Latinos have spoken. While we still do not know the results of the presidential elections, one thing is clear, a record number of Latinos cast their ballots this year. In fact, nearly 9 million Latino voters went to the polls early by mail or in person in 2020, shattering the record 3.7 million who voted early in 2016. According to preliminary data from Latino Decisions, more than 2.4 million of the early votes cast came from first time and newly registered voters. This increased turnout is due to the continuous and groundbreaking work of national and community-based Latino organizations across the country.
Hispanic Federation has led a comprehensive civic engagement campaign that has mobilized more than 2.5 million Latino voters in key swing states such as Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Registering, educating, and mobilizing voters takes time and resources but it works. If 2020 proves anything, it is that Latino voters care deeply about the future of their country and that, when educated on the issues and mobilized to vote, they are a decisive force to be reckoned with. From addressing the surging COVID-19 crisis to the need to craft just immigration reform, there is no shortage of work to be done in the country, and if this election is any indication, no shortage of willingness to do it.
Thanks to generous supporters like you many families in need receive vital economic empowerment services at Hispanic Federation and might later get excited and volunteer in our civic engagement programs. Jennilys and her husband, Francisco, moved to Orlando after they fled Puerto Rico as climate refugees in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017. Jennilys enrolled in English classes and job training at Hispanic Federation’s Orlando office. She was thrilled to cast her first vote for U.S. president in the 2020 election! Luis is a young D.A.C.A recipient who participated in Hispanic Federation’s college peer mentoring program. After learning more about voting rights, he volunteered for HF’s toll-free voter hotline to help Latinos across the U.S. register to vote and find their polling place. A long-term investment in Latino-led community organizations is critical to continue the trajectory of growing Latino voter participation.
As we know, Puerto Ricans are citizens of the U.S. But as residents of a territory, they do not have electoral votes to decide the presidency nor do they have the right to vote for president. This privilege, perhaps taken for granted by many Americans, is one of the unexpected gifts bestowed upon Jennilys and her husband, Francisco, after Hurricane Maria forced them and their two sons to relocate in Orlando, FL in 2017. Three years later, the couple are ready to cast their first votes ever in the presidential race. Jennilys and Francisco are among the 2.5 million people being contacted by Hispanic Federation’s voter registration and mobilization drives.
“I love it here,” Jennilys said. Her expressions of gratitude not limited to her role in the November election, but also because of the help her family received--assistance she learned to provide to others who were part of the historic diaspora to central Florida after Hurricane Maria--through the services donors made possible.
The hurricane’s unprecedented destruction led to more than 300,000 individuals fleeing to Florida. To offset the overwhelming demand on familial and government safety nets, Hispanic Federation launched the Central Florida Puerto Rican Empowerment Initiative. The initiative helps strengthen HF member and partner organization’s capacity, increases food assistance, mental health and case management services, and provides English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, financial literacy workshops, workforce development, small business development, and rental housing assistance.
Arriving in Florida a few weeks ahead of her family in 2017, Jennilys immediately enrolled in English learning classes and educational webinars that taught her how to advocate for her oldest son with special needs and keep both sons engaged in classes while homeschooling. Her special needs child, now 13, has developed significantly after he was enrolled in special education programs that were not available in Puerto Rico. Jenny also went to work for another Federation program, CareerSource, as an intern. And she learned about civic engagement and the importance of the right to vote.
“The federation is always focused on the needs of the community,” Jennilys said. “They are so important; they can help. There are many good organizations. But Hispanic Federation does so much. That is how it distinguishes itself.”