Is Latin America’s growing population translating into power at the polls?

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Ask any Latino what he thinks about the future of his people and you might hear the same thing: he’s growing.

And that’s true. The Latino population in the United States has multiplied by more than six since 1970 and has more than 62 million people today.

According to the US Census, the Latino population grew by 27.5% in Kansas between 2010 and 2020.

In Missouri, the Latino population increased by 42.6% over the same period.

But does this growth translate into who holds the positions of power? Does it extend into the voting booth?

We go 360 on this.

We start with Clarissa Martinez, Vice President of the UnidosUS Latino Vote Initiative.

Unidos US is the largest Latin American advocacy and civil rights organization. One of their goals is to encourage Latinos to go to the polls and get involved.

“Latinos are now the second largest voting-age population in the United States,” Martinez said.

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One million Latinos in the United States turn 18 every year. As the Latin American electorate grows, it will be important for both parties to capture the attention of swing voters. It starts with getting to know Latinos.

“For Latinos, the economy and jobs have typically been the number one or number two concern for decades,” Martinez said. “And that makes sense, no. This is a community where participation in the labor market is very high.

According to UnidosUS’ recent poll on Latino voting issues, abortion rights have entered the top five, something that has never happened before. Another growing concern is gun safety amid the tragic Uvalde and El Paso massacres.

“People are willing to look at candidates based on their positions and not just for their party, which would then make it even more imperative for candidates to run and reach out to those voters,” Martinez said.

Historically, about a third of Latinos have supported Republicans and 2/3 have supported Democrats.

According to a UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute Study which came out last summer, Latino voters have consistently chosen Democratic candidates over Republicans. But the margins aren’t as important as they always were.

“What you’re seeing right now is usually Republicans gaining some of the ground they’ve lost and Democrats not consolidating the gains they’ve made,” Martinez said.

Until more groups start expanding their efforts to get young Latinos to vote, Martinez says we won’t really see the power of their vote.

“Because, again, Latinos generally reject extremes and oppose the suppression of people’s rights, I think growing the Latino electorate is important,” Martinez said. “I think that could be part of that stabilizing force that we need to lessen the toxicity of our politics and actually increase the accountability of those who seek to represent us.”

For Mary Lou Jaramillo, Latino engagement and representation begins at the neighborhood level. She saw this example when she was a child.

“My parents were community-oriented, whether it was through the church, the elementary and high school I went to,” Jaramillo said. “How to start? Do something local.

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The light bulb lit when she worked for the then Minority Supplier Development Council, helping connect minority-owned businesses to resources and volunteered with MANA of Kansas City, a group of Latin leadership.

“These two combined have changed my life because it showed me how things work for some and how they don’t work for others,” Jaramillo said.

Although Kansas City has far more Latino leaders than when Jaramillo came on the scene, representation still tops the list.

“My question that I continue to ask today is, ‘What progress have we made? “, Jaramillo said. “I want more. I want more, fast for us.

This means ensuring that Latino leaders have the support of their own community and the city’s major donors; Not just being in the room where decisions are made, but being the decision maker. Jaramillo says these examples will make a difference for young Latinos.

“Are they going to stay? Do they see the potential to stay here?” she asks.

Community leader Manny Abarca did. He was born and raised in Kansas City.

We chose to interview him because of the multiple roles he holds in the community. He is the first Latino leader of the Missouri Democratic Party, the only Latino on the Kansas City Public School Board, and he hopes to be the first Latino elected to the Jackson County Legislature.

“I can’t effectively wear all of these hats at once,” Abarca said. “I’m constantly looking for who’s next, who’s here leading communities who maybe don’t see themselves as a chosen one that we can just say, ‘Hey, I think you can do it. “”

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The climate now is different from those before it, which fought just to be seen.

“Latinos have been in politics for a long time. And I think giants like Lali Garcia, Paul Rojas and even Chris Medina and John Fierro, those people created those paths for me to stand here today,” Abarca said.

Now, he says, Latinos have that “unapologetic presence” that will move the needle even further.

“I think it’s extremely important that we instill in younger generations the power to vote, to vote,” Abarca said. “We know our families and how they can sometimes act in politics. They get angry on a question but never vote. And that’s the kind of stuff that’s like, we have to be consistent about it. Other communities are, and they get so much more than we do. There’s enough for everyone, we just have to tap into our potential.

Studies show more young people of color showed up at the polls in 2020 than in 2016.

More Latino youth voted red than black and Asian youth.

The Latino electoral bloc, like Latinos themselves, is not a monolith. This is represented in the Kansas City group, Young Latino Professionals. We visited them at their quinceañera, their 15th birthday party. We wanted to know what drives them to vote and what they think about Latino representation.

“Historically, we’ve done a terrible job, and I think you see that with some of the parties and the amount of energy they’ve put into us Latinos,” YLP president Justin Reyes said, speaking. of Latino voter turnout. “I think the generation behind me – I’m a millennial – I think Gen Z is going to transform it.”

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“I think there will be a huge surge of resident Latinos who will become American citizens and push for that extra civic engagement,” YLP Vice President Maria Locascio said.

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“Go ahead and vote,” said YLP board member Braulio Rivas. “Everyone has a responsibility in this country, and that’s what makes this country the greatest country in the world because we have the right to.”

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Editor’s Note: The aired version of the story indicates that Manny Abarca is seeking to become the first Latino male to be elected to the Jackson County Legislature. This statement is incorrect. Fred Sanchez served in the legislature in the 1980s.

As part of KSHB 41 News’ commitment to providing context and depth in our reporting, we’re excited to share our latest project, which we’re calling 360. This project takes stories and topics that our communities talk about and explores different perspectives. On the question. You can be part of the process by emailing us your ideas and thoughts at [email protected]