Hispanic Heritage Month Ends with Determined Voters



The Latin American community will become the largest minority group heading to the polls this year.

Mickenzie Hannon, Reporter

Sept. 15 marked the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, and political leaders are stressing the importance of the Latin American vote now more than ever.

To kick off Hispanic Heritage Month, Joe Biden visited Kissimmee, Florida and encouraged the Hispanic community to vote. “There is no separating out Hispanic heritage from American heritage. These stories are one in the same, growing more vibrantly entwined every single day. Today, it is no exaggeration to say that the future and the success of this country depends on Hispanics having opportunities and the tools they need to succeed,” Biden said.

With 3.1 million eligible and registered Latinx voters in Florida and 32 million nationwide, this election cycle expects the largest Latin American voter turnout in American history. In fact, Latin Americans will likely become the largest racial and ethnic minority group heading to the polls this year, making up 13% of all eligible voters — according to Pew Research Center.

Despite the large margin of registered Latin Americans projected to vote this election cycle, data from previous years show patterns of low election turnout rates from the Latin American community.

Valencia alumna and former President of the Valencia Latin American Student Organization (LASO) Dr. Jennifer Mezquita, 38, attributes Latin American voter hesitation to possible language barriers and marginalization. “I do wonder and I do worry about particularly my mother, I worry about our senior citizens, and I worry about Latinos who don’t know how to maneuver the language quite well yet and what their experience will be like,” Mezquita said.

There are numerous benefits to members of the Latin American community turning out to vote. A greater number of Latin American voter registration corresponds to a larger Latinx population. As such, voting as a Latin American will ensure that this increasing community will be more adequately represented.

Valencia College ranks 5th among the nation’s colleges in the number of associate degrees awarded to Hispanic students (Excelencia in Education, Latino College Completion, 2020), and nearly 40% of all Valencia students identified as Hispanic in the 2019-2020 reporting year according to Valencia College Just the Facts.

Puerto Rican Valencia student Mara Fernandez, 18, will be a first-time in-person voter this election cycle. “After the last election, I realized that a main reason why, for example, Trump won was because a lot of young people didn’t want to vote, and they felt like they had no option,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez advised, “It’s good to at least make a decision and make it count.” She continued, “People would protest and do all these things, but they wouldn’t take action. If you’re going to protest, then at least make sure you’re going to vote.”

Despite her adamance when it comes to voting, Fernandez is one of many voters who have concerns about in-person voting among a pandemic. “The only thing that does kind of scare me is that I’m gonna do it in person, and I just hope they follow the guidelines and keep distance. That’s more physical nervousness.”

Valencia professor and faculty advisor of Valencia’s LASO Juan-Alberto Salto, 36, is choosing to vote by mail this election. “I will be voting in this upcoming presidential election, as I believe it is important to have the best possible leadership for our country,” Salto said.

As for Mezquita, voting in-person is the method that works best. “I do believe my vote matters. I don’t want to think otherwise, so I won’t stay home. I am going to take the morning off and go physically vote, because our collective voice matters.” Mezquita added, “It just brings me a sense of comfort.”

Salto encourages new voters to research before filling out ballots. “My best advice to new voters is to make sure they research the current candidates in order to make informed decisions in this important election.”

Fernandez agrees that researching the candidates is vital in this election. She said, “Go vote because you can’t expect everything to be done for you, research the candidates, don’t just vote on the party, and research to see if your views align with their views.”

Mezquita advises Latin Americans to vote. Mezquita said, “Number one, your vote matters. Number two, if you choose to stay home, not only are you being silent about the things that matter to you, but you’re also silencing your family, those that can’t vote, those that aren’t citizens yet, and those that don’t have the privilege to be able to do so. We need to take it upon ourselves to be that change that we want to see. We can’t take the bystander approach on this one.”

The United States 2020 election is scheduled for November 3. Floridians that are voting by mail must ensure their ballots reach the Supervisor of Elections’ office by 7:00 p.m. on November 3. Florida voters can also vote early at their local polling stations or participate in same-day voting.