My Story of Latinx Political Engagement

by Zabdi Salazar

I am a Latina with an extensive Mexican heritage and family. I’ve heard the insincere, damaging, and ignorant rhetoric directed at my people from our new President-elect. And I have only one thing to say: we demand respect and representation. I understand the outcome of this election: a man has been elected President of the United States, making millions of Latinx Americans feel powerless, crushing their hopes of believing in a truly democratic election. Some may think that these feelings are dangerous and pure hyperbole. Yes, my rational side thinks that everything will be well and that the world will continue and move forward despite this outcome.

My faith rationalizes in the same way because if destiny has led to this moment in America, let it be. However, there are sentiments among the public that cannot be erased and must be recognized.

There is a deep fear within the most marginalized and disenfranchised communities of this country and concern about the legitimacy of this democratic society.

Given my experiences, I am deeply concerned. The Latinx population is too quiet. Even among educated undergraduates, student political activism is minimal. The Austin American Statesman calls Hispanics  “The Silent Majority,” (also referred to as the “Sleeping Giant”) since, despite our booming growth, we are extremely underrepresented in local politics in Texas. Although we make up about 38% of Texas’ population, only 10% of mayors and county judges are Hispanic. In some counties, such as Deaf Smith, with a Hispanic population of over 70%, they have no representation in the Commissioner’s court. These statistics are alarming and disappointing.  

In regards to student activism and my own experience, as a Latina studying Political Science, I am also partially to blame for not speaking out and stating my beliefs. However, this is why I am writing this piece and my reason in joining the editorial board of The Contemporary, a platform that promotes civic engagement and gives millennials of all backgrounds a voice. I believe that such a platform is crucial for individuals like me to have a voice in today’s divisive political era. I truly believe in our mission of creating a new era of political discourse and activism for all, since there are many voices seeking to be heard that are just below the surface. Still, there is much to be done and in my experience, there are a number of factors that cause the underrepresentation of Latinx students in political discourse.

One reason why many undergraduate Latinx students are not politically active is because we are struggling to maintain the highest grades possible.

High achieving minority students like me prioritize their academics above all else.  It has been ingrained into us that top tier performance, will prove our competence and help us to achieve the American dream. We value education with such a passion that we will not allow anything to crush our hopes and dreams. Our grades are key for us to attain scholarships and pay off our education, which represent factors that directly impact our ability to achieve a higher education. Moreover, we are disadvantaged because many of our parents never attended college and therefore do not understand the intricacies of higher education. Some of us may have a weak education background due to the lesser quality of our high schools. Our shared experiences are that of overcoming adversity and resiliency. Yet we also seek to exercise our right to voice our thoughts and opinions and to work even harder to catch up.

Unfortunately, we have a second burden that explains why we cannot fully prioritize education or political activism at school: family economic stability.

All of my Latina friends and I since high school have worked part-time or even full-time to provide to our families. We are also the breadwinners for our homes and have experienced living in scarcity. In college, we take on demanding jobs and we may help our parents during the weekends. On those occasions that we cannot—we feel guilty.

Those of us who identify as Latinx are constantly thinking about how everyone is faring at home. Still, society tells us that everything will pay off in the long-term. I agree that all of our laborious work should pay off one day, yet there is something worrisome about the present. Especially with the newly elected President of the United States: Donald J. Trump. Considering my experiences as a Latina student with an immigrant parent who is seeking the American dream, the granted power of the new President-elect to convert much of his insincere political rhetoric into damaging policies that directly target certain communities, is alarming.  

Unfortunately, his most recent actions as President-elect are concerning. Trump’s appointment of  Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general calls into question his judgement for a unified America. Sessions, a right-wing Senator from Alabama, is hard on immigration and his stance on civil rights issues is contentious, since he once stated that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is “an intrusive piece of legislation.” Although in 1986 Ronald Reagan had nominated Sessions as a Federal judge, the Senate rejected his nomination because of testimonies alleging his use of racial slurs when referring to specific individuals. As recently as 2006, he has been reported as stating that immigrants of the Dominican Republic do not contribute positively to the United States.

Conservatives such as Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist and news commentator and Holly Harris, executive director of the U.S. Justice Action Network, a conservative advocacy organization that seeks to make our criminal justice system fairer, have already declared their concerns over the nomination. What should concern Hispanics the most is his hard stance on immigration reform, since as attorney general, he could easily urge law enforcement to seek out undocumented immigrants.

