Voto Latino's Rosario Dawson, Maria Teresa Kumar, Wilmer Valderrama and America Ferrera on 'Amplifying' Latino Millennials in Politics
With the 2014 midterm elections over, statistics on U.S. Latinos' voter turnout have slowly surfaced to show lower-than-expected attendance.
An internal Democratic National Convention (DNC) report from 36 states showed 42.3 percent of overall Americans voted, significantly higher than 25.6 percent of the Latino electorate. Moving onto the 2016 election season, organizations are strengthening their commitment to engage Latinos -- specifically Latino millennials.
Since 2004, Voto Latino, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, has empowered Latino millennials with the mission to develop future leaders through youth, media, technology and celebrity engagement. The organization also believes, "Latino issues are American issues and American issues are Latino issues." Co-founded by actress Rosario Dawson, Voto Latino has also been led by its president and CEO, Maria Teresa Kumar. Latino actors have also carried Voto Latino's missions, including America Ferrera and Wilmer Valderrama.
To coincide with Voto Latino's 10-year anniversary celebration and its 2015 VL Innovators Challenge ceremony in Washington, D.C., Latin Post spoke with Dawson, Kumar, Ferrera and Valderrama about the need for Latino millennials' engagement ahead of the 2016 election season.
"It's hugely important," said Dawson on the importance of the Latino vote. "Our numbers are too huge. We are destined, just by the numbers alone, to inherit this country, but we are incredibly disenfranchised, we are not educated enough, we're not working in community enough where there's too much disparity between ours and everyone else and that doesn't bode well for America. That makes it an American issue."
According to Dawson, since it is American issue, everybody has to be involved and say, "'[W]e need to make sure that all these young people, but specifically, especially Latino millennials are engaged.'" She noted Latino millennials' engagement in politics will indicate how the U.S. can be competitive in the world, and the demographic is capable of executing actions.
"Right now there's so many people who are unhopeful and that doesn't make any sense," continued Dawson. "We actually have all the resources and the people power to really make the impact and difference, and it's time for us to start being in that zone and just get down, get dirty and go 'okay, I'm going to take this on.'"
Dawson acknowledged there are millennials who have made an initiative to be proactive, such as by creating an organization, and while she supports the efforts, the Voto Latino co-founder emphasized they still have to vote.
"That's the one thing that I'm seeing is a lot of people, they are doing really great work so I don't ever want to talk to any young person out there and going 'you're not doing enough,' cause that's not true. They're doing so much," said Dawson.
"There's a connective piece that's there that maybe is not getting the traction that it could, and I understand why, but that's the connective dot that could really make the real difference, 'cause you can march all you want but if you don't march to the polls, you're not going to see the critical changes that's going to be effective for the generations down the line. That's where we really need to make the impact with young people to let them know 'this is how you could put it down in the books and let history hear you.'"
Kumar explained the reason Voto Latino exists is because the Latino community, and Americans who believe in the Latino community, believe in the work the nonpartisan organization has accomplished. She added, "We're only as strong as they are. The more we can continue to working together, the stronger we will be." Valderrama, who serves as Voto Latino's Artist Coalition co-chair, said he wants Latino millennials to know they are supported. The actor said Voto Latino understands how Latino millennials move, speak, commute and the issues that are important to them.
When Kumar was asked about the significance for Latino millennials in the political process, the Voto Latino president and CEO said, "It's about time we start defining our future, and the only way we can do it is electing people who actually pay attention to us and if they don't, we have to vote them out.
Valderrama responded, "The millennials, more than anyone, should be involved in the political process especially in how you tailor your local governments and national governments. Why? The reason why is because it's their tomorrow that we need to change. ... Unfortunately the needs for tomorrow for that generation and that community is completely different than what we live in today. That's why [Latino millennials] need to figure out how to create a bigger sense of urgency and because it is critical for them to tailor the tomorrow they want."
"The work that Voto Latino does is about the future of this country, and the future of the role that the Latino community will play in their future," said fellow Voto Latino Artist Coalition Co-Chair and actress America Ferrera. "We're going into a presidential election year and the job is to wake people up and to get them out representing themselves, showing up for themselves.
Ferrera reiterated the nonprofit organization's mission is to have youths at the ballot, while "creating and amplifying" the their voices.
"The hope is that it would be great if in another 10 years there was no need for Voto Latino because we've empowered and inspired so many young people to become local leaders in their own communities and register every single one of their family members and friends and peers to show up and vote and to take responsibility for the engagement that exists in their community," Ferrera added.
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