I am an Afro-Dominican woman immigrant from the Dominican Republic who is an American citizen. I am a citizen because I am the third generation in my family to migrate here. I am a citizen because we have the time, money, and resources to wait and do things the “right way.”
I am a citizen, and that is a privilege when you are an immigrant. Thus as a Latina with that privilege, I and all of us with similar identities need to learn to be better advocates for the policies and people that will impact all Latinos, New Americans and racial minorities in this country.
Perhaps it was the populist democratic processes of the Dominican Republic that turned me off, but for the past nine years of civic participation in this country, I never canvassed, volunteered or donated money to a candidate. I was big in promoting and canvassing for ballot initiatives. In many public service roles, I have to advocate for specific policies and programs to my elected officials at the local, state and federal levels. I am not afraid and usually eager to submit comments in the federal register, emails my town council’s representative about anything or just playing registering and encouraging people to vote. But when it came to supporting candidates, I was always really passive.
It wasn’t until probably until 2016 when the candidate I despise the most won the presidential election that perhaps I feel like I haven done enough. It was definitely solidified last year when I took the New American Leader Ready to Lead and Ready to Win trainings to prepare New Americans to run for office and work on campaigns that got to understand the complexities, people-power and financial resources needed to win an election, let it that be a the local, state or federal level.
After those trainings and meeting an amazing group of New Americans from across the country running for mayor, city council, state representatives and some many more roles. I started actually donating to their campaigns and my local district races and presidential candidates. Then one of favorite presidential candidates, Julián Castro, dropped out of the race. I knew my monthly donations might have been insignificant, but this blow determined me to make sure that my other presidential candidate had a chance.
Supporting Warren came naturally to me, a competent, paramagnetic woman with plans for big structural change to our societies’ challenges. It was Warren who included some of my favorite plans that no other presidential candidate really pushed—farmworker and food chain workers dignity and over 15 plans to ensure racial and economic justice for all. When you are a woman (especially a woman of color), and you are told that you can dream big and persist dreaming big for big structural changes, you take that hope that Warren represented. So for the first time, I started actively canvassing for a candidate, a presidential candidate.
Being in a Midwest state that is a swing state was an exciting opportunity to promote Warren’s progressive policies. Even in my daily job related to food, agricultural and environmental research and advocacy, there was so much opportunity to advocate for Warren’s progressive and transformative ideas. I did several nights of phone banking, some going better than others.
I was excited and looking forward to this past weekend’s Get Out the Vote push in Michigan, having signed up for over 40 hours of canvassing four days before the Primary. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the race before I could fully devote my body and soul to her campaign. Again, I felt this deep sense of desperation that I didn’t do enough to support my candidate. I am a natural organizer but when it came to rallying individuals, my family, and other Latinos for Warren, I kept getting the same script—“A woman can’t beat Trump.”
As author Megan Garber explored in “America Punished Elizabeth Warren for Her Competence”, many saw Warren as “strident,” “shrill,” and “condescending.” As often the only women and the only women of color in many roles and rooms, I am also used to being called “bossy,” “bitchy,” “arrogant” and “condescending.” And even thought we keep saying that the Latino vote will determine the 2020 election, I think there is still a lot of work to do in our community to accept a women as “worthy candidate,” particularly when her policies and plans will be the most beneficial to us. We must also continue to challenge the embedded misogyny, sexism and bias towards women leaders in our community and beyond.
Last October, I celebrated with Latino leaders from Michigan a Hispanic Heritage Reception hosted by Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer. There, Latino leaders celebrated their critical role organizing and supporting her race for governor in 2018. Moments like these kept me hopeful that Latinos support and have the potential to help elect women and progressive candidates to all elected positions.
That didn’t happen with Elizabeth Warren. However, I will still persist.
Vanessa García Polanco is a scholar-activist, writer, and speaker on food justice. She has served at the local, state and regional levels to promote democratic civic empowerment, racial equity, and visibility of New Americans in the food system. Vanessa is currently a graduate student in the Department of Community Sustainability at Michigan State University. Vanessa is a New American. As a woman of color immigrant from the Cibao Valley in the Dominican Republic, she brings her identity and experiences to inform her research and advocacy activities. Read more from her at vanessagarciapolanco.com and at @vgpvisions.