Meet the young Latino voters of ‘Every 30 Seconds’

Meet the young Latino voters of 'Every 30 Seconds'

Approximately every 30 seconds, a Latino in the US turns 18. Young Latinos could swing the outcome of the 2020 US presidential election — if they come out to vote.

By
The World staff

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Clockwise, starting from the top left: Jacob Cuenca, Michelle Aguilar Ramirez, Brayan Guevara, Leticia Arcila, Adela Diaz, Izcan Ordaz, Yaneilys Ayuso and Marlene Herrera will vote for US president for the first time in the 2020 elections.

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Graphic by Maria Elena Romero/The World

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A record 32 million people who identify as Latino will be eligible to vote in the 2020 presidential election in November, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s just over 13% of the US electorate — surpassing eligible black voters for the first time and making Latinos the nation’s largest voter group after whites.

Latinos’ massive growth as a voting bloc is largely driven by youth coming of age. Approximately every 30 seconds, a Latino in the US turns 18 and becomes eligible to vote. Young Latinos could swing the outcome of the election — if they come out to vote. 

Every 30 Seconds” is a collaborative public media project led by The World that follows eight young Latino voters in different corners of the United States, reporting on the issues, concerns and challenges driving Latino decisionmaking and turnout for this election. 

These are their stories.

Yaneilys Ayuso, 18

For “Pink” Ayuso, one of the 3.1 million eligible Latino voters in Florida, the pandemic has underscored how difficult it is for immigrants in Miami — and across the country — to access health care.

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Jayme Gershen/The World

Yaneilys Ayuso, who just finished high school, grew up in the Miami neighborhood of Wynwood. 

Ayuso, who is of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent, identifies as non-binary. They have bright red hair that they call “Ariel mermaid hair” and wear huge hoop earrings and bulky pink glasses. Because of that, they go by the nickname Pink.

Until the coronavirus pandemic forced Ayuso to shelter in place, they spent much of the last year trying to encourage Florida youth to get involved in politics — canvassing and organizing get-out-the-vote parties.

Issues of interest: LGBTQ rights, Cuban and Puerto Rican issues and immigration

Read more: Pandemic makes social justice issues more personal for this young Florida voter

Izcan Ordaz, 18

Izcan Ordaz, who describes himself as more of a centrist in politics, says Texas conservatism has influenced him. He says his parents are more liberal than he is. Nearly 40% of Texas’ population is Latino, and about one in three eligible voters is Latino.

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Ben Torres/The World

Izcan Ordaz, who just finished his senior year of high school, lives with his parents in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Ordaz, a second-generation Mexican American, leans more conservative on some issues compared to his parents, who supported Bernie Sanders and are concerned about President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on immigration.

Until the coronavirus hit, Ordaz says he was primarily concerned with the cost of college and student loans. Now, he’s far more worried about the US economy and job insecurity — especially as the November election nears.

Ordaz says for now, he plans to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Issues of interest: Access to higher education, the economy, the conservative vote

Read more: This Latino teen voter worries about prom, graduation — and the economy

Adela Diaz, 18

Adela Diaz, part of Arizonas rapidly growing Latino population, says the coronavirus pandemic has brought a new urgency to her major, public health. Nearly a quarter of all eligible voters in Arizona are Latino, according to the Pew Research Center.

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Ash Ponders/The World

Adela Diaz, a college freshman studying public health at the University of Arizona in Tucson, is a second-generation Mexican American. She initially wanted to vote for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who dropped out of the race for the Democratic Party nominee. 

As the presidential campaign unfolds, Diaz is keeping an eye on one main issue: health care. She’s interested in the lack of health care access in minority communities — which is now magnified by the coronavirus pandemic.

Issues of interest: Health care disparities among Latinos, education, college access and affordability

Read more: The top issue for one Arizona first-time voter? Health care.

Brayan Guevara, 19

As an Afro Latino with roots in Honduras, Brayan Guevara straddles two groups whose votes candidates are fighting to capture: Latinos and blacks. Guevara wants to make sure his voice is heard at the ballot box. 

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Lynn Hey/The World

Brayan Guevara, a sophomore at Guilford Technical Community College in Greensboro, North Carolina, is a first-generation Honduran American who wants to become a teacher.

Guevara, who grew up in the Bronx neighborhood of New York, says his Afro Latino identity means everything to him. He feels candidates are vying for the black and Latino votes separately. He’s still trying to figure out how being Afro Latino, an identity he did not recognize until later in his life, shapes his political views.

