First, let’s get something out of the way. Repeat after me: Florida is not a reflection of the national Latino vote. Florida is not a reflection of the national Latino vote.
And here are two facts to cement that thought: Miami Dade county is just 3.1 percent of the U.S. Latino electorate. And there are 32 million Latino eligible voters in the U.S.. The vast majority do not live in Florida.
The real takeaway on the Latino vote from this election is that Latinos showed up. In mass, and led by young people and Latinas. Together they said “basta” and made their voices heard.
Let’s look at the early numbers: reports are out that more than 8.6 million Latinos voted early, with 500K first-time Latino voters in Texas, 360K in Florida, 110K in Arizona. According to VotoLatino, early voting was up 840% in Pennsylvania compared to 2016. Up 148% in North Carolina, 133% in Florida, 124% in Arizona, 147% in Texas, and 147% in Nevada. And Latina working class voters did not come to play: in 2016 they cast 589k early votes, in 2020 they cast 1.8M+. If these numbers are sustained, Latino voters will blow past the early projections that had them turning out at 14 million.
In spite of the obstacles Latinos historically face in accessing the voting booth, and the pandemic, our gente showed up. Here is why:
The generation of Sensenbrenner, Arpaio and Trump are done with it. After years of humiliating, inhumane, and callous treatment by anti-immigrant extremists, Latinos said enough is enough. Trump did not appear in a vacuum, his path was paved by conservatives like Kris Koback, Brian Kemp, Jim Sensenbrenner, Joe Arpaio and others who sought to criminalize the undocumented, and to make their lives so difficult that they would self deport. The generation that turned out yesterday has had a front row seat to the mistreatment, fear, callousness that these republicans injected into the public discourse and the memory of kids in cages, the criminalization of immigrants, the failed COVID-19 response, is fresh in their minds.
Local organizing and groups on the ground matter. A lot. The last 10+ years we have seen an explosion in activism from local organizations who invested in their own. Organizations like Jolt, Mijente, New Florida Majority, Mi Familia Vota, Lucha AZ, and Poder Latinx, PoderNC, and many, many others, have been building power for years. DC insiders often forget that the Latino community doesn’t live on Twitter and Zoom calls don’t cut it either. These groups understand that in order to turn out the Latino community. you have to maintain a presence and develop a culturally competent strategy. You can’t turn out the number of voters that showed up without having deep relationships and visibility on the ground, which help create the conditions for folks to feel confident, welcomed, and invested. These local groups have been walking side by side with the Latino community in their respective states to help them cope with the Trump administration. And when the pandemic hit, they sprinted to adjust their organizing. The last few months we saw their creativity and innovation on display, using music, art, and Latino cultural icons (did you see the Walter Mercado love letters?). They infused their organizing with pride, love and a sense of empowerment and agency. This is organizing at its best and these grassroots leaders wrote the book on it.
A policy agenda that motivates Latino voters matters. Latino voters are pragmatic and they understand the policy debate more than pundits give them credit for. COVID-19 made real the conservative policies that fail workers—when it comes to access to healthcare, minimum wage, job security, housing security, etc. Trump’s message of minimizing the impact of COVID and proclaiming that the economy is at its best did not persuade Latinos, perhaps because they were burying their dead, closing their businesses, and losing their jobs. The impacts of COVID have exposed how vulnerable Latinos are and it is clear they believe in Biden’s proposition better than what Trump and the republicans are offering.
Latinos Love America. Even when America doesn’t love us back. Latinos of all stripes fiercely believe in, and embrace everything this country stands for. And most importantly we want to protect it for future generations. The America they saw under Trump is not the America they know and love, and they came out to rescue it.
The challenge ahead is how to keep this community engaged, how to harness this power to ultimately implement policy solutions that will benefit all of us. Republicans will adapt. They know how to message to this demographic, and they have found a soft spot among Latino men and Latino evangelicals. They can build on that.
Yet today and for the next few days, we get to celebrate. Our community showed up. We stood up for ourselves.
Vanessa Cárdenas is an expert on issues related to the Latino vote. Twitter: @VcardenasDC.