Engaging Latino voters

By Luis Moscoso

In the last few weeks, local news media, including the Everett Herald, have published articles about the role of ethnic surnames in political elections. These stories and other research on the growing Latino presence in Washington state put into perspective the growing significance of this under-represented population statewide. The articles have additionally brought into focus three key issues: discrimination, isolation, and participation in the public square. Most importantly, they have raised both the facts and the issues not as just Latino concerns, but as problems and opportunities we all must face together.

For decades, Latino workers have been important for rural communities in our state. Now they are poised to be a key factor for the economic growth of the entire state. Beyond economics, Latino culture enriches our arts and strengthen traditional American values of family and community. But all of this will be determined by the ability of Latinos to participate freely and effectively in our democratic institutions. These recent articles point out the significant barriers Latinos have to overcome in order for this to happen.

This past year, the state Legislature was asked to address growing gang violence in Washington. Much of this activity is taking place in rural communities — communities that have historically been mostly free of this type of crime. The growth of gang activity has been particularly pernicious among Latinos, but its effects have readily spread to all members of many small towns and cities in Eastern and Western Washington. There are many reasons why this is occurring: poverty, racial conflict, failing education systems, and drugs, to name a few. But history shows that the basic reason for gang development among youth, whatever the population, is the sense of exclusion, powerlessness, and the lack of a future. Whatever the causes, it is clear that the community as a whole needs to find effective solutions to this significant problem.

Unfortunately, this year when the participation of the Latino community in solving the gang issue was critically needed, there were no representatives from rural communities among the 98 members of the State House. In this instance, the lack of representation of the Latino community leaves us far short of the practical experience and insight we need to solve this and other problems.

Lawmakers throughout Washington need to be engaged and responsive to the increasingly diverse populations they serve. The systemic disenfranchisement of any population from our civic life is contrary to the principles of democracy. Let us work together to support an electoral system founded on an equal opportunity to participate and vote.

Rep. Luis Moscoso, 1st Legislative District, is a first-generation Peruvian American born and raised in Iowa. He held several public service jobs in Washington state before being elected to the House in 2010.