By Christian Arana
As a public policy graduate student at UC Berkeley, I spend a great deal of time combing through statistics on subjects ranging from crime and education to health care and housing. But during last month’s Mobilize the Latino Vote event hosted by the Latino Community Foundation, I learned of a surprising and troubling statistic: Only 17% of California’s 7 million eligible Latino voters are likely to vote in this election.
As a state with a long history of social movements – from immigrant rights to farmworkers – this is not acceptable.
At an early age, I acquired real-world lessons on the importance of civic engagement. In high school, my best friend’s mother invited me to Sacramento to advocate on behalf of AB 405, a bill banning the use of experimental pesticides in California’s public schools. A fight that began when one of her sons experienced an asthma attack from pesticide use at his school, I joined this cause by speaking with legislators about why I believed the use of these toxins would negatively impact my education and the education of millions of students.
As a result of our efforts, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 405 into law and later proved as one of the most consequential bills in protecting children’s health in the state of California.
What I gained from that experience has stuck with me to this day. Realizing change in your community can only happen by getting involved. If Latinos aspire to representation in the democratic process and seek improvement in our communities, then we will have to do better than 17% of us voting. This means not only voting in elections at all levels of government, but also encouraging our friends and family to register to vote too. It is only here where we can achieve a democracy that is representative of our needs.
That process begins tonight when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald J. Trump take the stage at Hofstra University in the first of three presidential debates. What they will say or not say will matter immensely for Latinos. As a community, we should attentively watch and listen yet we should never forget that civic engagement necessitates action as well. This is why I am voting and encouraging others to join me in this cause.