Latinas are a Force for Political Change

curly haired latina casting her ballot at the voting station

This article is part of a series sponsored by and developed in partnership with AltaMed Health Services. AltaMed is on a mission to eliminate disparities in healthcare access and outcomes by providing superior quality health and human services through an integrated delivery system for Latino, multi-ethnic and often-overlooked communities in Southern California.

In states like California, where election results can often take weeks after the polls close to finalize, the civic power of the Latino community came into full view once all votes were counted. Despite historical and structural barriers to the ballot box, nearly 30 percent of Latino voters voted early, a sign of increased engagement from the community.

One organization played a critical role in mobilizing these voters by taking innovative approaches to activate communities of people who often have much to gain through their participation in elections, but for several reasons, including lack of investment in outreach by candidates, political parties, and political organizations, are often disconnected and unmotivated to vote.

AltaMed Health Services, the largest federally qualified health center providing services to more than 400,000 individuals, was essential in increasing Latino voter turnout by leveraging their long history of having a community-first approach to healthcare delivery. “Social determinants of health” are external factors that aren’t doctor-patient medical care related, but that can be influenced by social policies, and that can affect health in significant ways. This is something AltaMed has long taken into account but is often left out of the public health conversation, despite the recently expanded understanding of the significance of this in the last decade or so.

These factors directly impact health and is one reason AltaMed firmly holds on to its message, “your health is on the ballot – vote for your health!” It’s through this work that critically underserved communities like the Latino community began to emerge not just as a moral imperative, but also as a smart strategy to help increase the turnout of voters in communities throughout California and beyond via national partnerships.

How Women Led the 2022 Midterm Elections

With the understanding that Latinas are critical community influencers, and given the hostility towards women’s health that conservative lawmakers used to drive unprecedented levels of restrictions across the country at both the federal and state level, it’s no surprise that women’s health served as an important catalyst to the expanded turnout of women voters.

But one election cycle's worth of anti-women laws alone didn’t do it. The foundational work of outreach and genuine relationship-building to specific communities needed to have already been present. In AltaMed’s outreach strategy, they learned that Latinas are often seen as the backbone of their families and communities and that they have a long history of being influential in a variety of ways.

Latinas, whether they be as moms, tías, primas, or eldest daughters, are often responsible for managing the household, caring for children and elderly family members, and serving as primary caregivers. In addition to these domestic responsibilities, Latinas are also leaders in their communities, volunteering their time and resources to support a variety of causes, be it through churches or other faith-based organizations where they play important leadership roles, or through civic organizations at a neighborhood level. Latinas are also known for their strong social networks, which they use to support and empower one another. Whether they realize it or not, all of these factors contribute to the influence that Latinas have within their families and communities.

But don’t just take anyone’s word for it. The data backs this up: A number of studies have quantified the influence of Latinas in their families and communities. One study found that Latina immigrants in the United States are more likely than other groups to start businesses, with Latinas owning close to one in four women-owned businesses. Latinas are also more likely to be the primary breadwinner in their households, with 40.5% of Latina mothers bringing in the majority of their household’s income, compared to 37% of white mothers. Finally, data shows that Latinas consistently vote at higher rates than their male counterparts, adding to the notion that Latinas are a key voting bloc that any elected official or political party must prioritize.

Overall, this data demonstrates that Latinas are influential in their families and communities in a variety of ways, including through their entrepreneurial pursuits, their role as breadwinners, their political participation, and their involvement in community organizations.

Mujeres Vote for Health

What became increasingly clear was that if California women's health was on the ballot, then Latinas needed to understand the consequences of sitting out the 2022 Midterm Elections. With typical barriers in place like disaffection from continuous lack of outreach, ramped-up voter suppression efforts, and rampant misinformation that research indicates that the confusion caused is more effective at decreasing voting than the actual false belief itself, a more robust, targeted, and sustained outreach mobilization would be necessary.

