The presidential candidates should be paying attention to Latinx voters. They are projected to be the largest racial minority and ethnic group eligible to vote in the November election, making up 13.3 percent of all eligible voters, according to the Pew Research Center. Among the population of eligible Latinx voters in 2016, 70 percent were either millennials or Gen X, giving this age group a considerable amount of voting power.
Still, paying attention to the voices of young Latinx voters is important aside from the numbers. Today’s young Latinx population cares about more than just immigration reform. It is ethnically and racially diverse, and the candidates’ outreach plans must be rooted in understanding its complexity and diverse policy interests.
If Democratic candidate Joe Biden wants the young Latinx vote, he should take notes from former presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, who has been called “Tío Bernie” (Uncle Bernie) by young Latinx people. Sanders successfully organized young Latinx voters in states like California and Texas, giving him a significant number of votes in the primaries. He accomplished this by setting up campaign camps in cities with large Latinx populations, hiring more than 150 Latinx staffers, airing bilingual commercials, and adopting a volunteer, grass-roots approach with many Latinx canvassers and the support of Latinx powerhouses like Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez of New York and rapper Cardi B.
Tapping into young Latinx voters can mean tapping into their parents as well. Immigrant parents frequently rely on their children to support them in navigating the polls. Andys, a Boston native of Dominican heritage, said, “Literally, I tell my mom when Election Day is, find our poll site, and we go to the polls together. She probably wouldn’t even vote if it wasn’t for me.” Latinx and immigrant parents in general often count on their children to navigate political life, since they tend to be better informed and assimilate into American culture.
Considering the antics President Trump has displayed toward Latinx people throughout his presidency, it would be easy to assume that the community will show up for Biden by a landslide, but this isn’t necessarily true. While Hillary Clinton won the Latinx vote with 66 percent in the 2016 election, Biden currently has the support of 59 percent of Latinx voters. In addition, about a quarter of Latinx voters identify as Republican or Republican-leaning.
Biden tried hinting at diversities like these present in Latinx communities in a problematic way. In an interview hosted by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Biden said: “Unlike the African American community, with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly diverse attitudes about different things. . . . You go to Florida, you find a very different attitude about immigration than you do in Arizona. So it’s a very diverse community.”
His comment about the Black community minimizes the degrees of diversity that exist within Black communities and assumes all Black voters support Biden, which is not true, especially among young Black voters. It also hints at a racial ignorance, a type of racism, toward Black Americans in which they are homogenized.
There is overlap between Black and Latinx identities that often goes unnoted. While Hispanic/Latinx is an adequate race classification for many, others identify as mixed race. These are the diversities within Latinx communities that are not often studied or taken into account when predicting voter outcomes, and young Latinx people are at the forefront of embracing these niche identities, something that is apparent with the several collectives building community around these identities on Instagram.
Young Latinx people hold multiple ethnic identities: international (their heritage), racial, American (where they most likely grew up and reside). These all influence diverse interests in policy and what they want from Biden.
Young Latinx voters hold power in numbers and in their families, and have assimilated into American life under the identity of Latinx but with varied niche identities, and concerns about a plethora of issues. Their voices in this election matter, and if Biden listens closely, he might be able to hear what they’re trying to tell him.
Marlin Ramos is a community advocate and museum professional in Washington D.C.