At 4:25 that day, a different text ended with, “Can we count on you to vote early?”
And at 3:33, one in Spanish asked, “Podemos contar con su voto?”: Can we count on your vote?
The frequency of these messages is irritating, maddening even. As I write this, my phone shows I received one four minutes ago. And another 16 minutes ago. And another one hour ago. My husband doesn’t get these same messages, even though we often go to vote together, and neither do friends I have asked about them. That would make me feel even more annoyed, if it didn’t also give me a sense of hope.
I understand why organizations and individuals who want to get people to vote might think someone with the last name Vargas needs nudging — followed by more nudging, in two languages.
Latinos don’t vote — at least, not enough.
We don’t grow up going to polling places with our parents and walking out with those stickers in our hands — at least not enough.
We don’t later take our own children with us to cast ballots to show them how easy, and important, it is to exercise that right — at least not enough.
Latinos are often described as a group that holds the potential to prove a powerful determinant of elections, and then we let ourselves remain just that: holders of potential.
I get that. I was once the reason for that. I remember the shocked expressions of my college friends when they were talking about an upcoming presidential election and I casually mentioned that I wasn’t sure I was going to vote. Another time, early in our relationship, my husband asked to see my “I voted” sticker. I knew it was to make sure I made it to our polling place, because I hadn’t seemed eager to go.
I wasn’t that year, but not because I didn’t care about what was happening around us. I have always felt driven by the injustices that are publicly and quietly occurring. I just didn’t see politics as capable of doing anything about the issues I cared about.
I also, in retrospect, didn’t yet grasp the wastefulness of remaining quiet.
When you live in the Washington region and exist in professional circles, these are not things people admit. But they are important conversations to have if we are to better understand the Latino vote — and lack of it — during an election year that should have that population fired up more than ever.
Many of the most controversial moments of President Trump’s time in office have directly affected people who share their last names, if not life experiences — an immigration crackdown that tore families apart, statements that insulted Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, and a failed response to the coronavirus that has left Brown and Black people bearing a disproportionate amount of the loss.
In the upcoming election, a record 32 million Hispanics are reportedly eligible to vote, making them the country’s largest non-White electorate. That means Latinos have the potential to make themselves more heard than ever — and the potential to fail to do so.
I no longer need encouragement to vote, let alone a constant stream of it. At some point, voting became an ingrained part of my life, and by the time my first son was a few months old, I was strapping him to my chest and taking him with me through those voting lines. And if ever I need a reminder of the importance of that simple act, I have a powerful one in a photo of my grandmother’s “poll tax receipt” from 1964, showing she spent $1.75 she didn’t have to spare to exercise that right.
It’s not hard to find Latinos across the country who are working hard right now to get people in their communities to the polls. They are registering voters, offering rides to relatives and buying shirts that reflect phrases such as “Adios Trump” and “This nasty Latina woman votes.”
But what worries me is that with only days to go before this high-stakes election, many don’t feel as invested. The results of a Pew Research Center survey released this week show that.
“Latino voters are less likely than all U.S. voters to say they are extremely motivated to vote in the upcoming presidential election, with the Latino electorate expressing less interest overall in the presidential campaigns,” reads an explanation of the findings.
Just over half of registered Latino voters claimed to be extremely motivated to vote this year, compared with 69 percent of U.S. voters overall, according to the survey. Similarly, 58 percent of Latino voters say they have given a lot of thought to the candidates, compared with 69 percent of U.S. voters overall.
Latinos need to show up for this election, and I say that knowing many won’t vote the same way as me. I just have to glance at my personal Facebook page to see that their ballots will go in both directions. On a recent post commenting on Trump’s audacity to say, “Don’t be afraid of covid,” an exchange between two of my relatives looked like this:
Relative 1: He’s my hero but covid isn’t a joke very bad choice he made
Relative 2: Cousin, I am not wanting to argue with you, I just have an honest question. Why is he your hero?
Relative 1: . . . I cant live on fear. if I did believe me truck drivers wouldn’t be on the road. Nurses would not be working . . . he’s trying to keep people calm.
Relative 2: I will admit to you that I didn’t like him from the start because the minute he announced his candidacy he said that Mexicans are drug dealers, criminals and rapists. Honestly, [name redacted], if he saw you on the street he would hate you on the spot. He would probably try to get you deported to Mexico even though our family has been in Texas for almost 200 years. I am a proud democrat. So is my Dad and most of our family. We are all hard workers, pay our bills and love our families. He tries to claim otherwise.
Relative 2 adds: Lastly, I will not try to change your vote. You vote for whom your conscience tells you. Love you.
Relative 1: . . . I face racism a lot just for looking Hispanic or because my company truck says el paso on it. I’ve been harassed by cops and it gets worse up north being called a wetback but words don’t bother me . . . love you too cuz
Trump received about 30 percent of the Latino vote during the last election. That number became a focal point afterward. But a number deserving equal attention is 48 percent. That’s how many eligible Latino voters said they voted in that election, an amount similar to 2012, according to Pew.
Hopefully, this election will see that number rise.
Hopefully, Latinos will show they are more than unrealized potential; they are Americans whose voices and issues warrant attention.
And then, hopefully, future election workers won’t feel the need to constantly send messages in English and Spanish.
A text I received while writing this column ends with these two lines: “Let’s finish strong! Can I count on you to vote before Friday?”
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