Latinos and Civic Participation (part 1)

with Abigail Golden-Vazquez of the Latinos and Society Program at the Aspen Institute

National Government

In 2016, there were approximately 27.3 million eligible Latino voters. However, less than half exercised their right to vote in the 2016 Presidential election.

Abigail Golden-Vazquez, Executive Director of the Latinos and Society Program at the Aspen Institute discusses the issues and efforts to boost Latino civic participation.  This discussion continues in part 2 of Latinos and Civic Participation.

Interview recorded Sept 6, 2017.  Hosted by Robert Traynham.  Part 1 of 2.

Read a partial transcript of this interview below:

Traynham: Latinos represent a growing portion of the U.S. population that is expected to reach 30% by the year 2060. By sheer numbers, this population could have a powerful voice in our government, but civic participation rates remain low. Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Comcast Newsmakers.” I´m Robert Traynham. With me is Abigail Golden-Vazquez. She´s the Executive Director of the Latinos and Society Program at the Aspen Institute. Abigail, welcome to the program.

Golden-Vazquez: Thank you, Robert. I´m delighted to be here. Thank you for having me.

Traynham: You´re more than welcome. So, what we have seen over the last couple of years with other minority groups is that, you know, civic participation is a little bit on the rise. There are a lot of folks out there that have said the Obama effect had a lot to do with that. Not only because of his skin tone, but because of just his youthfulness, if you will. But as I mentioned a few moments ago, it seems like in the Latino community, that´s down — that´s actually really down. Why is that the case?

Golden-Vazquez: So, obviously, civic participation is more than just voting, but it is important to talk about voting.

Traynham: That is true, that is true.

Golden-Vazquez: And Latinos under index in all measurements of civic participation. And this is in part due — I mean, there´s many, many reasons to explain this. Some of the reason might be language, whether some of the Latinos are naturalized. A big challenge is we don´t offer civic education in our schools anymore, and the schools that suffer the most are low-income schools and schools that have lots of students of color. Now, Latinos as a population are increasing, as you mentioned, but their rates of participation aren´t mirroring that, aren´t matching that growth. So we had in 2016, we had about under half of eligible voters voting. In 2012, that was slightly down from 2012. There´s another part of this picture, though. Because of the pure growth in this population, more Latinos voted than ever before. Just not at the rates that they should be.

Traynham: You know, Abigail, I want to go back for a second. You mentioned something that´s vitally important. Civic participation does not necessarily mean, well, I have to vote, although that´s extremely important. It´s also participating in jury duty. It´s perhaps maybe — there´s a lot of ways that you can participate in the civic… I would say health of this country in many ways. And the only way that the government can actually survive is for people to participate.

Golden-Vazquez: Yeah.

Traynham: You mentioned something else that I wanted to stress, and that is the lack of civic education in our schools. How do we change that?

Golden-Vazquez: Well, there´s a lot of things that we can do, but it´s incredibly complicated because if you´ve ever engaged in any conversations on education reform or curriculum reform —

Traynham: Incredibly complex.

Golden-Vazquez: That is very, very complex. Ideally, we would like to see civic education offered in every school across America. That may not happen, so sometimes you have to create workarounds. So the Aspen Institute convened a group of leaders, you know, thought leaders and activists and various civic organizations from across the spectrum that we´re talking about from voting to volunteerism, et cetera, and they came up with a set of recommendations. And the highest recommendation from them was increasing civic education. We said, well, we can include it in after-school programs, we can create apps to teach civic education. So, in the short run, we´re gonna be looking at workarounds, but in the long run, we need to have it in every school.

Traynham: This conversationis only beginning.Click the link belowfor more of our discussion.