The strategy to reach Latinas would need to include motivating them, but also informing them on voting access, candidates, and issues. It’s well known, even if just anecdotally, that family and friends often turn to the matriarch in the family for guidance on how, who, and what to vote for.

Lizette Escobedo, Associate Vice President of Civic Engagement & Advocacy at AltaMed, can vouch for the notable difference she has witnessed in interactions between Latinas and Latinos in the household.

While door-to-door outreach has long been accepted as the most effective way of persuading registered voters to actually vote, many neighborhoods, especially lower-income communities are hard to access. Any number of potential hazards or barriers can come up like dogs or locked fences, but when Escobedo was out door knocking in a neighborhood that is often overlooked for that type of time investment, she came across a few people who were sitting outside, but beyond the locked fence she was up against.

It’s not easy to aggressively yell at strangers in order to get their attention, but Escobedo finally worked up the courage to be loud enough to get their attention.

When a male member of the family came over, she explained what she was doing there and why. “When it comes to decisions that are being made, our community isn’t at the table, so we have to be there, we have to tell them what we want.” The gentleman agreed and then began a conversation with Escobedo explaining that he agrees and that he votes but that she should tell his kids to vote as well.

Typical for voters who aren’t receiving sustained and direct election information, the family hadn’t heard of the latest Los Angeles City Council scandal on racism by (some now former) City Council members because they hadn’t even heard of those people. By the end of the conversation though, despite only having knowledge of one candidate, Governor Newsom who famously benefitted from enormously high name recognition, the entire family committed to voting.

Escobedo noted that when she talks to voters with the theme of, “Latinos aren’t getting their fair share,” this tends to spark interest because, as she explained, “they see what they aren’t getting every single day.” She continued, “When you say, ‘don't you want your fair share?’ they feel like, ‘yeah we deserve it.’”

The women in the group tend to already understand the importance of voting, whereas, with the men, Escobedo feels like she had to make a case for voting far more often. Whereas the women wanted to know logistical things like where to drop off a ballot, men needed more persuading. And It was often the case that when Escobedo would make contact with a matriarch of a family, they knew if their children were voting or not whereas the male family member would often not know simply thanking Escobedo for the information.

It's for this reason that AltaMed’s civic engagement team created an outreach program that focused on reaching Latinas in an effort to motivate and engage Latino low-propensity voters in our service areas. Latinas in turn serve as the motivators in their families and communities urging them to participate in elections.

Targeting, Time, and Effort Works

Ultimately because women's health was a constant target, especially in states like California where Proposition 1 was on the ballot to defend against these attacks and enshrine reproductive rights and abortion in the state’s constitution, the issue of reproductive rights surfaced as a top priority for most Latinos. Given AltaMed’s status, not only as a provider of women’s health services, but also as an employer with majority Latina employees, the Latina outreach campaign included a first-of-its-kind sub-campaign entirely focused on Latinas in AltaMed’s service areas.

They focused two-thirds of their get-out-the-vote canvassing universe on Latina voters, launched a mailer campaign focused on targeting Latinas, ran social media ad campaigns focused on messages and imagery targeting Latinas, designated various women’s health services locations as vote centers, and made materials and campaign swag available targeting Latinas at Women’s Health Services locations.

With this type of effort, it wasn’t surprising that Latina turnout increased which contributed to high-profile political wins like an all-female Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles’ first female Mayor with Karen Bass, and the first woman elected Mayor in the City of Santa Ana’s 153-year history with Valeria Amezcua. A post-election internal analysis found that after contact, Latinas voted at a 6% greater rate than Latinos at 53% vs. 47%.

As Latinas continue to increase their political participation, it’s critical to continue to work on expanding this type of innovative strategy to continue refining the type of engagement that actually works. In this case, choosing to make Latinas over 75% of the target universe and thus the beneficiaries of the outreach needed to activate their sense of community and natural leadership paid off in a statistically meaningful way, leading to the conclusion that anything less is a continued disservice to all communities, not just Latinos.

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