Latino Youth Vote 2016

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We talk about the “Latino vote” as if it was a thing, but in fact Latino voters are not easy to pin down because of their diversity. This is especially the case as the demographic skews younger. According to the Pew Research Center, almost half of the 27 million Latinos expected to vote this year are millennials, between the age 18 and 33.

That’s why candidates need to appeal to young Latino voters, which isn’t always easy.

Wendy Pacheco (right) pictured with her mom and dad. Because of her father’s incarceration and her mother’s drug issues, Wendy's family has had many run-ins with criminal justice system, sparking her interest in politics.(Photo credit: Courtesy of Pacheco family)
Wendy Pacheco (right) pictured with her mom and dad. Because of her father’s incarceration and her mother’s drug issues, Wendy’s family has had many run-ins with criminal justice system, sparking her interest in politics.(Photo credit: Courtesy of Pacheco family)

“You know I tend to be disillusioned with electoral politics because a lot of the issues that affect the communities that I come from cannot simply be solved through an electoral process,” said Wendy Pacheco. The 22-year old self-identified Democrat was born and raised in East Los Angeles. She calls herself “a poor woman of color.”

“My mother has suffered from a drug addiction,” said Pacheco. “She was gone for a big portion of my life and was in and out of jail. My father is currently incarcerated. It’s a strain on the family. It’s very difficult.”

For Pacheco, who says she’ll vote for a Democrat this November, voting is about representing where she comes from — her family, neighborhood, and community.

“I am really disappointed in most of the Republican candidates,” said 21-year-old Luis Reyes, who is a student at UC Irvine and a registered Republican. “I guess you can tie that into the idea of a Latino Republican ideology, that most of them don’t really fit the Latino part of it.”

Luis Reyez (right) with his father, Will Reyez. The family is interested in American politics, and Luis shares his father's passion for the subject. But now that Luis has gone off to college to study political science, Will says the student has become the teacher. (Photo credit: Noah Nelson/Youth Radio)
Luis Reyez (right) with his father, Will Reyez. The family is interested in American politics, and Luis shares his father’s passion for the subject. But now that Luis has gone off to college to study political science, Will says the student has become the teacher. (Photo credit: Noah Nelson/Youth Radio)

A big influence on Reyes is his family. His parents came to the U.S. from Guatemala and El Salvador, and that experience has made immigration his top issue. A path to citizenship is a priority that he doesn’t see the party sharing with him.

“The problem is that the Republican Party itself is…very white.”

In many ways, Reyes doesn’t totally fit in as a Republican. He’s pro-choice and supports same sex marriage. But in other ways, Reyes feels really at home in the party. He’s wants lower taxes and less government intervention in business. He’s also big on security and strengthening the military to challenge ISIS.

One poll from Univision found that 55 percent of most Latino voters don’t identify as either strong Democrat or strong Republican – meaning that many are persuadable voters.

“Latinos don’t so much respond to a particular party,” said María Urbina of Voto Latino in Washington, D.C.

“Where we really see ourselves is through our families and our communities,” said Urbina. “So if we hear messages that really demonstrate stewardship for our families, that’s where we go.”

Voto Latino encourages Latinos to register and get out the vote, regardless of party. On the day I talked to Urbina, volunteers were working the phones, reminding potential voters of upcoming contests.

Diana Vela-Martinez (right) helps a community member register to vote. Diana is not a citizen, and thus unable to vote. She volunteers with GALEO (Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials) to encourage enfranchised Latinos to be involved in regional and national politics. (Photo Credit: Cristian Ramos)
Diana Vela-Martinez (right) helps a community member register to vote. Diana is not a citizen, and thus unable to vote. She volunteers with GALEO (Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials) to encourage enfranchised Latinos to be involved in regional and national politics. (Photo Credit: Cristian Ramos)

In Gainesville, Georgia, 20-year-old Diana Vela-Martinez volunteers to register Latino voters near her home, even though Vela-Martinez isn’t able to register herself because she’s not a citizen.

“If our voices are silenced,” said Vela-Martinez, “our way to being heard is encouraging those who are eligible to vote to pick people who support DACA and undocumented students.”

Vela-Martinez got a work permit through President Obama’s DACA program. It’s for young people brought into the U.S. as children. But the program could be reversed by the next president meaning Vela-Martinez could face deportation.

With record numbers of Latinos voting in 2008 and again in 2012, wherever they are on the political spectrum, young Latinos could be the ones to watch.

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