February 1, 2008

Voto Latino Uses Social Networking, Celebrity to Tap Latino Youth Vote

By Amanda Martinez
New America Media

“It’s your country … Represent!”

This is the message being spread in full force by Latino celebrities and music artists such as John Legui-zamo, Zoe Saldana, Pitbull, Mal Verde, and DaddyYankee – all of whom are supporting Voto Latino in their effort to get Latino youth registered to vote.

Combining Latino pop culture with new technologies, Voto Latino (http://www.votolatino.org/index.html) is reminding young Latinos across the country that they hold the power to influence the elections in 2008.

Maria Teresa Petersen, executive director of Voto Latino, believes that the political power of the Latino youth has not been recognized by the political arena and says that this can be seen by the fact that none of the presidential candidates have made attempts to engage young Latino voters in the election process.

She points out that 50,000 Latinos turn 18 every month in the United States, of which 92 percent are eligible to vote. Plus, 68 percent of all new youth voters are Latino.

In an effort to engage the young Latino demographic, ages 18-34, the organization has teamed up with the top Latino websites, magazines and television networks to create innovative registration campaigns, which is designed to generate dialogue around election issues.

“The country can only become stronger by giving everyone a voice,” says Craig Newmark, founder of San Francisco-based website Craigslist. Newmark, who sits on the advisory board of Voto Latino, says he supports the work being done by the organization because: “Enfranchising Latinos reflects basic American values.”

Newmark recently joined an all star cast including Rosario Dawson, Wilmer Valderrama and Tony Plana for the filming of public service announcements sponsored by Voto Latino and Declare Yourself, which will promote voter registration in the form of mock telenovelas.

The four-part series of public service announcements premiered on MySpace (http://www.myspace.com/votolatino), where the organization has been carrying out one of their biggest and most successful registration campaigns. Petersen says that the benefit of utilizing online social networks is that it allows the youth themselves to promote election participation in their social communities, and notes that 600 people registered to vote in one day when they appeared on the website Facebook.

One Voto Latino member, who goes by the profile name “BoricuaPosse” from New York, posted a message stating: “He is Committed to making a difference!” and that “Together, the possibilities are endless!” His MySpace page, which is adorned with Puerto Rican flags and photos of Puerto Rican celebrities like Tito Puente, Rosie Perez, and Ricky Martin, shows Voto Latino as one of his top friends.

Another member, 21-year-old “ThaliaBoy” from Illinois, writes “Washington D.C: GET READY CAUSE WE LATINOS ARE GOING TO BE HEARD LOUD AND CLEAR!”

“It is no doubt that young Latinos can be major players in this presidential election, and it is about time,” says Edgar “ShoBoy” Sotelo, DJ of popular La Kalle Radio based in San Francisco. He feels strongly that Latinos should start flexing their power by voting during the presidential primaries, which will decide our final candidates.

“This is the most exciting primary election ever,” he says. “You don’t know what is going to happen and, for the first time, California’s electoral votes could turn around the race.”

“ShoBoy” has partnered with Voto Latino to host monthly registration drives at concerts, colleges and malls across the Bay Area. He has already been using his bilingual radio show to discuss what happening with the presidential races, using what he calls “real people terms,” and even comedy to talk about the issues.

He says his audience has been receptive to the discussion of the elections and explains that ever since the movement of the pro-immigration marches in 2006, the Latino community has become more aware of the politics being played in the United States and that they [Latinos] want to do something about it.

He reminds his listeners, “You don’t need a radio show to make a difference. Simply take the message that every vote counts to your circle of friends and show them the different ways you can register to vote.”

Only then he says will we show society that, “We [Latinos] are American!”

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