Massive waves of deportations could separate thousands of families since about 3.9 million children of unauthorized parents are enrolled in k-12 schools.

If even the Obama administration, which perpetuated discourse of comprehensive immigration policies, deported about 2.5 undocumented immigrants, then truly comprehensive immigration reform seems doubtful under a Trump administration. Furthermore, in 2015, Sessions drafted a proposal for a five year mandatory minimum sentence for illegal reentry. According to a report from the US Sentencing Commission in 2014, this policy can lead to a large increase in the federal prison population.

The Republican party should be careful in alienating different viewpoints and further pushing away Latinos, a growing and powerful voting bloc. By the year 2050, we will be double our current population size of up to 116 million. Immigration reform is one of the greatest concerns for Latinx people. It is very much a concern for me, as my mother is an immigrant from Mexico. It is the reason why California and Texas border towns voted Democratic in this election and why student protests against Trump were most prominent in campuses near the border such as UCLA, UC Davis, UCSCs. In 2014, approximately 66% of registered voters believed that passing comprehensive immigration legislation is important. The Latinx electorate definitely cares about other issues such as the economy and education, however, about 35% of the Latino population are immigrants, albeit a majority of Hispanics are US born. Furthermore, most Latinx people either know someone who is an immigrant or they have an immigrant family member. Such experiences impact our politics and our beliefs.

I think that all Latinx people, of every origin should be free to speak out and declare their concerns to this new President. Our first issue is that we will not tolerate discrimination and disenfranchisement. We have contributed tremendously to this country as shown by our entrepreneurial spirit and our presence in the service, construction and industrial workforce. If there is any policy that President Donald J. Trump enacts that threatens our livelihood, even if it is just the deportation of a few honest and hardworking immigrants, we will speak out and protest. An attack on our people, even those that are not given rights as true Americans, and yet they are toiling this American soil, is an attack on all of us. I invite not just my people, but also all Americans to sympathize with these concerns. Post-election discussion and analysis has found that there has been a movement against the overbearing discussion of identity politics in contemporary discourse.

Although political discourse should not focus solely on identity politics, we cannot disregard the concerns of multiple social groups, in my case, the Latinx community.

Recently, the Trinitonian, the on-campus newspaper at Trinity University, published an opinion piece by a student with the comment that after Trump’s election, universities “have turned into oversized day cares” and that “if Clinton had won, there wouldn’t be any of this coddling for conservatives.” I understand this student’s frustration with the left’s focus on identity politics which has still excluded many groups such as conservatives.

However, Trump’s harmful rhetoric during his campaign has deeply affected underrepresented communities. In order to solve this problem, we must remember what truly interconnects and unites the diverse population of our country. Unity and prudence must be at the center of our cause. The Latinx community accepts the outcome of the election. We understand that Donald J. Trump has been elected as the President of this nation, and we will give him a chance. Yet, we are voicing our concerns, and we demand that all of Washington politics to listen attentively. We will not tolerate injustice and dehumanizing policies. All Latinxs must mobilize to become politically engaged in order to ensure we have a voice. We just hope that all Americans support one another in the creation of a new political era that focuses on the values that unites us all, since we all seek the American dream.  

A silver lining to this troublesome and divisive election may be that “The Sleeping Giant” finally wakes up. The election of Donald J. Trump has certainly confirmed and reignited my determination of running for office in the future. I am done with the lack of representation of my people, mi pueblo. I am frustrated with the demeaning remarks, the constant questioning of our competence, and the racist stereotypes. I am tired of people assuming that they understand our struggles as a minority-majority group, but never truly listening to our needs. We are a powerful voting bloc, and we will mobilize for our cause. My generation, and I will make sure of that.  

Zabdi Salazar is a sophomore Political Science and Business Administration major, as well as the Business Manager of The Contemporary. Zabdi is also the Treasurer of the Trinity University debate team, the Vice President of the Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, and a McNair scholar. She has recently finished an internship opportunity at the Bexar County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, and she is interested in exploring many other legislative and law-related internships. In her free time, Zabdi enjoys helping her parents grow their small businesses in Austin, going to church, reading, and eating chocolate ice cream. Email Zabdi:

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer. The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.

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