May 1, 2006, El Salvador: It’s Labor Day, better known as May Day throughout most of the world. I’m in my homeland’s capital, San Salvador, as 250,000 people are marching in the streets for workers’ rights. To this crowd of thousands I recall the keynote speaker saying:
“Today, we are not only marching for workers’ rights, but we are also marching for our undocumented brothers and sisters in the United States. For the first time, Latinos in Latino America and the United States are not Mexican, Guatemalan or Paraguayan. We are all Latinos.”
According to CNN, close to a million people marched and rallied that day across multiple major U.S. cities. At that time, Congress was debating proposed immigrations laws that would change being an undocumented person in America from a misdemeanor crime to a felony.
I decided that day that I could no longer sit on the sidelines and watch millions of undocumented people get treated like criminals just because they wanted a better life for their families and themselves. So I returned to Las Vegas, filled out paperwork to become a citizen and got involved politically. That’s when my career began.
In 2006, I volunteered for a few campaigns and saw Congress transfer from Republican majorities to Democratic hands. In 2007, I joined the Nevada State Democratic Party to help get Latinos involved in the 2008 caucus. In 2008, I managed an organization that registered and later mobilized thousands of Latinos voters. In November of that year, the Latino vote helped elect the first African-American president of the United States of America. It was a very proud moment for me and for many of my colleagues.
In 2009, we got right to work. We organized a coalition of immigration reform activists to make sure the president kept his promise to pass comprehensive immigration reform in his first term. When that didn’t happen, we fought hard to get Latinos to the polls again. In 2012, we pushed for Latinos to come out to vote again and re-elect the president. And we did it.
Once more, we pushed for immigration reform. In 2013, we got one step closer. With the help of a few Republicans, a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed in the Senate. Yet GOP leadership refused to put the bill up for a vote in the House of Representatives. And now, here we are.
I share this history because I understand the anger people feel towards the President right now. I am angry too. After years of working for his campaigns, organizing my community to support his policies and his elections, immigration reform has been delayed yet again.
The truth is that we should be mad; we have the right to point out, loudly, that he broke his promises time and time again. That he has pushed us to the side once more.
But this is not a reason for Latinos not to go out and vote this election. We have to get up, dust ourselves off and keep fighting. We need to keep active and we need to hold the next Congress and President accountable, and we can’t do that without voting.
If we don’t show up to the polls this election, Republicans will win – not only electorally, but also strategically. They will claim that ignoring Latinos, and even more so, that going against the wishes of Latino voters, has no repercussions. If we give up our voice now, it won’t be heard again.
This road will not be easy, but if we stop voting today, our undocumented friends and family will be forgotten and they will never receive the relief they need. Our community will get taken for granted yet again. The only way to show politicians that Latinos cannot and will not be ignored is to show our power at the ballot box.
So I ask you: please join me in casting a vote this November.