It is hot, the sun is burning and there is hardly any shady space between the cacti and the terraced houses. “This is Arizona,” says Michael Ruiz with a smile on his face. “These are desert temperatures and it’s not even that hot for us. It’s actually winter!”
Michael is walking down a street in Phoenix, the capital of the US state of Arizona, with Arisbeth Valenzuela. They stop in front of each house and knock on the door. It is a neighborhood mostly inhabited by people of Latin American descent. Hardly anyone is at home in the middle of the day. The streets are also empty.
But Arisbeth and Michael don’t give up, they’ve been knocking on 80 to 100 houses a day for several months. They belong to the organization”My Family Vote” (German: “My family votes”) – a non-governmental organization that has made it its mission to motivate Latinos and Latinas to vote.
The next elections are coming up soon – on November 8th, the congressional elections, the so-called midterm elections, will take place in the USA. They are important because they can change majorities in Congress. About 32 million Latinos/Latinas are eligible to vote in the United States, which corresponds to a share of one fifth. In some states like New Mexico or Texas, they even make up half of the population. The number of eligible voters of Latino background in the United States is increasing every year. In Arizona alone, there are 38,000 young people who identify as Latinos every year – and who turn 18 and are therefore entitled to vote.
An important group of voters, nonetheless: “Many of those eligible to vote in this district have never voted before,” says Arisbeth. “We want to show them where they can register to vote. It’s practically educational. They need to know that they have a voice and that it counts!”
Few Latinos vote
In a state like Arizona, these votes are especially important because swing voters are often undecided until the last moment. About 32 percent of the eligible voters in this state are Latino voters, but only 19 percent of them go to the polls.
The presidential election in 2020 already showed how decisive this group can be. Current US President Joe Biden won by 0.3 percent in Arizona, a state that had always voted Republican for the previous 20 years. Experts hold the Latino voters responsible, because back then it was already the civil society organizations like “Mi Familia Vota” that organized the “new” votes from the Latino neighborhoods – many of these votes went to the Democrats at the time.
Professor: A strong movement is forming
“The reason for this was the racist reforms that had been carried out in Arizona in previous years,” says Professor Francisco Pedraza of Arizona State University, who has been researching the Latino vote in Arizona for 15 years. An example of this is Law No. 1070 of 2010, also known as the Show Me Your ID Law. This law has allowed all police forces to ask for their ID without reason from any person they “seem suspicious” on the street or in parks and public facilities. The state of Arizona wanted to track down the migrants “sans-papiers” (German: “without papers”). This has led to a racist selection based on skin color and appearance for who is being checked for no reason. This has caused collective fear in the Latino community, because even those who have papers often know migrants “sans-papiers” or even help them to gain a foothold in the USA.
Another example is Law 103 of 2006: until then, both Spanish and English were officially recognized in all public and governmental institutions. However, this law established English as the only officially spoken and written language in Arizona. 74 percent of Arizona senators voted in favour. In a state where both languages are traditionally part, this was seen as an attack on the Spanish-speaking community.
“This demeaning manner on the part of many Republicans in this state has particularly motivated young Latinos, and especially young women who are Latinas. They have formed civil society organizations to better organize Latino voters and to motivate them to go to the ballot box walk,” says Professor Pedraza.
“There’s a strong young Latino/Latina movement going on that isn’t going away anytime soon. I see it every day in my lectures at university. These young Latino Americans are ready to give it their all,” like Pedraza.
No choice out of ignorance
A few worn streets away, Maria finally opens the door of her pink house, ready to speak to Michael and Arisbeth. She says she has lived in Arizona for over 30 years and has never voted. She thought it was too complicated to register. And you wouldn’t listen to the Latinos anyway.
Now she worries about the current economic situation in the country; inflation, a possible recession in the US? After a long conversation about the process of signing up to register and vote, she agrees: “Something has to be done,” she says. “I’ll be retiring soon, but young people are struggling to make ends meet in the current economic situation.”
However, she does not yet know who she will vote for. The economy is actually an issue that the Republicans are more likely to be able to solve, she mentions. But she would think about it.