Young Workers Charged Up at Voto Latino Summit

Several hundred young people from California, Florida, Arizona and Texas took part in the Voto Latino Power Summit in Los Angeles this past weekend, joining local community leaders in a two-day event to empower young Latinos to create positive change in their communities. The AFL-CIO was a major sponsor of the summit.

Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, discussed the importance of the Latino vote in 2012 on a panel with the Voto Latino National Director Maria Teresa Kumar and actor Wilmer Valderrama. Other panelists, including Dolores Huerta, talked about past generations and organizing the Latino vote. The panel was broadcast on Telemundo. Said Durazo:

The Latino vote will play a major role in battleground states, whether they are a large or a small block, in determining the outcomes of the 2012 election. We need Latino voters going to the polls in 2012 because higher education is becoming increasingly unaffordable and our public colleges and universities are failing Latinos. Only 7 percent of Latinos in the U.S. have a college or university degree. And since 1975, there has only been a 2 percent increase in college graduation rates for Latinos. We have a situation where Latino students can’t afford their classes or books. Across California and the country, faculty and students are raising the issue of public education and access to public education together.

Durazo also spoke about the DREAM students and how their tremendous energy and motivation can help mobilize the Latino vote.

The DREAMers are being denied the right to realize their dreams and access a higher education most of all.

Another panel explored voting rights, and included Mike Slater, executive director of Project Vote, and Evan Bacalao, civic engagement director for NALEO, and Alicia Ybarra from the AFL-CIO Political Department who shared the federation's voter protection and voter registration programs and discussed how students and young people are impacted by voter suppression laws. Ybarra also discussed the role of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, in voter suppression.

A major part of the voting rights efforts by the AFL-CIO and affiliated unions involves working with Latino organizations on grassroots community outreach within the Latino commnity voter registration and education.

Speaking about immigrants’ rights, Valderrama talked about his own experiences.

We come to this country to work and to earn every dollar. We don’t ask anybody of anything. We take jobs that a lot of people often assume don’t exist. I learned to understand that my community, and directly my family, my father, my mother and my sisters needed some kind of a voice. As I developed my platform in the entertainment industry, I understood the opportunity I had to raise awareness and bring attention to not only local, but national issues.