Celebrating the Latino Vote in Escondido

By Mark R. Day

ACLU organizer Norma Chavez (right) dances La Macarena with Nuestro Voto volunteers at Escondido’s Cocina del Charro restaurant. Photo by Mark Day

How did a group of Latino activists celebrate on Nov. 6 after working for nearly two months to get out the Latino vote in Escondido? For one thing, they danced La Macarena and enjoyed a buffet meal at La Cocina del Charro restaurant.

The youths volunteered for Nuestro Voto, Nuestro Futuro. They canvassed neighborhoods, phone banked, leafleted supermarkets, registered voters and served as poll watchers at several polling stations.

For many it was their first engagement in political activities. Some were first time voters. According to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, every 30 seconds a Latino citizen turns 18 years of age. That means there are 50,000 potential voters created every single month.

“You guys are awesome,” said Angelica Godinez in a pep talk to a dozen young volunteers on a recent afternoon at the Nuestro Voto, Nuestro Futuro office near Escondido’s city hall. “You are rockin’. You’re animals. You’re unstoppable.”

Godinez, a coordinator of the Nuesto Voto voter registration campaign for the American civil Liberties Union (ACLU), trained and coordinated the canvassers and phone bankers for the past two months in an effort to improve Latino turnout at the polls on Nov. 6.

Assisting Godinez, was Consuelo Martinez, a long time Escondido activist, along with several staff members of the American Civil Liberties Union in San Diego.

The results of the campaign were impressive. Dozens of volunteers saturated Escondido’s inner city where nearly 50 per cent of the residents are Latino. They registered hundreds of voters and secured assurances from more than 9,000 people that they would indeed vote.

The volunteers engaged residents in conversations, educating them on ballot measures such as Proposition 30 (funds for schools), and Proposition 34, on abolishing the death penalty.

Most responded enthusiastically, planned to vote, and requested information on the issues and the location of polling places. Somehow, they concluded, their votes would count.

The scene in Escondido has become familiar lately: thousands of young Latino activists participated in registering and getting-out-the-vote projects throughout California and the Southwest.

Among the celebrants La Cocina del Charro was Tayana Zarate, 18. “I never cared about politics and government,” she said. “But now I know our vote counts. The big issue here in Escondido is racism—at people’s jobs, at restaurants and public places—even at City Hall. It needs to stop.”

“The Latino community here is incredible,” said volunteer Matthew McMahon, who recently earned an MBA degree at Cal State San Marcos. “There has been a tremendous influx of Latinos into Escondido in recent years. They are now 49 per cent of the city’s population and a large voting block.”

McMahon says he wants to see young Latinos stay in school, graduate and get good jobs. “I want to see them invest in their communities. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens here.”

Sitting near MacMahon was 16-year-old Noemi Jaquin who said she volunteered because she wants to see changes in Escondido.

“I want to see people on the city council who are not constantly attacking our community,” Jaquin said. “My aunt was robbed and the police told her there was nothing they could do. They put checkpoints all over the place, but they can’t help an elderly woman who was robbed.”

Following the news of President Barack Obama’s re-election victory, the news media reported that by 2016 at least 2 million more Latinos will be eligible to vote.

“We’re here, we are voting, and we’re not going away,” Leo Murrieta of Mi Familia told CBS news in Las Vegas where Latino voting turnout was decisive in winning the state for Obama.

Norma Chavez, (ACLU), says they will keep the office open and focus on more organizing the neighborhoods—there’s lots of police and ICE repression there—but the people are standing up for their rights, “it’s exciting.”

Mark R. Day is a writer, film maker and labor activist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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