Much has been said of the Latino vote in this election, which is something I know a little bit about, having been working obsessively over it for the last 16 years. Latinos are the fastest-growing demographic, with the largest voter registration cap in America.
A Latino youth turns 18 every 30 seconds. While the mode for whites in America is 58, the mode for Latinx is 11 years old. You heard that right. And it's these new voters and the youth who are translating America for their immigrant families who are leading the charge for audacious change.
An estimated 73 percent of Latinx youth voted for Biden. As members of the largest generation globally, these Latino youth mirror their peers, seeking intervention for climate equity, racial justice and gender parity.
What we're hearing right now in America and around the globe is a demand for a massive reset on how we will govern in the 21st century for a world that is livable, equitable and just. Too many young people are drowning in student debt here in America, their families have been ravaged by the pandemic, who have lost jobs, lives and housing, and still, in 2020, they showed up for an America to believe in.
Many say that 1914, the eve of World War I, defined the 20th century in America. That meant FDR's New Deal that doubled down on its citizens by nation-building, offering pathways to the middle class through public works, education and sponsoring artists and musicians, building roads to provide jobs and sponsoring science-driven blueprints that allowed a man almost 40 years later to look up at the Moon and say that he wanted to go there.
And we did that with less technology than the smartphone feeding this talk. So my hope is that the 21st century will be remembered as starting February 2020, not because that was when COVID ravaged us and in doing so, exposed the real, deep socioeconomic and racial disparities that ail us, but because that was when Americans cast a ballot for the future that believes in addressing the climate crisis, that health care is a right, that racial inequities hinder us all.
We have a window to meet the precedent set by the Greatest Generation and define our century as one that is equitable and sustained. I, for one, am excited to get to work. I hope you'll join me to usher in this audacious change together.
Bianca DeJesus: María Teresa, thank you so much for that. MTK: Thank you, Bianca. Thank you for this conversation. BD: It is an honor. So, some commentators seem to be confounded that in certain places, Republicans received meaningful numbers of Latinx votes.
Of course, it's kind of silly to imagine that any demographic is a monolith, and within our community, there are so many differences. So what is the most productive way to think about heterogeneity within the Latinx, and really, within any community? MTK: If we don't have public elected officials talking to our community, especially a new community, that is coming of age, that is relatively new to the democratic process, someone else will fill that vacuum.
But I can share with you one of the things that we knew at Voto Latino was that young Latinos are navigating America for their families. Those youth turned up to protect their families, and it was not just in Arizona, but we also saw it Nevada, we also saw it in Pennsylvania, we saw it in Georgia and in North Carolina.
And if you want to have an inclusive America, you have to fight for the vote, and that is basically what we need to see right now. But when we talk to young people, they voted disproportionately because they wanted climate change, they wanted access to health care, and they wanted to talk about the real racial inequities.
When George Floyd sadly was murdered tragically, Latinos were side by side with the African American community because we recognize that that is something that truly plagues our American existence and that we have to address it if we want to move forward.
BD: Absolutely. So do you see evidence that patterns change regarding first- and second- generation Latinx voters, and how does assimilation play out in terms of long-term voting trends? MTK: That's interesting.
So at Voto Latino, we don't believe that there's an assimilation. Right? What we want is an enhancement of American culture. Just like we celebrate St. Patrick's Day, we want to be able to celebrate our roots and recognize the importance of that richness.
We are in a very unique moment in America, where we have the most diverse population in the world, and one can argue that that is why some people don't want us to succeed, because it's our human capital, our vision, our ability to move forward and our diversity that prepares us for this century.
And so when we talk about the differences in the Latino community, it's also the differences in America that makes us so much richer with our imagination, with our ability to have entrepreneurship, and we have to use that and harness it for good.
Some people will say race is what is our Achilles' heel. I actually believe that it's the diversity of our races and our cultures that actually prepares us to battle the 21st century that it's already interglobal.
And the more that we harness that beauty of that diversity, that is what prepares us to compete and define the 21st century. BD: Wow. Yeah. I think that's beautiful and totally agree. So how can we make first-time voters repeat voters who are engaged in future elections and not just for presidential elections but for local government as well? MTK: One of the things that we are seeing is that we're seeing more young people run for office, and the more people start running for office, they realize that local government is what makes the most impact, at least here in America.
So if you want, for example, some racial reform in your judicial system, vote for your district attorney, vote for your city councilman. If you think that there's disparities in our education system, run for your school board.
So that's one. But the other thing to send very clearly to politicians is that when young — Americans voted their heart out. Young Latinos, youth in general, outvoted the people before them, but they're voting on making a bet that their life will change, because the last four years could not have been rockier.
And if the folks that are elected don't meet the challenges of addressing climate change, addressing racial equity and gender parity and health care for all, they run the risk of not having those people vote again in 2024, and we need everybody on deck.
And so our job as citizens is to ensure that we give the people that we just voted into office the courage to do the right thing, and that means to continue the rallies, continue calling our members of Congress, writing those letters and running for office ourselves.
BD: So one question that speaks to the theme of this year's TED Women, "Fearless," I think it's accurate to say that there's been a lot of fear within the Latinx community over the last few years.
How does that begin to change now? MTK: I will share with you, the day after Donald Trump was elected, all of our worst nightmares came to fruition. We saw family separation, one of the cruelest forms of our nation's history came back to haunt us, because we've done it before, and everyone lived in fear.
And the day after Joe Biden’s declaration on Saturday, I can tell that there was a collective — we’ve been holding our breath for so long, there was a collective release of not only that are we going to be OK but that fellow Americans stood up as allies and said, “Not one more.”
And so that is what gives me hope, is that this was a collective America who outvoted their hearts out, because we see that in our celebration of our country’s future is believing in democracy, believing in a transition of power, believing that the most votes won and the electoral college was on our side, and more importantly, that these issues that Trump tried to ascend his presidency for the second time that were based on racism, that were based on the callousness of treating people and women differently, that they were not going to withstand.
And so we do have to rebuild, but we have to rebuild not because of the four years of Donald Trump. If anything, I think he just exposed a lot of our fractures. We have to rebuild based on the last, I would say, 20 years.
But the great thing is that the voters are here for it, and young people are here for it. I don't have to change a young person's mind that we are in a climate crisis. They get it. Cultural change is the hardest to do, but we have generations there with us, because they're there and they get it.
BD: That’s a relief. So, you yourself have been fearlessly outspoken. What drives you forward personally? MTK: I deeply — I don’t know if I’ve been fearless — I deeply believe in our country, and I deeply believe in us, and I deeply believe that when we are present, there’s nothing we can’t do.
And when I say that, we … As a generation, we will not have an opportunity to reimagine what our country looks like, our systems of governments look like, and there will be people — you know, my children are six and eight, who will ask me 15 years from now, "What did you do?" And I want to say that I was alongside allies and the American people to rebuild better and to reimagine better.
And we have always been a country of entrepreneurship, design and imagination, and what a perfect place to start when the majority of Americans are with us. BD: Absolutely. Well, thank you so, so much, María Teresa.