5 Latino Celebs and CEOs Talk Taking Our Dignity Back at the Ballot Box

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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 VotaThe 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.”

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.

Jeimy Osorio, Actress

“As soon as I started watching the news and everyone was reacting to some people — I don’t want to mention names. I know that it really shocked me that we’re giving importance to that person. And that we might be giving him the power to control us and that’s kind of frightening to me.”

Maria Teresa Kumar, Voto Latino President & CEO

“This election is particularly important because for the first time we have people knocking on our door and making our homes uncomfortable. And what I mean by that is: when you have children who are six or seven years old coming home crying from school because some classmates told them ‘You’re going to be deported when Trump becomes president,’ it’s come home.

And if we don’t wake up and if we don’t make this a tsunami election where it’s a landslide where we rise and say ‘This is not actually a candidate but it’s about our own future in our community,’ then it may get worse.”

Gabe Gonzalez, Comedian & Writer

“I think it’s when Trump got the nomination. Because it seemed like such a joke. And it seemed so improbable. I really really thought we were at a point in this country where calling Latinos thieves and rapists that people would lash back. And they didn’t. If anything, it emboldened this terrifying base in the Right that I wouldn’t even call Republicans: they’re just a bunch of racists. It’s terrifying seeing those people mobilizing to support a candidate who’s tapping into their bigotry.”

Julissa Arce, Ascend Educational Fund Chairman & Co-Founder

“I think the moment that Donald Trump calls us Mexicans criminals and rapists, that moment was such a critical moment because that told me that he’s saying that because other people think that. We have to go back and vote to take back our narrative. We have to go out and vote in order to take back what he’s taken from us: our dignity.”

Armando Riesco, Actor

“I think having conversations with my family who are very much of the Right of center persuasion and finding a really interesting middle ground. I think we’re having conversations that we’ve never quite had before. Because of the choices that are out there we’ve finally gotten to not just talk about the same old things where we’re actually not really talking. This is the first election in my lifetime where we actually have to talk about this! The implications are enormous.”