Conversaciones and Mobilization: A Symposium on Latinxs and the 2016 Election at NYU Law

Elisa Cariño ’17, executive co-chair of the Latino Law Students Association, writes about a recent symposium.

Left to right: Jennifer De Jesus (LaLSA Professional Development Co-Chair), Julissa Reynoso (Symposium Keynote Address & Chadbourne & Parke LLP Partner), Ken Carbajal (LaLSA Executive Co-Chair), Elisa Cariño (LaLSA Executive Co-Chair), and Maybelline Mena-Hadyka (LaLSA Admissions Co-Chair)
Left to right: Jennifer De Jesus (LaLSA professional development co-chair), Julissa Reynoso (symposium keynote address and Chadbourne & Parke LLP partner), Ken Carbajal (LaLSA executive co-chair), Elisa Cariño (LaLSA executive co-chair), and Maybelline Mena-Hadyka (LaLSA admissions co-chair)

Counterintuitively, “an awakened giant” seems to be a perennial rather than permanent topic in American political consciousness. Every thirty seconds, a Latinx* child turns 18 in the United States. According to Pew Research Center, in 2030, the Latinx electorate will have an eligible voting pool of 40 million people. On November 5, NYU’s Latino Law Students Association and the Latino Institute for Human Rights presented an inaugural, joint symposium. The event created an unprecedented space for Latinx policy analysts, lawyers, and community organizers to discuss themselves. Specifically, they worked through strategies to build power and create mobilization for a group constantly bombarded with voting obstacles and prejudiced rhetoric.

With a glaring shortage of prominent Latinx political figures, Maribel Hernández Rivera, executive director of Legal Initiatives at New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, explained that “Latinos need to figure out if we even want to run for office. If not, we need to figure out how to propel someone else to actually represent our interests.”

Legislatures have eliminated early voting weeks, closed hundreds of DMV offices, vehemently litigated bilingual voting ballots, and engaged in voting roll purging based on surname. Court cases like Shelby v. Holder and Evenwel v. Abbott further stymie the creation of a Latinx consciousness because the government can preclude Latinxs from being counted in elections.

Latinxs also face additional cultural barriers to voting or running for office. Deeply flawed immigration and criminal law systems create a paralysis that prevents millions of Latinxs from exercising citizenship privileges, which include voting or using a Social Security number. Moreover, the Latinx electorate must detach from familial memories of foreign governments entrenched in political nepotism or dictatorship. According to Tomas Lopez, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, “Voting access is a threshold issue, and it’s a timeless issue. However, people need to be reminded that their vote is power and their vote matters.”

Left to right: Tomas Lopez (Counsel, Brennan Center’s Democracy Program), Diana Sen (Northeast Regional Director, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs), Cindy Martinez (Advocacy Coordinator, Families Advocating for Freedom), and Natacha Carbajal (Special Counsel, New York State Department of Labor)
Left to right: Tomas Lopez (counsel, Brennan Center’s Democracy Program), Diana Sen (Northeast regional director, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs), Cindy Martinez (advocacy coordinator, Families Advocating for Freedom), and Natacha Carbajal (special counsel, New York State Department of Labor)

Going forward, Latinxs need to engage older and uninterested members of the electorate by building a broader platform focused on “kitchen table issues,” issues with practical effects. Beyond 2016, the electorate needs to look past issues of citizenship. Domenic Powell, advocacy and policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union, posited, “What is citizenship if we [Latinxs] are drowning in debt or locked up?”

Latinxs committed to progress have the advantage of organizing power through people rather than money. As Powell noted, “We [Latinxs] need to take a long, hard look at the option of building coalitions within the rising electorate. We need to work with millennials, women, Asian Americans, etc.”

The symposium was a positive step for Latinxs to thoughtfully explore the realities of organizing and representing themselves. Titled “The Color of Progress,” the event contributed immensely to the NYU Law community through coalition-building with academics, legal practitioners, analysts, and community organizers. Hopefully, it is the patada that catalyzes Latinxs to move forward and mobilize.

*Latinx is a gender-neutral alternative to the usual gendered designation of Latino/a or Latin@.