Guevara is a registered Independent and undecided voter.

Issues of interest: Access to education, identity 

Read more: This first-time Afro Latino voter is undecided. His top issue? Education.

Leticia Arcila, 20

Leticia Arcila, a 20-year-old voter in Atlanta, Georgia, said health care is her top priority in a presidential candidate.

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Courtesy of Leticia Arcila

Leticia Arcila, a first-generation Mexican American, worked as a home health care worker before the pandemic hit.

Currently, Arcila, who comes from a family of mixed immigration status, doesn’t have health insurance. She lost her job due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Arcila’s parents are undocumented, and their application for US residency is pending. The decision will impact what happens to Leticia’s young sister, who has epilepsy. Their parents’ deportation could mean Arcila would have to take custody of her younger siblings. 

Issues of interest: Access to health care, immigration

Read more: For this young Latina voter, pandemic highlights the need for ‘Medicare for All’

Marlene Herrera, 17

Marlene Herrera is an undecided voter in California, a state where Latinos overwhelmingly support Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who recently dropped out of the presidential race.

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Adriana Heldiz/The World

Marlene Herrera, who just finished high school and lives in California, is on track to be the first person in her family to attend college this fall. She plans to study psychology at San Francisco State University. The third-generation Mexican American has a big question in her mind: How will she pay for it? 

Herrera is interested in how the US health care system will address the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Her top concern is how her uninsured family members will get access to health care. 

Those concerns are shaping how Herrera views the 2020 presidential election campaign. She initially considered voting for Democratic candidate Andrew Yang. Then she leaned toward Bernie Sanders, but after he dropped out of the race, she remains undecided.

Issues of interest: College access and affordability, health care access, US economy

Related: Coronavirus upended her family. But this Latina teen is determined to make her vote count.

Michelle Aguilar Ramirez, 17

Like many young Latinos in Seattle, Michelle Aguilar Ramirez leans Democrat. But she says she feels disenchanted by the presumed Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden.

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Jovelle Tamayo/The World

Michelle Aguilar Ramirez, who just completed her junior year of high school, is a first-generation Guatemalan American who lives in Kent, Washington. 

Aguilar worries how the pandemic will affect her family — particularly her mother, who is undocumented.

The coronavirus pandemic has only underscored the positive changes she wants to see for her family. Michelle, like most kids her age, is learning from home as schools remain closed. But she struggles to connect with her professors or classmates and keep track of her work deadlines. Every day feels eerily the same since she’s been isolating. 

Like many young Latinos in Seattle, Aguilar Ramirez leans toward the Democratic Party. But she feels disenchanted by the presumed Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Issues of interest: Climate change, immigration, mental health

Read more: Pandemic stress overshadows US election for this young Latina voter

Jacob Cuenca, 18

Jacob Cuenca, 18, is a registered Republican in Florida with misgivings about voting for US President Donald Trump in November. In a swing state as important as Florida, decisions made by young Latino voters like Cuenca could determine the entire election outcome.

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Jayme Gershen/The World

Jacob Cuenca, who just finished high school, is a registered Republican who lives outside of Miami, Florida. He planned to cast his first vote this November for President Donald Trump.

But three months into the coronavirus pandemic, the government’s response has not lived up to his expectations. Now, Cuenca finds himself torn between who he sees as two candidates he calls “incompetent”: Biden and Trump.

Cuenca’s mother is a Mexican American Democrat. His father, who is Cuban American, voted for Trump and leans more conservative. Cuenca says he came to espouse more conservative political beliefs through his own research and experiences. 

Issues of interest: Conservative vote, US response to the coronavirus pandemic

Read more: Trump’s pandemic response has this conservative Latino teen voter considering Biden
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In Georgia, a young Latina reluctantly casts her primary vote for Biden

In Georgia, a young Latina reluctantly casts her primary vote for Biden

By
Martha Dalton

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Leticia Arcila, a 20-year-old voter in Atlanta, Georgia, said health care is her top priority in a presidential candidate.

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Courtesy of Leticia Arcila

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This story is part of “Every 30 Seconds,” a collaborative public media reporting project tracing the young Latino electorate leading up to the 2020 presidential election and beyond.

Leticia Arcila didn’t want to take any chances when it came to casting her vote in the Georgia state primary Tuesday, June 9. 

This year, state officials pushed back the primary twice due to the coronavirus pandemic. Then they sent absentee ballot request forms to all of the state’s nearly 7 million registered voters — an unprecedented step to “prioritize the health and safety of Georgians,” said Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. 

