If you want to reach Latinos, you have to speak to each group individually and directly—and not just during the elections.
“Georgia just made history” read the lead of our story on the results of the nerve-wracking yet historic runoff election to win the Senate. The fate of the Senate hung in the balance in Georgia, and like the recent presidential election results in Florida, many eyes were on the so-called “Latino vote.” Is it fair to say we helped Democrats win?
The Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff made history by winning the two most desired senate seats in the Peach State over their Republican opponents Kelly Loeffler and Sen. David Perdue, respectively, by narrow margins.
So far, we know almost 80,000 Latinos voted early in the runoff elections, according to TargetSmart estimates. And grassroots organizations such as Voto Latino and Mijente led the overwhelmingly positive outreach success with more than 12,000 new registered voters for this election, over 1 million calls, texts, and doors knocked combined, handwritten letters to voters, and even rides provided to the polls to ensure turnout.
These efforts prove that when Latinos move, we move. Just like that! Now, is it realistic for candidates to expect a win without putting the work into engaging directly with our people in a meaningful and effective way?
As the editor-in-chief of the only US political news site created by Latinas for Latinas, it troubles me to think Democrats have not learned the most valuable lessons from Florida’s election—or even from earlier elections, for that matter—to help them in their Senate pursuit.
Why should Latinos suddenly feel so important? Every four years, some politicians seem inclined to romanticize the idea of inclusivity by targeting their campaign at Latinos in battleground states with Spanish-language ads. Because more of us are moving north from the Sunshine State, such as farmworkers following the harvest or relocating hospitality workers, migration has shifted to not-the-usual-suspect states like Georgia.
According to Pew Research Center, foreign-born immigrants account for 10% of Georgia’s total population, which puts the state in the top 10 with the most immigrants in the country.
The Latino Vote: A Never-Ending Enigma
Latinos are an enigma because there is so little data on us compared to other groups. There are very few voter files kept on us except in states like Florida and California.
Many of us come from political systems that don’t work, so we have a lot of skepticism. People decide to sit out elections because they would rather work and put food on their families’ tables than spend time voting for someone they don’t relate to.
Georgia is particularly challenging because there are hardly any elected Latino leaders. The truth is there is no Stacey Abrams for Latinos. When you don’t have someone who looks like you, you feel discouraged, like your vote doesn’t even matter to somebody who doesn’t get it.
Like Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.”
The danger of the Latino vote story is that, as Adichie says, it’s incomplete. It is true that a good number of Latinos in Florida preferred Trump. But countless election turnout articles left out all the other Latino groups and turned the narrative into an incomplete story, mischaracterizing an entire electorate.
Democrats must stop adhering to the single story narrative and follow these guidelines:
Respect the Ratio and Differences
The ratio of Latinos eligible to vote in the Sunshine State is 31% Puerto Rican, 31% Cuban American, and the remaining 38% is a mix of Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, and other nationalities.
The proportions are very different in Georgia, according to the most recent US census data: the vast majority is Mexican (58%), followed by Puerto Ricans (10%), Guatemalans (6.3%), Salvadorans (4.8%), and Cubans (3.4%).
Each one of those groups makes their voting decisions based on where they come from.
If you’re Puerto Rican, you’re most likely going to be a woman, college-educated, and a Democrat.
If you are from Mexico or Central America and you can vote, you most likely are going to be voting for whomever has done something about immigration.
If you’re Venezuelan or Cuban, you’re going to vote for whomever does not come close to socialism.
Each group should be spoken to individually, so cultural relevance must be an integral part of the conversation. Take the time to find people who are representative of each community—Puerto Ricans speaking to Puerto Ricans, Mexicans speaking to Mexicans, etc.
While the Latino population in Georgia accounts for 9% (a bit over 1 million people), according to the US Census, in 2019 more than 50,000 Latinos moved from states with high Latino populations such as Florida, Texas, New York. and California.
Show Up. For Real.
Most of the Latinos in Georgia are first generation. It’s not like Florida, where most are in their third generation already. Some may argue that Georgia Latinos are not as organized politically because they haven’t been there as long.
We’ve talked to grassroots organizations in different battleground states and many agree: People are seeking more information about the electoral process, the candidates, and their civic engagement. They want to know what the candidates stand for and what matters to them. My Georgia writers tell me the Senate runoff candidates have not been in direct contact with the Latino community to date.
Trump showed up in Florida all year. Even if he didn’t follow through on any promises, he said it in person and that mattered. Latinos want someone present throughout the year, not simply when their vote is needed.
Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock should not assume that all Latinos have embraced them because they are Democrats and heard their names from campaigning this year.
Candidates—especially non-Latino candidates—should give exclusive interviews to Latino media outlets. Knowing Spanish doesn’t matter because Latinos are bilingual. Throwing a few Spanish words on an ad does not make up for the lack of face time given to our community.
RELATED: Young Latino Voters Are Driven by Social Issues and Are More Independent Than Parents, Poll Shows
Focus on Every Young Person and Their Mothers
Every 30 seconds, a Latino turns 18 years old. That alone tells you the power of this new 18-to-39 generation that was activated this past Election Day.
The secret sauce is to call national organizations like Voto Latino and Mijente, go on Instagram, and look for all the women-led grassroots groups. Sit at the table with these women and learn what they need.
Latinas voted in record numbers in this election. We are the spending power in many Latino households, getting more education, and making the big decisions in the house. Candidates need to talk directly with Latina moms, future moms, and young women who are voting.
It’s about time politicians and their respective parties start treating Latino voters as what we are: Americanos with the right to vote and the need to be heard. It’s about time we tell a complete story about why we vote the way we do.