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Hispanic voter outreach strategies in Arkansas



Arkansas – As the 2024 election approaches, Arkansas is witnessing a significant push to engage its rapidly growing Hispanic electorate. Key players like Josh Sol, a native of Springdale, are at the forefront of these efforts. Sol’s initiative to create a Washington County chapter of the Democratic Party of Arkansas’ Hispanic Caucus embodies a broader movement to increase political participation among Hispanic Americans in the state.

The Significance of Washington County

Washington County holds a special place in Arkansas’s political landscape. It became the state’s first Hispanic voting-age majority district following the 2021 redistricting. This shift underscores the importance of the Hispanic electorate in the region. The upcoming election, featuring a rematch between Rep. DeAnna Hodges and Democrat Diana Gonzales Worthen, will be a litmus test for the political engagement of this community.

Josh Sol’s Vision

Sol’s vision extends beyond mere voter registration. He is determined to cultivate a culture of active participation and consistent community engagement. His focus is on transforming dialogue into action, building lasting relationships within the community, and addressing key issues that resonate with Hispanic voters.

Rising Hispanic Voter Eligibility

According to the Pew Research Center, an estimated 34.5 million Hispanic Americans were eligible to vote in 2022, an increase of 4.7 million since 2018. This makes Hispanics the fastest-growing racial and ethnic group in the U.S. electorate since the last midterm elections. In Arkansas, this demographic shift presents both a challenge and an opportunity for political parties and candidates.

Youth Engagement and Political Cynicism

Sol, 21, recognizes the difficulty in mobilizing his peers, who often view politics with cynicism. However, he believes that addressing issues crucial to young people, such as climate change and abortion access, can spark interest and engagement.

Representation and Its Nuances

For Hispanics in Arkansas, representation in government is a complex issue. While having a Hispanic representative for the state’s only Hispanic-majority district is symbolic, Sol emphasizes the importance of electing officials who actively engage with and understand the community’s needs, regardless of their ethnic background.

Influence of Non-Hispanic Allies

Former state Rep. Megan Godfrey, who was an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher, is a prime example of a non-Hispanic ally who made significant contributions. Her support for immigrant-focused legislation, such as Act 837 of 2019, which allows DACA recipients to become licensed nurses, resonated deeply with the Hispanic community.

Political Engagement Among Immigrants

Manuel Tejada, chair of the Arkansas Hispanic Caucus, notes that political discussions were not a staple in his Salvadoran immigrant household. However, the negative rhetoric around immigrants in recent years galvanized him to become more politically active, a trend observed among many Hispanic Americans.

Hispanic Population and Voter Eligibility

The U.S. Census reports that nearly 9% of Arkansas’ population is Hispanic or Latino, with about 4% eligible to vote. Engaging this demographic is crucial, yet challenging, as many are primarily focused on immediate concerns like job security and paying bills.

Arkansas’s Voter Participation

Arkansas was ranked last in voter turnout and registration in the 2020 election. Tejada believes that addressing broader quality of life issues can help increase civic engagement over time. He also suggests focusing on local races, where the impact of voting can be more directly felt.

The Importance of Local Political Figures

The election of Kevin Flores, the first Hispanic city council member in Springdale, is a testament to the power of local political engagement. Flores’s election was a rallying point for the Hispanic community, demonstrating the potential for impactful representation.

The Role of Collaboration in Community Engagement

Tejada stresses that supporting the Hispanic community goes beyond racial lines. It involves collaboration and understanding between different communities to address shared concerns and goals.

Outreach Efforts by Political Parties

The Libertarian Party of Arkansas, chaired by Michael Pakko, opts for a broad approach, reaching out to all voters rather than focusing specifically on the Hispanic electorate. The Republican Party of Arkansas did not provide comments on its outreach strategies.

Civic engagement in Arkansas’s Hispanic community is multifaceted, with various factors influencing voter participation, ranging from immigration status to language barriers.

Voting Rights and Immigration

Immigration status significantly impacts civic involvement in the Hispanic community. The right to vote is a privilege not extended to all immigrants, even those lawfully residing in the U.S. under programs like DACA. As of 2018, 5% of Arkansas’s residents were immigrants, and another 5% were native-born U.S. citizens with at least one immigrant parent. This demographic represents a considerable portion of the community that could be civically engaged in other ways beyond voting.

Ambar Mendez’s Role in Civic Participation

Ambar Mendez, a DACA recipient and digital organizer for Get Loud Arkansas, exemplifies active civic engagement without the right to vote. Get Loud Arkansas focuses on voter registration and engagement. Mendez’s involvement underscores the importance of inclusive civic participation and the fact that being Arkansan transcends language and citizenship status.

Language and Education as Barriers

Language barriers and a lack of familiarity with the democratic process can deter participation. For instance, undocumented parents may not be equipped to guide their citizen children through the voter registration process. Additionally, potential voters may avoid the polls due to concerns about language support. To address this, Washington County offers a unique program that enables high school students to earn credit for translating at the polls, a model that Get Loud Arkansas aims to expand.

Future Plans for Voter Education

Get Loud Arkansas is exploring various avenues to improve voter education, including creating Spanish-language videos and translating materials for county clerks. This effort is part of a broader strategy to make the voting process more accessible and comprehensible for all eligible voters.

Personal Motivation Behind Civic Work

Despite her inability to vote, Mendez finds fulfillment in her civic engagement work. With Arkansas as her home for over 25 years, she is deeply invested in the state’s future and is driven by the direct impact political issues have on her and her family. Mendez’s story is a powerful reminder of the personal stakes involved in civic participation.

Overcoming Obstacles in Voter Education

Get Loud Arkansas and similar organizations face the challenge of educating a diverse electorate. The goal is to ensure that all voters, regardless of language, can navigate the voting process confidently. This includes not only translating materials but also providing support and answering questions to demystify the process.

Engagement Beyond Voting

For many in the Hispanic community, civic engagement extends beyond the ballot box. It includes understanding and advocating for issues that affect their lives, families, and future generations. Organizations like Get Loud Arkansas serve as vital conduits for this broader engagement, empowering individuals to participate in the civic process in various capacities.

The Impact of Civic Engagement on Arkansas’s Future

The collective efforts of individuals like Sol, Tejada, and Mendez reflect a commitment to shaping Arkansas’s political landscape. Their work emphasizes the idea that civic engagement is not a singular act of voting but a continuous process of community involvement and advocacy.

The movement to engage Hispanic voters in Arkansas is a dynamic and multifaceted endeavor. It encompasses efforts to increase representation, break down language and educational barriers, and inspire a new generation of voters. The dedication of community organizers, educators, and advocates is driving a change that could significantly impact the 2024 elections and beyond.

As Arkansas’s Hispanic community continues to grow, so does the potential for increased civic engagement and political influence. The stories and strategies emerging from this movement are a testament to the power of persistence, education, and the collective pursuit of a more inclusive and representative democracy.

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