Nearly 48 percent of eligible Latinos voted in the 2016 election, compared to the 61 percent of all eligible Americans who cast their ballot.
Hector Sanchez Barba, Executive Director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement
, joins guest host Nathalia Ortiz to discuss the importance of engaging Latinos in civic participation at the ballot box and beyond.
Ortiz: During the 2016 election, nearly 48% of eligible Latino voters cast their ballot, a distant comparison to the 61% of all eligible Americans who participated in the electoral process. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Nathalia Ortiz. Joining me to discuss efforts to boost Latino civic participation is Hector Sanchez Barba, Executive Director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. Hector, welcome to the program. [ Conversing in Spanish ] The Hispanic community, Hector, faces a unique set of challenges here in the United States of America. I just want to mention a few things. The U.S. Census surveys indicate that Latinos are less likely to speak to public officials, to volunteer, to trust in public institutions, and, of course, to vote. How do we overcome those challenges?
Barba: No, the challenges are great, and those challenges, unfortunately, keep increasing, especially during this administration. We have seen very serious attacks against immigrants and against Latino community. Hate crimes against Latinos keep increasing, bullying against Latinos keep increasing. And immigrants is the same situation. Let me take use two particular cases to exemplify why this is so bad. For example, the issue of immigration conversation in the nation. We are a nation that depends on the labor of 11 million undocumented workers, and instead of creating a system of inclusion to thank them for all the contributions, we have a system of punishment. We´re really pushing these people to the shadows, and we have a system just of exploitation and criminalization of undocumented families. That´s unacceptable. The second case is Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico just suffered probably the worst hurricane in the history of this beautiful island, and we saw probably the most ineffective response from the federal government in response to Puerto Rico.
Ortiz: And you spent a significant amount of time in Puerto Rico. In fact, you were there just recently. What can you tell me about what you saw? And how is it a year after?
Barba: It´s unacceptable that an island like Puerto Rico is still -- 30% of the island doesn´t have electricity. People are dying. A recent report shows that 3,000 people die after the hurricane. Other report shows that 4,600 people die in the island because of the mediocre response of the federal government. So those two examples really help us understand why, as a community, we need to be more aggressive engaging in civic participation. At a time when we´re facing so many challenges, we see civic participation as the best response to be a powerful community. I travel all over the nation, and it´s so powerful and so amazing to see people asking, "What else can I do?" So, as an organization, we´re making sure that we partner with other great national Latino organizations to do more voter registration. We´re gonna do a lot and very strong GOTV -- getting out the vote -- voter education to understand why these issues are so important for our community, which, by the way, our issues are reflective of the priorities of the nation as a whole. So power in education, getting involved in your school is also civic participation, participating in marches. So, all of these issues are reflective of having a strong democracy, and that´s why we want to tell everybody and encourage everybody to participate in our beautiful democracy.
Ortiz: Hector, how do we help those who don´t -- or what do you say to those who can´t vote, who perhaps are either undocumented or are here legally who simply cannot vote, they´re not eligible?
Barba: It´s important to understand that it doesn´t matter what´s your legal status. You have labor rights, you have human rights, and you have civil rights. But there are some ways to participate, and there are some beautiful campaigns all over the nation to make sure that undocumented people and immigrants in general are also contributing to this beautiful democracy. They can engage -- They can ask their family members that can participate that are citizens and that can vote to participate in those democracies. Civic participation is also engaging in the school of your children. Participate in those meetings. You have the right to be involved, to make sure that you give your input in all these conversations.
Ortiz: And to be informed, to know what´s going on in your community.
Barba: That´s another example of what you can do. Be informed of your rights, educate about what else can you do in those spaces?
Ortiz: But you and I both know that things like that are things that create fear among our undocumented community, especially the Hispanic undocumented community. And so how do we encourage them to not be afraid to come out of the shadows, especially in times where they might feel more threatened than ever?
Barba: It´s understandable that a lot of our brothers and sisters are afraid and in fear, and it´s understandable that they live in the shadows in horrible situations. So we are asking, within the limits of what is safe, to participate, to organize, to educate other members or just educate themselves about their rights. If they´re undocumented, they have many rights, and it´s powerful for them to be more empowered when it comes to engaging in their community. So this is a time not to be silent. This is a time when we all need to engage, when we need to be active, when we need to educate ourself, when we need to organize, to mobilize, to resist because our families and our children are paying the price of all the horrid attacks and all the racism that we´re facing.
Ortiz: So, I´m going to assume that only a portion of those who didn´t vote during the last presidential election were ineligible to vote. What about those who perhaps are eligible and didn´t anyway because of -- I don´t know if it´s a lack of an interest, because perhaps they´re focused on other things. I mean, what´s your take on that?
Barba: We´re seeing a lot of attacks, also, from the voter suppression, to make it harder for minorities to participate in the process. And as organization, we´re fighting those issues that make it harder to participate in the democratic process. But this is not time to have apathy in the nation -- or political apathy in the nation. It´s important to participate. And I know it´s hard for some people, and it´s understandable for some people it´s very hard to take hours to go and vote, to register to vote. It takes time to be engaged in the civic-participation process. But this investment pays off because it´s a way for us to raise our voices, it´s a way for us to really get attention of the national politicians. And we also need to participate in that place. We see beautiful examples all over the nation of Latinas and Latinos running for public office, probably more than we have seen ever in the past because this is also our democracy.
Ortiz: Hector Sanchez Barba, thank you for joining us today.
Barba: Muchas gracias.
Ortiz: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Nathalia Ortiz.