Monday, April 15

Latina quinceañeras mobilize voters ahead of midterms

Victoria Silva was set to celebrate her quinceañera in March 2020, but then tragedy hit. She lost her father, Manuel Silva Jr., to heart and kidney failure. Then came Covid-19 and the pandemic’s repercussions.

“It didn’t feel right to have it,” Silva said.

But Silva is getting a second chance to celebrate her quinceañera or 15th birthday in a different, more empowering way.

Silva is part of Quince to the Polls, a campaign by Poder Quince geared to mobilize young women to become civic and community leaders. Poder Quince is a program run by Jolt Initiative, a progressive nonprofit organization focused on increasing the civic participation of Latinos, especially young Latinos.

This year, Jolt’s Quince to the Polls is partnering with Harness, an organization co-founded by actress America Ferrera and actor Wilmer Valderrama that uses storytelling to promote social justice issues.

The two groups are hosting a “Get Out the Vote Parade Festival” on Saturday, the first day of early voting in Texas, at Collins Park in San Antonio. Fifteen young Latinas between the ages of 14 and 16 in their fifteen dresses will be walking around and engaging with community members, encouraging them to go out and vote. Young women who are over 18 will also travel to voting sites and cast their ballots.

“Even though I can’t vote yet,” Silva said, “I want to motivate others.”

Fifteen to the Polls spokesgirl Victoria Silva on the San Antonio Riverwalk.Samanta Helou Hernandez for Harness

“The quinceanera is such a pinnacle of the Latino community, especially in Texas,” said Cristina Tzintzún Ramírez, who founded Jolt and created Quince to the Polls in 2019. “That’s why it’s so powerful. It’s using all of the ways through music, dance, and our rich traditions that make up who this country is in putting that front and center in the voting process.”

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Apart from the quinceañeras, the event will have guest speakers including Ferrera and civil rights organizer Rosie Castro — the mother of Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, and his twin brother, former Housing Secretary Julián Castro.

With almost 200,000 Latinos turning 18 in Texas each year and tens of thousands of quinceañeras taking place annually in the state, Quince to the Polls is a way to uplift the Latino community to foster civic engagement and voting and “make real change,” Tzintzún said .

Youth leader Mirella Arianna Lupe Mena in a pickup truck that will ride to the polls.
Youth leader Mirella Arianna Lupe Mena in a pickup truck that will ride to the polls.Samanta Helou Hernandez for Harness

Mirella Arianna, 15, celebrated her quinceañera in August. She said she feels excited to continue her coming-of-age celebration through this kind of civic engagement.

“I’ve already worn it like six times,” Arianna said about her bright red dress that comes with flowers and a cape with lights. “Us getting out there and being our age, I do think that people will start to listen to a little more, even though we are younger.”

Organizers on the ground will be speaking with community members, many of who are first-time voters, said Christine Bolaños, director of communications at Jolt Action, Jolt Initiative’s political arm.

“What we’re finding [is] that it’s not for a lack of caring, it’s not apathy, or even distrust — so much as just lack of connection,” Bolaños said about eligible voters, especially young people, who don’t participate in elections. “Current democratic processes [are] really failing this demographic because we’re not reaching them in the right places or in the right way.”

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Maria Belen Cervera, 21, a youth activist with the Jolt Initiative, convinced her mom to vote by taking her when she cast her own ballot for the first time after turning 18.

“When I cast my vote, I think about my family,” said Cervera.

The Quince to the Polls campaign was founded in 2019 by Tzintzún Ramírez and was inspired by a protest organization launched at the Texas State Capitol in July 2017.

Fifteen girls in quinceañera dresses danced to the “Hamilton” song “Immigrants Get the Job Done” and to the Mexican band Tigres Del Norte’s “Somos mas Americanos” in reference to Jolt’s and other groups’ opposition to Texas law SB4, which gives local law enforcement officers the right to question anyone they detain or arrest about their immigration status, among other measures.

The story of the quinceañeras at the State Capitol managed to reach 50 million Americans online, said Tzintzún, currently the executive director of the youth voter organization, NextGen America.

“It was just a ray of light — in a time when there was a lot of darkness in the Latino and immigrant community,” she said.

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