By ALEJANDRA ALARCON/Coachella Unincorporated
COACHELLA, Calif. – It seemed as if everyone in town was there. Elected officials. Families. Community workers. Students. The familiar faces greeted one other as their enthusiasm amplified in anticipation of Voto Latino Action Fund’s Get Out the Vote Rally.
Excitement about the upcoming election, it seems, is sweeping across this Eastern Coachella Valley town like never before.
“Voting, to me, is very a powerful thing. A lot of people have made many sacrifices for us to have the right to vote,” said Neftali Galarza, a first-time voter and community youth leader.
This is precisely the message that Voto Latino Action Fund and actress Rosario Dawson are taking to predominantly Latino communities across the country. On November 3, it was Coachella’s turn.
“We started Voto Latino eight years ago because we knew the Latin wave had more to do with population than just Hollywood and movie stars,” said Dawson, chairwoman of the national nonpartisan group dedicated to registering and engaging young Latino voters. “No, no, no, the Latin wave is a way bigger. It’s actually a tidal wave sweeping across the entire United States. Everybody knows now. The cat is out of the bag, now it’s about whether or not Latinos themselves know that.”
Congressional candidate generates excitement
In the Eastern Coachella Valley, many credit this recent increase in political involvement in large part to Raul Ruiz, a 40-year-old doctor from Coachella who is running for Congress against longtime Republican incumbent Mary Bono Mack.
“What makes me excited about the campaign between Dr. Raul Ruiz and Mary Bono Mack, is that someone is actually giving her a run for her money,” Galarza said. “I support Dr. Raul Ruiz because he is from the East Valley. Ethnicity has nothing to do with my political view. I support Dr. Raul Ruiz because of what he believes in.”
Guadalupe Navarro, another first-time voter, added, “This community lacks in being politically active, but I think that Dr. Raul Ruiz running for congress has really encouraged people to become involved.”
Young people, drawn to the youthful candidate, have become particularly interested in the election.
“There a lot of youth that actually care abut voting this year. There is a lot of political hype in the Eastern Coachella Valley because of Dr. Raul Ruiz,” said Erika Castellanos, who will also be voting for the first time. “He is from here and I think the community feels like we actually have a chance to create change.”
Although Ruiz was not present at the rally, Assemblymember Manuel Pérez (D-Coachella) encouraged attendees to vote for the homegrown Congressional hopeful and for President Barack Obama.
Pérez, who is running for his third term in the Assembly, and Ruiz were classmates at Coachella Valley High School and later attended Harvard University for post-graduate studies at the same.
“Never again will we be ignored as a community”
“Latinos are the fastest growing population in California,” added Pérez, who is popular in his district among both Democrats and Republicans. “We need to ensure that people know the importance of voting.”
According to an event press release, only 8,000 of Coachella’s 40,000 residents are registered to vote. Nationally, more than 12.2 million Latino voters are expected to cast ballots on Election Day, an increase of 26 percent from 2008. However, more than 10 million Latinos are expected not to vote this November.
“Never again will we be ignored as a community. Never again will we be overlooked,” Mayor Eduardo Garcia told the crowd.
Garcia, also a product of the Eastern Coachella Valley, is running for his fourth term as mayor.
“We need to be in every community. There are a lot of communities that are hurting, that are not getting their voice heard,” said Dawson, who was greeted warmly by residents.
Enthusiastic community members showed unity and support during the rally as they chanted “¡Si se puede!” and did the United Farm Workers unity clap.
A community’s momentum builds
“The fact that people showed their commitment to be here shows that they care about the community. They care about their voice and they want to do something about it. I hope that that translates to votes on Tuesday and larger numbers even than we saw here tonight. That’s the power of doing these types of rallies,” said Dawson.
Dawson said that the existence of the Raices Cultura community space, where young people often gather to create art, is an example of this community coming together.
“I didn’t know we were going to do it here in this beautiful space. Looking at the art, (I’m) being really touched just by this community, how it’s already come together to have their voices heard and make an impact around them,” Dawson said. “I’m seeing that there’s a momentum coming on here that’s been going on for a long time. And now it’s our opportunity to let the whole world know what our power is. When we vote that’s going to be our chance to be on the history books.
“You need to own it!”
Visit www.canivote.org to locate your polling place on Election Day.
– Brenda R. Rincon contributed to this report