For Many Young Latino Voters, Issues Trump Political Party
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
You know we often report on issues affecting young people. Well, here at Youth Radio, we get to listen to young people doing the reporting themselves. And one thing on their minds is the presidential election. Arizona is one state that votes today. And a term we hear over and over again is the Latino vote. Youth Radio's Nila Venkat is 15 years old. She has to wait a little while before she can vote herself. But she got interested in what exactly it means when young voters are labeled as part of the Latino vote.
NILA VENKAT, BYLINE: The typical Latino youth voter sounds like this.
WENDY PACHECO: Name is Wendy Pacheco. I am 22 years old, and I identify as a Democrat.
VENKAT: And this.
LUIS REYES: My name is Luis Reyes, and I vote with the Republican Party.
VENKAT: And this.
DIANA VELA-MARTINEZ: My name is Diana Vela-Martinez. I am 20 years old, and I do not identify as either Republican nor Democratic.
VENKAT: There is no typical Latino youth voter. According to the Pew Research Center, almost half of the 27 million Latinos expected to vote this year are millennials between the ages of 18 and 33. That's why candidates need to appeal to young Latino voters, which isn't always easy.
PACHECO: You know, I tend to be disillusioned with electoral politics 'cause a lot of the issues that affect the communities that I come from cannot simply be solved through an electoral process.
VENKAT: That's Wendy Pacheco. She was born and raised in East Los Angeles and calls herself a poor woman of color. Her interest in politics comes from her family's experience with the criminal justice system.
PACHECO: My mother has suffered from a drug addiction. You know, she was gone for a big portion of my life and was in and out of jail. And my father is currently incarcerated. It's a strain on the family. It's very difficult.
VENKAT: For Pacheco, who says she'll vote for a Democrat this November, voting is about representing where she comes from - her family, neighborhood and community. Twenty-one-year-old Luis Reyes is a student at UC Irvine and a registered Republican. He's also influenced by his family. His parents came to the U.S. from Guatemala and El Salvador, so immigration is his top issue.
REYES: I am very disappointed in most of the Republican candidates. I guess you can tie that into the idea of a Latino Republican ideology - that most of them don't really fit the Latino part of it.
VENKAT: Reyes cares a lot about a path to citizenship. But it's a priority he says that his party just doesn't share.
REYES: The problem is that the Republican Party itself is very - it's very white.
VENKAT: In many ways, Reyes doesn't totally fit in as a Republican. He's pro-choice and supports same-sex marriage. But in other ways, Reyes feels really at home in the party. He wants lower taxes and less government intervention in business. He's also big on security and strengthening the military to challenge ISIS. One poll from Univision found that 55 percent of most Latino voters don't identify as either strong Democrat or strong Republican - meaning that many are persuadable voters.
MARIA URBINA: Latinos don't so much respond to a particular party.
VENKAT: That's Maria Urbina - from Voto Latino - talking to me from Washington, D.C.
URBINA: Where we really see ourselves is through our families and through our communities. So if we hear messages that demonstrate stewardship for our families, that's where we go.
VENKAT: Voto Latino encourages Latinos to register and get out to vote, regardless of party. On the day I talked to Urbina, volunteers like Jose Israel were working the phones.
JOSE ISRAEL: Hello, this is a message for Joe Martinez. We just wanted to let you know that the presidential caucuses are coming up.
VENKAT: In Gainesville, Ga., 20-year-old Diana Vela-Martinez volunteers to register Latino voters near her home - even though Vela-Martinez isn't able to vote herself because she's not a citizen.
VELA-MARTINEZ: If our voices are silenced, our way to being heard is encouraging those who are eligible to vote to pick people who support DACA and undocumented students.
VENKAT: Vela-Martinez got a work permit through President Obama's DACA program. It's for young people brought into the U.S. as children. But the program could be reversed by the next president, meaning Vela-Martinez could face deportation. With record numbers of Latinos voting in 2008 - and again in 2012 - wherever they are on the political spectrum, young Latinos could be the ones to watch this year.
GREENE: That story came from Youth Radio's Nila Venkat, who is in the studio with me here at Youth Radio. Hey, Nila.
GREENE: So we should say, you are 15 years old. So you are a few years from voting yourself.
VENKAT: Yeah, just a few years short.
GREENE: Just a few years short. But we're joined by one of your colleagues at Youth Radio, Amber Ly, who is 18 years old. And you're getting ready to vote for the first time, right?
AMBER LY, BYLINE: Yeah, that's right.
GREENE: OK, I'm excited to hear about that. Nila, I want to ask you first, what got you interested in this topic - the Latino vote? Did have a personal connection to this story?
VENKAT: For me - I'm actually not Latino myself - I'm Indian-American. That's not exactly the most sought-after voting block. So it was very interesting to get into this other voting block that's a little bit more sought-after, and how they feel that politicians are accurately representing them or not representing them.
GREENE: Well, Amber, let me ask you. This has been a year when so many voters have been - at least in the early stages of this campaign - supporting outsiders, in a way. It's been almost an indictment of the political system and of the two parties, in some ways, and how they've operated. And I guess I just wonder, you - this new generation of voters coming in - do you see the Republican and Democratic parties as still important parts of our political system?
LY: If you take a step back from Washington, D.C. itself - as a new generation of voters, we don't really care. We don't identify ourselves with either party. We just identify ourselves with - oh, this is the issues that I care about. I guess this is kind of like the young, idealistic mind for some people. And it's just more about problem-solving instead.
GREENE: Take away the labels, you're saying. The party labels.
VENKAT: I think the young people of this generation are little bit more of rule-breakers, in that - yeah - we're not exactly happy with the existing confines of the political system.
LY: We're not happy with how we grew up.
VENKAT: Yeah (laughter).
GREENE: What do you mean by that?
LY: I don't know. I grew up with the '08 crash, where - my family - I experienced a lot of, like, economic troubles after that. Or even the whole 9/11 attack - after that it was just never the same. And I will get that a lot from my parents - like, wow, it's changed so much in such a small amount of time. And that just has made me, like - what was it like before? I wanted to know what it was like 'cause I never experienced it.
GREENE: And that's frustrating.
LY: Yeah, I'm very frustrated.
VENKAT: We're not happy with the existing system. So I personally would not mind at all if - in the 2020 elections when I'll be voting - if things were different.
GREENE: Amber, Nila, thank you so much.
VENKAT: Thank you.
LY: Yeah, thank you.
GREENE: That was Amber Ly and Nila Venkat, two reporters here at Youth Radio in Oakland, Calif. We should say, they don't just produce radio stories at Youth Radio. They produce digital content, apps and also music. And we're hearing their music throughout the program this week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.