It was a very special screening at a very special place. HBO Latino took over Ellis Island for the premiere of their latest Habla program which is as timely as it gets: Habla y Vota. The message wasn’t lost on any of the attendees. The image of the Statue of Liberty against the New York sunset as we were ferried to that historic site was a powerful reminder of the vital role immigrants have and will continue to play in American culture.
With the November election emerging as a watershed moment for Latinos, Habla y Vota wants to make sure the Latino electorate feels emboldened to take a stance. It’s a message that comes through loud and clear with testimonials from, among others, journalists Jorge Ramos and Maria Celeste, Bronx singer Prince Royce, comedians George Lopez and Cristela Alonzo.
As the special reminds us, every 30 seconds a Latinx in the US turns 18.
Let that sink in: every 30 seconds a Latinx becomes an eligible voter. That’s 66,000 every month, or 800,000 every year. Those are staggering numbers that could rightly sway this or any other future US election. And yet, studies show that Latino youth have the lowest rates of voter registration and voter turnout. A project like Habla y Vota is an urgent step toward making sure the “sleeping giant” that is the Latino vote finally wakes up in time to make a splash this November.
Introducing the film with impassioned words HBO’s Lucinda Martinez reminded the rapt audience that despite the demographic power Latinos have in the United States, “We are not owning that power.”
— Manuel Betancourt (@bmanuel) September 16, 2016
The people behind Habla y Vota hope to change that. In fact, there was even a voter registration booth set up at the screening, a sign that while getting #HablaYVota to trend is a priority, it should be a driver to get people informed, registered, and pumped to head to the voting booths this November. The screening itself was an emotional affair, with tears, laughter, and cheering punctuating the anecdotes shared by those interviewed by Ferreras. Introducing the film, Martinez made sure to note that the special is non-partisan, though there was little doubt such a caveat needed to be made at all.
The elephant in the room, of course, was the presidential candidate who may have inadvertently helped rally the often fragmented Latino electorate. During the special and on the red carpet, many people refused to say his name, opting instead to talk about the heated rhetoric of this campaign. But it’s undeniable that Donald Trump may be responsible for the urgency felt in Habla y Vota. As Maria Teresa Kumar, President and CEO of Voto Latino put it when she talked to Remezcla at the red carpet, “The one thing that’s going to unify the Latino vote is when you disrespect us.”
With activists, scholars, and artists walking the red carpet in support of Habla y Vota, we asked at what point this election cycle they had realized the historic importance November would have on the Latino community. Here’s what they had to say.
Habla y Vota airs on HBO Latino September 16, 2016.