Maria Teresa Kumar, 40, has led Voto Latino, a voting advocacy organization aimed at America’s young Latinos, since just after its founding 10 years ago. She lives in Washington with her husband and two children.
Last year Elle named you one of the 10 most powerful women in Washington. Do you feel powerful?
Hmm. I think whenever you ask a woman if they feel powerful their knee-jerk reaction is to say no. I don’t know if we’ve been conditioned that way. If anything, it’s more that I’m coming into my own in D.C. D.C. is one of those cities that’s difficult to navigate.
What are the tricks to navigating D.C.?
One is always maintaining those friendships and relationships. Because D.C. is so transitory, especially when you’re young, you have a tendency of taking the relationships for granted.
The actress Rosario Dawson co-founded Voto Latino 10 years ago and brought you on soon after. Does that mean that you do all of the hard work and she gets the glory?
No! You’re tricky. It’s been a very nice relationship. When I came on board, she said you’re welcome to do what you want with the organization, but [she was] clear there wasn’t any funding. I quit my job and packed my bags and moved back home with my mom, and I financed the first three years. This is how not to do a nonprofit. I financed it with my savings and with a credit card. Don’t do that!
The Latino population will grow from 15 percent to 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2050.
When I started, that year was 2060. We’re very good at reproducing. [Laughs.]
I come from an Irish Catholic family, so I understand.
So you know. To put it in perspective, more than half of all population growth in the United States from 2000 to 2010 was of Hispanics. Some of it was immigration, but most of it was birth. That’s why it’s important when you talk about leadership and individuals getting elected that we’re preparing a bench of individuals that look like America.
Who are Latinos who would make good presidential candidates?
Well, if she wasn’t a justice I would say Sonia Sotomayor — she is such a rock star because she represents so much of the Latino community and the aspirations of immigrants and Americans. And she tells the truth in a way that is refreshing.
If you look at who people have been mentioned as presidential candidates, from Marco Rubio to a VP candidate, Julian Castro to Ted Cruz, all of them are under 45. So, our presidential candidate for America is still in the making, and that’s what makes it exciting.
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