and are excessive users of the internet and social media. Because they're there, we're there. In fact, Voto Latino has the largest following on Twitter out of all of the Latino civic engagement organizations. And, a lot of that has to do with Steve and the engagement efforts that he produces."
Alfaro's engagement efforts involve creating stunning graphic features, which go viral and differentiates the Voto Latino from others. Alfaro recently designed a graphic image that slightly mimics HRC's signature equal sign. They were made red and pink, and flipped sideways.
"We were on capitol hill, and knew that everyone was going to be out there, and we thought, 'what can we put out there that the rest of the county would support online?' Then we thought about flipping the equal sign, turning it so that it was an 11, we added our own colors to it, and we sent it out there ... and it went viral," Alfaro said, proudly. "It was cool to see people drawing it, putting it on t-shirts ... and customizing it. It just took off; it wasn't something that we expected ... but it helped people connect; people who were all interested in immigration reform."
The organization is fueled by strong efforts on multiple levels. While Alfaro deals in marketing, and Hernandez deals in communications, Chairwoman Rosario Dawson and CEO/President Maria Teresa Kumar handle things at a higher level, tasked with having their hands on every aspect of Voto Latino's pursuits.
"Maria Teresa's involved in everything from beginning to end, but Rosario, she's really involved when it comes to public service announcements and anything that has to do with the creative side of things. We sit down and we have meetings with her, and have creative brainstorms. It's really cool to work with her in that sense, because she really gets involved," Alfaro shared. "Rosario is the chairwoman of the board, so during board meetings, she's there."
When it comes to attracting Latinos to register and vote, there is a united push from Voto Latino and other organizations to collectively draw people to voting booths. There's an "all hands on deck" approach that's manifested, and they swarm audiences with notices regarding voting.
"Yeah, it's important to just get people out there voting, it doesn't matter which organization pushes the message," Hernandez said. "We've done a voter registration trail, which we sometimes track -but we don't know how many people we, as organization, have gotten to vote."
#TRENDURVOICE, a collaborative effort launched at SXSW by Rock the Vote and Voto Latino, is the latest movement to get Latinos to vote.
"It's exciting because it's two different organizations that work with American youth, and we've come together," Alfaro stated, then recalled that he was very familiar with Rock the Vote when he was growing up. "Now that I work with Voto Latino... and I get to work with Rock the Vote... there's something really cool about that. #TRENDURVOICE was an effort to connect with millennials, using language that they use on social media. We thought about trending ... and how things trend online, and we thought, well, trend your voice. It's mostly an online campaign, but we'd like to bring it the ground."
Voto Latino's labors to get Latinos to vote are far from the only thing on their full agenda for this year. Just last month, Voto Latino hosted a star-studded premier of the Cesar Chavez film (starring Michael Peña, America Ferrera, and Rosario Dawson and directed by Diego Luna) in Washington, D.C. at Newsuem. While the organization's not involved with the film, they fully supported the cast and crew, and the Chavez family, who were in attendance. Both men said that the Chavez screening was a natural fit for the organization, the civil-rights activist and labor organizer from which the film is based being an incomparable icon in the Latino/Hispanic community.
"I hope that people see what Ceasar Chavez was able to do without technology, without all of the resources that we have now. I want millennials to see what he was able to do with nothing, and I want them to think, 'what can I do with all that we have?" Alfaro said, concerning what he expects millennials will take away from the film. "I hope it inspires people as a collective to do more."
"The one in New York is the first of four, and then we're going to Miami, San Antonio and then San Jose. It's pretty big, and it's for Latino millennials to come, and participants will be rewarded after each workshop with badges. So, every time you do a great action at the workshop, you're rewarded with a digital badge. And, participants will keep the badges from when they start in New York... until their time in San Jose," Alfaro said.
"The badge system is part of a larger project, where other organizations are a part of it. There's more to education than what we actually learn in school. The things that we learn in conferences or at home matter," Hernandez said. "For example, Latino millennials, we usually take a leadership role in our families because we have to translate. I remember I had to translate for my mom when we got financial documents...bank statements, healthcare, stuff like that. So, what will be done is that those skills can be recorded on an online digital resume that's composed of digital badges. We're adding on top of that too; participants will gain badges for new skills that they've learned at the conference."
Learning how to do a media interview and how to create a social media campaign will all go toward assembling a resume that will show diverse skill sets that don't necessarily fit on a typical resume. Skills that aren't learned at school but learned in the world are talents that the Voto Latino Power Summit will teach. They will also teach youngsters how to start their own positions, and how to position themselves to be problem solvers in their community by utilizing these skills. The summit's potential to equip Latinos with newfound abilities could even enable them to pursue a political future.
The organization, and its celebrity outreach... Rosario Dawson, America Ferrera and Wilmer Valderrama, help to connect the Latino community to a better future. No specific greatest achievement can be identified by the organization because its members pride themselves in being a part of the political process.
In the 2000s, the Latino voting percentage was around 20 percent, according to Hernandez, and in 2012, that number jumped 48 percent, and Voto Latino knows that they can partially take credit for that.
"America once gave a speech, and she said, 'they're 50 million of us in the U.S., can you imagine if we all came out and voted?'" Alfaro said with deference. "She was saying it would be a big deal if we all came out for elections. And, the 2014 elections aren't as popular as the bigger elections, but they're important. It would make a statement, and show congress that we're a major force."
One major goal that the organization has... rather, is a hope, is that they hope that when the country gains its first Latino president, that individual has ties to Voto Latino.
Many need an organization like Voto Latino to encourage them to vote, particularly when they come from a household where their parents don't vote for whatever reason; be it ambivalence, ignorance, or lack of status.
"I believe in the concept of voting, and believe in being non-partisan. Voto Latino isn't trying to sell you anything. We just want Latinos to be a part of the political process so that they can help themselves," Alfaro said.
Later this year, Voto Latino will again co-manage National Voter Registration Day to create awareness of voter registration opportunities; they will host the "Rep Ur Letters" campaign, encouraging Latino Greeks to register others to vote; and the year will culminate with a Voto Latino Gala in November.
Subscribe to Latin Post!
Sign up for our free newsletter for the Latest coverage!