OPINION

Opinion: Both parties use Hispanics as a political football – enough already!

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 07: Immigration reform protesters march during an immigration rally July 7, 2014 in Washington, DC. Participants condemned "the President's response to the crisis of unaccompanied children and families fleeing violence and to demand administrative relief for all undocumented families". Following the rally, the protesters marched in front of the White House.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 07: Immigration reform protesters march during an immigration rally July 7, 2014 in Washington, DC. Participants condemned "the President's response to the crisis of unaccompanied children and families fleeing violence and to demand administrative relief for all undocumented families". Following the rally, the protesters marched in front of the White House. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)  (2014 Getty Images)

Latinos have been portrayed as single-issue voters and at times we’ve been guilty of reinforcing the stereotype that all we care about is immigration reform. As the daughter of two immigrants, I strongly support the need for immigration reform. I, like most Americans, also care deeply about education, the economy, health care, climate change and the conflict in the Middle East. 

So why are Latinos sidelined from these policy debates by the media and our elected officials?

I have seen firsthand how both political parties have used our community as a political football. Now more than ever, the two parties are leveraging important issues for their own gain while neglecting any sort of sensible resolution.

- Armida Lopez

I am a young Latina millennial woman in Phoenix, Arizona. My parents migrated to the U.S. from Mexico to work in agriculture over 30 years ago. Farm work is rigorous physical labor, with long hours and little pay. My father spent 20 years of his life in the fields. He also marched alongside one of the greatest community organizers in the history of the U.S., Cesar Chavez, to try and end injustice against farmworkers.  

The cutting edge issue for my father’s generation—for the Cesar Chavez generation—was addressing our invisibility as a community and the blatant discrimination we faced. I believe with equal passion that if we are to respect and honor the struggle and sacrifice of my parents’ generation, then we must develop new approaches and chart new political pathways.  

For them, forming a partnership with the Democratic Party made sense. They were the party of civil rights, of JFK, and the Voting Rights Act. The Chavez generation believed that political power, voting rights, economic development, immigration reform, and education for our community could be achieved by joining the Democratic Party coalition. 

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I believe it was the right decision at the time, but one that’s long past due to be reevaluated as we face complex questions. How do we continue to advance our community, develop our voice, expand our franchise and address our issues in a climate of deep partisan dysfunction and gridlock?  

Do we continue to focus on electing Democrats, or do we need to change our strategy? What does it mean that 50 percent of Latinos under the age of 30 now identify as political independents and many more don’t believe either party speaks for them?   

I want to play a role in answering these questions for my Latino community. This summer I left my job at a non-profit helping youth aging out of the foster care system to become the Latino Outreach Coordinator for Arizona Open Primaries because I know now that in order to better help the vulnerable populations that I served, we need to make huge changes to our government system. 

We must have a government that is willing to see past gridlock and focus on producing legislation that has the public’s interest, the Latinos’ interest, at the forefront. My goal is to recruit Latinos from across the state to join—and lead—a campaign to move Arizona from a partisan to a nonpartisan electoral system. 

I made this move with eyes wide open, knowing that both the Democratic and Republican parties stand opposed to shifting power from the parties to the people. I understand that most Latino elected officials believe that we must stay the course and focus on increasing Latino voter turnout, not changing the system itself. And I will be the first one to tell you that open primaries are not a “cure all” nor a magic wand. They will not magically create immigration reform, economic development, better school funding — all the issues we care about. 

What I do know is this. We cannot make progress under the old rules. In 2014, half of Latinos were never even contacted by candidates running for office. The reason so many Latinos don’t vote is because they understand the game is rigged and the outcomes pre-determined in most elections. Increasing voter turnout is not a function of registering more people to vote. If we had a competitive, nonpartisan electoral system in which Latino votes mattered, our community would participate more. 

In states like California and Nebraska, where they have nonpartisan election systems, we are not sidelined. When California adopted nonpartisan primaries, Latino candidates increased by 50 percent. In nonpartisan systems, our leaders are empowered with the independence to consider new legislative approaches, create new conversations, and reach out more broadly in crafting policy.  We can form coalitions based on need, not party loyalty. 

I am making a conscious decision to say 'No' to the status quo. I have seen firsthand how both political parties have used our community as a political football. Now more than ever, the two parties are leveraging important issues for their own gain while neglecting any sort of sensible resolution. I have had enough! 

If both parties are not willing to get something done then it’s time for Latinos in America to “stand up to disrupt the government system” and take control of our own future.

Armida Lopez is the Latino Outreach Coordinator for Open Primaries Arizona, a movement to support nonpartisan elections in Arizona.

Armida Lopez is a millennial activist and Director of Latino Outreach for Open Primaries, a movement to support nonpartisan elections across the country.

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