The Latinx community is expected to be the nation’s largest ethnic minority group eligible to vote in the upcoming election, with 32 million people able to participate in democracy.
In recognition of Latinx Heritage Month, the Cal State Fullerton Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Program hosted a panel discussion with activists to discuss the ways that the community can engage in politics through voter education as presidential and local elections approach.
“We can be joined together in getting out the vote, regardless of party affiliation, but we’re definitely a force to be reckoned with,” said Helen Iris Torres, an event panelist and chief executive of Hispanas Organized for Political Equality.
Fram Virjee, the CSUF president, kicked off the panel by announcing that the university had just hit the largest increase of admitted Latinx students in the last five years at 32%, and further emphasized the university’s role as one of the two Hispanic-serving institutions in Orange County.
Since less than 15% of eligible college students voted in the 2016 election, CSUF is aiming to provide election and voting information, Virjee said.
“Overwhelmingly, what we're seeing in a lot of polling is the impact that COVID-19 is having in our communities, both from an economic standpoint, as well as a health care access standpoint,” Torres said.
Torres explained some of the issues that plague the community, including the massive job loss during the pandemic that is mostly affecting Latinx women.
She also touched upon healthcare accessibility in the community and referenced how the number of insured individuals rose through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Despite the increase, an anticipated Supreme Court decision could dismantle the program, leaving many uninsured as the threat of COVID-19 persists — especially within the Latinx community.
“Latinos the most likely to get COVID and to be impacted and to be hospitalized, we’re one of the most impacted communities,” said Edgar Zazueta, senior director of Policy and Governmental Relations of the Association of California School Administrators. “If this is not a motivation to go out and do something, I’m not sure what is.”
Antonia Castro-Graham, Fullerton deputy city manager and CSUF professor, added that in order to help the community make informed decisions on their representatives, there should also be an emphasis on the impact local politics can have on a voter.
She said that it is important to understand the needs and wants of local communities in order to better accommodate those necessities, such as a citizen academy that is focused on the operation of local government.
“I think we need to also focus on educating our communities about how local government works and how you can have a voice and you can come to a council meeting and talk about whatever you want for three minutes,” Castro-Graham said. “I can’t tell you how many times I thought a council was going to make a decision on something and their vote is changed because of what they hear from the public.”
Aside from general encouragement to vote, the panelists discussed the privilege of being able to vote in this country and the importance of using it to benefit one’s community.
Diana Victoria Coronado, vice president of the Building Industry Association of Southern California Los Angeles/Ventura chapter, expressed her personal belief to vote with vulnerable populations and communities in mind to minimize harm, specifically undocumented citizens and the disproportionately affected Latinx community.
“As a documented citizen, you have a certain kind of privilege if we’re going to look at it that way and I think that we’re being called, especially now in this time of a lot of injustices, to utilize that privilege for good,” Coronado said. “What does that vote mean in the circumstance we’re in today, and who’s that vote speaking for?”