Group seeks to boost Florida Hispanic women’s voting power

TAMPA — The presidential election campaign hasn’t even begun but a nonprofit is encouraging Latinas to be ready and exercise their voting rights.

The group is eager to register more women and motivate younger people to vote.

“We want to become agents of change,” said Yadira Sánchez, executive director of Poder Latinx, a group dedicated to boosting voter turnout among women and building their political power in state, local and federal elections.

Since parties and candidates can’t count on Hispanics to vote as a bloc, Poder Latinx is working to create a network of support for a new generation of voters. For many years, Latinas in the U.S. have cast ballots at higher numbers than men. In the 2020 election, however, more than 2.7 million eligible Latina citizens of voting age were not registered.

“We want our women to vote every time there is an election,” Sánchez said. “We teach our ‘poderosas’ how to mobilize their communities and how to use technology to be in contact more effectively with their people.”

As part of its mission to increase Latinas’ participation, Poder Latinx is working each year with a new group of future leaders. The goal is to empower at least 20 “poderosas” in Florida and other states where the Latino vote could be key.

“We know that there is still a lot of potential in the Latino vote,” Sánchez said.

Before the midterm elections, they hosted virtual panels to uplift resources that women and Spanish-speaking voters can use to learn more about what’s on their ballot. The group also released information about the benefits of early voting and a public service announcement featuring La Borinqueña, a Puerto Rican superhero. The campaign targeted the idea of civic duty, the importance of voting for citizens and the issues facing the community in the midterm elections.

One of the group’s initiatives is Poderosas, a 10-month-long fellowship program designed to mobilize women in their communities and increase their voices in decisions that affect their lives, such as environment, immigration, health care and economy. The program began in 2020 among Latinas between the ages of 18 and 35.

Community engagement and voter registration efforts are most effective when advocates and organizations work with local groups, leaders and authorities that have experience in the work, according to the Center for Popular Democracy, an advocacy group that promotes progressive politics.

In Central Florida, groups such as Alianza for Progress and the Hispanic Federation have organized similar initiatives and voter registration drives in recent years. When looking at eligible voters, both groups focused on women and specific communities, including Cubans and Puerto Ricans, Florida’s two largest Hispanic origin groups.

UltraViolet Action and UnidosUS Action Fund are also seen as partners in enlisting Latina voters. During the 2020 presidential election, they launched a radio marketing campaign to target 2.6 million Latinas in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa, as well as Phoenix, Tucson, Arizona, and Philadelphia.

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Poder Latinx said it aims to bolster Latina power and women’s political presence. Each “poderosa” can build a platform of 1,000 Latina voters and lead at least six civic engagement conversations in their communities. The group recognizes each Nov. 1 as National Latina Civic Engagement Day to acknowledge and promote the presence of Latinas as a voting and leadership force.

Ahtziry Barrera works to close the gap in civic participation and increase political representation of Latina women.
Ahtziry Barrera works to close the gap in civic participation and increase political representation of Latina women. [ Courtesy of Rafael Palacio ]

Increasing voter participation is the focus of Ahtziry Barrera, a data organizer for Poder Latinx in Central Florida.

Born in Mexico, Barrera, 25, is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, and a past fellow of Poderosas. She’s a first-generation graduate of Rollins College in Winter Park who in 2020 earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and business management.

Though she is ineligible to vote because of her temporary status, she can encourage others to do so.

“We need more Latina voters,” Barrera said.

Her group gathered recently to discuss ideas on how to involve more Latinas and fan out across the state to public events, churches and shopping centers.

When they reach out to other women about voting, they’re met with enthusiasm, said Barrera. For many of them, it’s the first time they have been contacted by a fellow Latina.

“We also interact with our community beyond getting them to register to vote,” she said. “We get to know the issues that drive them to vote.”

They discuss the unique challenges they face and hold events on important topics that may encourage more Latinas to vote, such as health care and immigration. When local Poderosas speak with different communities, Barrera said, they hear complaints about a lack of resources and representation.

“Latinas are looked up to by our families as decision-makers,” Barrera said. “They play a key role in encouraging our families to vote.”

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