Lessons from California’s Latinx Community as Texas Approaches the 2020 Presidential Election

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With the next Democratic presidential debate taking place in Houston, now is as good a time as ever to discuss the important role of the Texas Latinx community will play in the 2020 presidential election. 

From the recent massacre in El Paso to the ongoing family separation crisis, the Latinx community has been at the epicenter of violence and pain that place their participation in the next election in a uniquely powerful position. 

By taking a few lessons in how California transformed politically over the past 25 years, Texas could become the state that decides the winner of the 2020 presidential election. And if it does, it will result from a civic awakening led by its Latinx community. 

Proposition 187 and the Beginning of a Political Transformation  

In 1994, California was not the progressive state that it is today. In fact, it was far from leading the “Resistance.” Anti-immigrant, anti-Latino sentiment ran abound. With Californians facing high unemployment rates and demographic shifts in the mid-nineties, California voters approved Proposition 187, a ballot proposition that banned undocumented immigrants from receiving non-emergency healthcare, public education and other social services in the state. 

As many in Texas reele from a similar decades-long trauma inflicted on immigrant and Latino communities across the state, three lessons from the successful anti-Prop. 187 movement come to mind.  

Who Turns out to Vote Shapes Public Policy   

Prop. 187 passed with nearly 60% approval in California. Despite being 25% of the state’s population at the time, Latinos made up less than 10% of all votes cast in 1994. The public, especially Latinos, quickly learned that public policy is shaped by those who show up to vote. 

For the Latinx community in Texas, this is an important point to realize for 2020. According to the Pew Hispanic Research Center, there are over 5 million eligible Latinx voters in Texas. To put this in perspective, there are more Latinxs who are eligible to vote in Texas than there are people in the entire state of Iowa. 

With Texas hosting an early primary on March 3, 2020,  Latinx communities in Texas can change the course of this primary election, provided that every eligible Latinx register and turns out to vote. If they do, it’s states like Texas that can set the policy agenda on topics like immigration and gun control for the rest of this primary season. 

Broad-based Partnerships are Necessary to Boost Civic Engagement 

California did not add millions of Latinx voters to the rolls overnight. Post-Prop. 187, philanthropy, community-based organizations, and other civic groups came together to involve more Latinos in the political process to rectify the ill-effects on 187’s anti-Latino, anti-immigrant rhetoric. 

Organizations like the Rosenberg Foundation gave local groups the robust funds necessary to pursue power-building strategies. This meant helping immigrants become citizens, register to vote, and provide voter education. 

Looking ahead to 2020, organizations like Jolt and the Texas Organizing Project will become key in mobilizing millions of Texas voters. Their work in expanding the electorate to young people, women, immigrants, and other marginalized communities will not come easy. 

When less than 10% of all philanthropic dollars in Texas go towards Latino civic engagement, according to the Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, there is an urgent need to fill the resource gap. These groups will need the robust investments like the anti-187 movement to transform the politics of the state. The Texas philanthropic sector can play a historic role in making this happen.

When Voting isn’t Enough, Latinos Must Also Run for Office 

When Prop. 187 became a focal point of the 1994 election, there were few Latino voices in leadership roles who could counter the division in the political process. No Latinos were serving in statewide office such as attorney general or lieutenant governor and there were only 11 Latinos in the 120-member California Legislature. Because of 187, Latinos in California took it upon themselves to run for office so that they could be the champions of the community. Now, the California Legislature has the largest class of Latinos at 33 and over half of our constitutional officers are Latino. 

Next year, Texas voters are faced with the prospect of sending their first-ever Latina to the United States Senate through the historic candidacy of Cristina Tzitzún Ramirez. What’s also striking is the candidacy of Jessica Cisneros, a former intern of Congressman Henry Cuellar, who could become the youngest Latina ever to win a congressional seat. And not to be undone, Julián Castro is the second Latino ever to run for president and has quickly become the Democrats’ leading voice on immigration. If there is ever a time to finally achieve Latino representation in Texas politics, 2020 is the year to get it done.   

What the Lessons of Prop. 187 Can Mean for Texas

Since 1994, California has been able to fight back against anti-immigrant, anti-Latino policies by heeding to these lessons. Now 25 years later, California is now a state that proudly touts its sanctuary status amongst leaders both locally and statewide. Immigrants can obtain driver’s licenses and pay in-state tuition for public colleges and universities. California Governor Gavin Newsom even recently led efforts to expand health care coverage to young undocumented immigrants. This type of progress marks a profound difference from 1994 when Latino immigrants were cast as “illegal aliens.”

Under GOP leadership, Texas has struggled to advance the cause of civil and political rights for all its people. Between the implementation of voter ID laws and the promulgation of bills like SB4, which would have forced local law enforcement to comply with federal immigrant agents, the absence of Latino civic participation has allowed for these policies to flourish. 

But as we look ahead to the next presidential election, it’s important to remember that these strategies — voting and securing political representation — gave Latinos in California a fighting chance to protect themselves from policies and political leaders that pushed them deeper into the shadows. 

There is hope provided that everyone does their part. 

Christian Arana is a Latino civil rights advocate based out of Berkeley, CA. Throughout his career, he has worked with Latino leaders from across sectors to ensure Latino participation in elections. 

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