Commentary: For Latinos and Hispanics, voting has consequences

By Charito Calvachi-Mateyko

As public policies are decided in the halls of the legislature, these become personal matters for Americans of Latino descent.


For them, national and local deliberations about immigration, Dreamers, equal rights, health care, education, jobs, housing and the economy are not just policy matters in Dover and Washington, D.C., they are everyday personal experiences. For this reason, civic engagement in elections is a fundamental responsibility and an opportunity to influence important policy decisions for every person in this country, including the diverse Latino community from the Caribbean and the many countries in Central and South America.

The Delaware Hispanic Commission is working to help Latinos become active and engaged in the election through a grassroots initiative it has spearheaded called “Votamos We Vote Coalition,” comprised of 12 organizations.

This effort is designed to educate residents in the immigrant community on the issues and help them to exercise their right to vote. For those who cannot vote, they can identify a loved one, a friend, a relative or a neighbor who is a U.S. citizen and ask them to register to vote and to vote. While undocumented Latinos do not have a voice in this democracy, in spite of their length of time in the country or the amount of taxes they pay to the government each year, they can identify and motivate others to vote and to be their voice.

The population of Latinos from Puerto Rico, who have been U.S. citizens since 1917, is a case to emulate as 95% of them participate in elections.

The Guatemalan people, highly represented in Sussex County, also have a story to tell. Eighteen years ago, Efrain Rios Montt, a former military dictator, now deceased, was running for president in Guatemala. At significant risk to their own lives, 80% of the population voted to make sure he would not be elected, among them many Mayan descendants. They succeeded.

According to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), 27 million Latino/Hispanic U.S. citizens are registered to vote, but 11 million did not vote in the last election. There are an estimated 12 million undocumented people in the U.S. If each undocumented person finds one of those U.S. citizens who did not vote in the last election, the Hispanic community nationwide could increase its participation and impact in elections Nov. 3.

By voting, we use our own voice, and we can also be the voice of the voiceless in this country.

Charito Calvachi-Mateyko, JD, MACT, is co-chair of the Delaware Hispanic Commission and a restorative justice consultant and practitioner.