But Arcila, a 20-year-old first-generation Mexican American living in Atlanta, insisted on voting in person Tuesday. This year is her first time voting in a presidential election cycle. 

Related: For this young Latina voter, pandemic highlights need for ‘Medicare for All’

Arcila said she looked forward to casting her vote, but it’s bittersweet: she had planned to vote for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who dropped out of the race in April. To make matters worse, Georgia voters faced chaos at many polling locations Tuesday amid reports of broken voting machines, lack of provisional ballots and hours-long lines.

Georgia’s primary was originally scheduled for March 24. State officials pushed it back to May 19, due to fears about COVID-19. Finally, they pushed it back even further to June 9. In the meantime, Sanders left the race. 

“I literally needed, like, three days just in my room after I saw that Bernie dropped out. I just didn’t want to see Twitter. I didn’t want to see CNN. I didn’t want to do anything.”

Leticia Arcila,20-year-old first-time voter

“I literally needed like three days just in my room after I saw that Bernie dropped out,” Arcila said. “I just didn’t want to see Twitter. I didn’t want to see CNN. I didn’t want to do anything.”

Eventually, she recovered. If she wanted to, she could still vote for Sanders. His name is still on primary ballots in some states, including Georgia. If Sanders earns 25% of the Democratic Party’s delegates, he can secure representation on committees at the party’s convention — allowing him to heavily influence the Democratic platform on issues like health care and college tuition. 

Despite her admiration for Sanders, Leticia has resigned herself to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

“If you know that the country is going to go a certain way, it makes sense to do everything possible to try and get Trump out,” she said. “[That’s] basically what I’m trying to go for.”

Although Leticia is determined to vote, that might not be the case for every Latino in Georgia. 

“I think Joe Biden still has a lot of work to do in the Latino community and reaching out to the Latino community.”

Jerry Gonzalez, executive director, GALEO

“The polling indicates that the Bernie supporters among the Latino community were upset about the [primary] outcome, but they’re not necessarily not going to participate in the election,” said Jerry Gonzalez, the executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, or GALEO. “I think Joe Biden still has a lot of work to do in the Latino community and reaching out to the Latino community.”

Related: Can Biden turn out Latinos to vote? Advocacy groups aren’t sure

GALEO is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group focused on engaging Latinos in Georgia in the voting process. Gonzalez says as a group, young Latinos haven’t coalesced around Biden’s candidacy yet.

“I’ve seen the staff changes that are happening and additions that are happening on the [Biden] campaign,” Gonzalez said. “So, I certainly think that there’s going to be a significant amount of outreach associated with that.”

There are signs the Biden campaign is finally investing in targeting Latino voters. It recently hired Julie Chávez Rodriguez as a senior adviser working on Latino outreach. Chávez Rodriguez, the granddaughter of civil rights leader César Chávez, has previously worked for Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California and served as deputy director of political engagement for the Obama administration.

Investing in Latino voters in Georgia could pay off big for any campaign. According to Gonzalez, when GALEO began in 2003, there were about 10,000 Latinos registered to vote in Georgia. Now, there are almost 240,000. Gonzalez points out that some recent elections in Georgia have been won by thin margins. For example, President Donald Trump won the state in 2016 by 211,141 votes.

“If we show up to vote, the Latino community can determine a competitive statewide race.”

Jerry Gonzalez, executive director, GALEO

“If we show up to vote, the Latino community can determine a competitive statewide race,” Gonzales said.

Getting people to vote during the pandemic, though, could be a challenge. Gonzalez says because Latinos haven’t traditionally voted via absentee ballots, GALEO will spend time explaining that process. 

“The particular instructions are confusing and there’s a lot of ways in which your vote can be disqualified if you don’t follow all the particular steps associated with that process, so there’s going to be a lot of education around that,” he said.

Arcila doesn’t need to be convinced that voting is important. She just wishes she had a candidate who promises the things Sanders did, including universal access to healthcare. 

Arcila was laid off shortly after the pandemic spread in Georgia and doesn’t have health insurance. But even though she thinks Biden lacks bold ideas, she’s committed to voting for him.  

“The country is going to vote one way or another, and so I guess we might as well just go for the thing that’s going to help us in the end and if that’s Biden, then it’s Biden,” she said.

Still, Arcila says Georgia’s delayed primary makes her feel like she missed out on shaping who the Democratic candidate would be.

“It’s hard to kind of accept because you kind of feel like it’s your future,” she said. “And you want to conquer it and make something amazing out of it. It kind of feels almost, like, taken away from you.”