The past few months we’ve seen the youth of the United States band together and raise their voices by the millions against gun violence. The voices of young people aren’t stopping there. As the age of 20% of the population of the United States is predicted to surpass 65 by the year 2030, we’re in dire need of young voices to be heard more. This is especially true of the young Latino population. A historically underrepresented group in the political arena, from the estimated 880,000 Latino children who turn 18 every year, by 2024 that number is projected to cross the one million mark. Recently, UnidosUS president, Janet Murguia, held a campaign called Power of 18 in Washington DC in the midst of a blizzard. The goal of the movement is to tap into the growing number of young Latino voters and encourage them to be a part of the changes they want to see: “While this has been a historically challenging time for our community, we are far from powerless. A new generation of voters are reminding us that we hold the power within us to make the change we want and it starts by registering to vote.”
The trouble is that Latino millennials who, while great in number, make up the smallest margin of eligible voters among their peers — only 40.3% of Latino millennials claimed to vote in the 2016 elections. Discouragement with the voting system and the seemingly invisible changes that voting makes is driving young Latino voters away from the voting booths. Or at least to subscribe to the idea that voting doesn’t really do anything and political activism is little more than a performance in front of empty seats and closed ears.
Murguia remains undeterred in encouraging young Latinos to exercise the power they have to impact change when they turn 18 years old. She recognizes the difficulty of her mission and is empathetic to the apprehension of young Latino voters, but it doesn’t overshadow the need for change driven by the generation who will be running things before we know it. Seeing the past few months develop into youth run campaigns has been affirming of the power of the voices of youth in our nation.
In the face of stricter immigration enforcement policies and a nationalist political climate, the voices of young Latino communities are becoming louder as they band together to stare this administration in the face and test them. As the year presses on, we hope to see more voices come together, turn up the volume, and create a community that stands in solidarity, unafraid to fight for the changes this nation needs to see. When it’s run by the youth, those voices are more refreshing than ever.