Spotlight on Latinx Achievement: Ryan Perez
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself / background and your role at COPAL?
I grew up in Chicago and moved to Minnesota to attend Macalester College in St. Paul—proudly, I am the first in my family to graduate from college. Early in my undergrad, I represented my school at an organizing conference in New York, and a facilitator challenged me saying, “You have the tools to empower your community, now what will you do next?”
I took that opportunity seriously, and became engaged in campus and student organizing around voting, racial justice, and gun violence issues. Later, I applied those skills to the world of political campaigns, and I am now the Democracy Program Director at COPAL. I lead a team of organizers running phone banks, text outreach, and a media campaign to get out the Latinx vote!
2. What do you think are the most important issues we are facing this election?
One key issue is the protection of community members with DACA and TPS (Temporary Protected Status). Today’s political rhetoric is more anti-immigrant than it has been in decades, and it creates the political opportunity to deport and destroy the lives of our gente. While hateful nationalism and xenophobia are not new, the degree of risk right now is heightened. However, we shouldn’t focus only on issues, but also opportunities. This is an important election to voice what an inclusive system means to us.
3. What are some the trends you are seeing when it comes to the Latinx Vote in Minnesota? What are the challenges and opportunities?
Right now, I hear large parts of our community saying “I’m getting engaged in 2020 because this election is about protecting my family.” And it’s true, the national election will have serious consequences for immigrants. But in many ways, this is a vote “against” something. What I hope for is that we will move to a place where we are connecting a just world that we imagine with the people we elect at all levels of government, and how that vision requires the constant pressuring of people in power.
There continue to be practical challenges, which include language barriers resulting from tools being available only in English, like the Secretary of State’s online registration and vote by mail tools. There is also a lot of community fear of the vote by mail process. But this is an opportunity to say that we have a powerful voice and it will not be stopped!
4. Why is the Latinx Vote so important and what do you believe is the key to winning the Latinx vote in 2020?
Even in Minnesota, where a smaller 5.5% of the population is Latinx, the voters in our community have the power to decide the results of many statewide races. Let me explain: There are about 127,000 people in our communities that are eligible to vote. Keith Ellison, our Attorney General, won by only 99,000 votes. Tim Pawlenty, the former governor, won by only about 21,000 votes! The math adds up. We have political muscle.
The key to winning the Latino vote is an easy two-part equation. One, you need to invest in engaging us (which few campaigns do); two, you need to speak to our issues, which vary across our geographies and identities. President Obama did both, and Bernie Sanders took that community engagement to historic levels. Interestingly, it appears that President Trump’s campaign is investing in Latinx media at far greater levels than in 2016, and we will see how it affects the dynamic of the presidential election.
5. Why do you think the work of LatinoLEAD is important for our community now?
I firmly believe that the key to winning better lives for our gente, or “una vida digna,” is for us to build power in every sector of the U.S. system. We need our people working and leading in government, the nonprofit sector, small businesses, and institutions of faith, offering community values and a community vision. LatinoLEAD is essential as an organization at the crossroads of our collective leadership.