Long Islanders, along with the rest of America, is a short 18 days away from casting their vote in their local elections, along with the national race for a new president of the United States.
Maya Brown, a 20-year-old college student at Stony Brook University, is from Freeport and is half Mexican and half African American. Her first time voting was back in 2018 for the midterm elections, and she plans to vote in the upcoming election. Growing up in a majority Hispanic and Black community, she noticed that her side of town, the north, was more liberal in comparison to south Freeport, which is mostly white. She believes voting in local elections is important because local officials have more influence and power to enact federal government change.
“I think voting has the power to enact change,” said Brown. “In this election, I think it’s important because as a partially Hispanic person, I want to vote the current government administration out because they have done tremendous harm to the Latino community.”
According to a study conducted by Pew Research, since the start of the 21st century, the number of eligible Hispanic voters has increased by six percent in the U.S. Hispanic voters also used to be the second largest minority vote, but in 2018, they shared the largest minority vote spot with Black people. Specifically with Generation Z (ages 18-23), Hispanics make up the largest minority vote within this group.
The Hispanic community has the largest minority population on Long Island. Therefore, the data correlates with Long Island’s increasing Hispanic population as well, which has been growing since the 1980s.
Spanish professor at Stony Brook University, Sally Scott-Sabo, is not Spanish herself, but is fluent in both English and Spanish. She studied Hispanic and English literature and eventually traveled to Ecuador with her husband where she found a passion for learning about other cultures and challenging her own preconceptions. She believes that because of the large Hispanic population on Long Island, the community’s vote is crucial.
“As Latinx people are the largest minority in the U.S., their voices and choices need to be heard,” wrote Scott-Sabo in an email. “The United States is not a homogenous nation— it never was. Every culture, ethnicity and group needs to participate and be acknowledged. That makes a democracy.”
Stony Brook University Political Science professor, Brandon Marshall, researches partisan polarization, meaning what causes one to identify with a specific political party. He explains that immigration and religion are factors that play into Hispanics identifying as a Democrat or Republican.
“Broadly speaking, for many Hispanics, it seems that the closer to an immigrant experience they have, the more likely they identify as Democratic,” said Marshall. “Among Hispanics, Catholicism is more associated with the Democratic Party. Some theories I’ve seen have noted just some differences in Hispanic Catholicism, traditions on issues of social justice and economic issues.”
Marshall also notes that the Cuban population tends to lean more Republican, which deeply affects swing state Florida with this year’s election.
This year, there have been drastic issues surrounding the U.S. from the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change to healthcare and an increase in Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. The Hispanic population has one of the highest infection and death rates from COVID-19. In addition, a majority of Hispanics are supporting the BLM movement. Stony Brook University Political Science Professor, Ryan Vander Weilen, believes this will impact Hispanic’s ballots this year.
“There are policy areas where the Latino community looks different from the rest of the voting public,” said Vander Weilen. “The hope is that those issues get prioritized by Congress and the presidency and actually at all levels. The elected one, once in office, will start updating their policy priorities and start pushing for those issues that are more central to the Latino community.”
Unlike Brown, 29-year-old Melissa Azofeifa, cannot vote in U.S. elections due to her immigration status. She came to the U.S. when she was five from Costa Rica and grew up in Hampton Bays. She didn’t get into politics until she was in high school, specifically when she began to realize her struggles.
“My friends were getting their working papers and they were getting jobs in ways that they could earn money,” said Azofeifa. “Meanwhile, I couldn’t because I was missing certain things.”
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump attempted to get rid of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allows children who came here illegally with their parents to apply for deferred action. However, the Supreme Court claimed he cannot do this immediately.
Recipients can renew every two years. Azofeifa is a DACA recipient, which enables her to work and earn an income. She claims that it changed her life.
“And then particularly after DACA was started in 2012, I got even more focused on what politics were and how it affects people like me,” said Azofeifa. “I think without DACA, I wouldn’t have made it to where I am right now.”
Azofeifa believes the Hispanic vote is integral due to it impacting the way the community is treated, along with the rights, like DACA, that immigrants have. She urges all eligible Hispanic voters to cast a ballot, especially in this national election.