Stop Saying Latinos Are Turning Republican. The Progressive Future Runs Through Texas | Opinion

We Texans are used to hearing our state caricatured by Northerners as a desert full of swaggering cowboys, big oil and corrupt conservative politicians. But recently, there's been a new addition to the list of tropes: the elusive Latino vote.

Ever since the 2020 election, pundits have had a field day talking up the supposed erosion of Latino support for Democrats. Don't be misled. While it's true that there was some shift in the Latino vote towards Republicans, those of us who live and labor in Texas are experiencing a groundswell of new, young, liberal engagement, promising a different trajectory is already underway.

As a veteran community and political organizer in the state, the Texas I know is racially diverse, increasingly urban, and getting both younger and more progressive. And to anyone who really wants to change American politics and secure democratic voting practices, a fair economy, racial justice, and climate remediation, I say: Texas is your place.

Nowhere are the demographic trends more favorable. You might know that 40 percent of Texans are Latino. But did you know Texas is also home to the largest population of Black Americans in the country? Almost 13 percent of Texans are African American. Add a growing percentage of Asians, and a healthy smattering of other groups, and you have a microcosm of the growing diversity across the country.

Our age demographics make the prospects for a progressive Texas look even brighter: An eye-popping 43 percent of Texans are under 30, and Latinos comprise 50 percent of those under 18. Furthermore, studies indicate that this base of new and prospective voters veers decidedly progressive. A 2018 report by Jolt Initiative, the civic engagement organization which I led, found that the top priorities for Latino youth in Texas are healthcare for all, immigration reform, and racial equity. In the 2020 election, young people turned out in record numbers--and voted overwhelmingly for President Biden.

The 2020 drift of Latinos in the Rio Grande Valley toward Donald Trump was more an indication of desperation than values. In a part of the state where the pandemic tripled unemployment, the Republican message was, "We will get you back to work, and reopen your schools," while the Democratic message was, "Stay at home, wear a mask."

If you're that mom or dad who just lost your job and are about to get evicted, who do you vote for?

Pundits should beware of overgeneralizing from these trying times and the Democrats' poor messaging. The real Texas is far more nuanced than the current spate of news-spinning suggests, and it's fertile ground for progressives, provided we foster the conditions for change.

DALLAS - APRIL 9: (L-R) Emeritt Guajardo, Jonathan Vasquez and Juan Ramirez walk behind the baton of a police officer during the Mega March on City Hall April 9, 2006 in Dallas, Texas. Jensen Walker/Getty Images

That includes moving from a two-dimensional Republicans vs. Democrats model to a multidimensional electoral universe that includes the entire eligible voting-age population. Because the sad truth is, one third of eligible voters rarely or never vote. And statistics indicate that those who don't vote are people of color, the young and the poor.

We need fair laws that allow people to actually exercise their voting rights through equal access and fairly drawn districts. According to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, it was harder to cast a ballot in Texas than in any other state across the country in 2020. Texas's regulations have especially disadvantaged urban areas, home to the largest communities of color, and which trend Democratic.

Now, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Republican majority advanced new legislation to codify suppression under the false pretense of "election integrity." Reminiscent of the barriers to voting that swept through the Jim Crow South, they are so blatantly racist and anti-democratic that even major corporations have stepped in to object. These laws, and the likely fiesta of gerrymandered new districts we can expect to follow the Census, are an insult to democracy.

We need to give our communities a compelling reason to vote for a progressive vision. Less than a year before 2020, Bernie Sanders was the favorite Democratic candidate for Latino voters, both in South Texas and in the urban areas. Better outcomes lie ahead for Democrats if we pay real attention, invest early, speak to the real needs and dreams of voters of color, and fight for every vote to count, and be counted.

It's well worth the investment. Texas isn't just the vestige of Confederate America that Northerners imagine. In its scale, geography, diversity, and demography is the vision of our best America, the one we've been talking about since our inception, with equality and opportunity for all.

And the road to that America runs deep through the heart of Texas.

Antonio Arellano is a Senior Political Strategist and former Interim Executive Director of Jolt, a progressive civic engagement organization focused on building the political power and influence of young Latinos in Texas. Twitter: @AntonioArellano.

The views in this article are the writer's own.