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Follow our coverage of immigration and related issues affecting Latinos in the Charlotte area.

North Carolina's Gen Z Latinos Could Play Big Role In The 2020 Election

Mijente event in Concord, NC
Laura Brache/WFAE
Laura Garduño, one of Mijente's local leaders, speaks to a crowd of canvass volunteers at Les Myers Park in Concord on Oct. 3, 2020.

Every 30 seconds, a young Latino becomes eligible to vote, according to the Pew Research Center. That means that in 2020, Latino voters will make up the second-largest voting bloc in the country, behind only white people. But they still lag behind Black voters in showing up to the polls.

North Carolina is no exception to that data. So, what’s on the minds of young Latino voters in the Charlotte area and what will drive them to vote?

Many Latino advocacy groups across the state have been leading the get-out-the-vote efforts on their own, endorsing local candidates and drawing their focus toward smaller precincts that haven’t earned the attention of big-name candidates. One of those groups is Mijente, from the Spanish term “my people.”

With the help of other organizations, Mijente launched a voter turnout campaign in North Carolina in the summer which has included canvassing, registering eligible Latino voters, and, as of Oct. 15, walking them to their local early voting site.

One of their many volunteers in the Charlotte area is 19-year-old Marco Lagos, who is of Honduran descent. He was part of a group canvassing unregistered Latinos eligible to vote in Concord on Oct. 3. Lagos says being part of a generation that’s constantly being fed new information in an era of political unrest drove him to get involved.

“I spend so much of my time researching and learning as much as I (can), so when I get the chance like this to work with Mijente, and go to people’s doors and tell them about how important it is to vote and specifically, you know, targeting the Latino community, I jumped at the chance,” Lagos said.

While out canvassing, Lagos and his teammate wound up at the door of 22-year-old Sergio Avila. He is an unaffiliated voter and is still undecided about who he’s voting for in the presidential race. One of his main concerns is that neither of the major candidates fits his definition of leadership.

“I do want to see the next president be a leader rather than just somebody that panders on one side,” Avila said. “A leader that can unify this country.”

As an older brother who is the son of Mexican immigrants, Avila says he knows which issues matter to him most.

“Education,” he said, “because I have younger sisters and I do believe that the education system is a little flawed.”

Further to the right on the political spectrum is Guillermo Estrada. In his view, conservative issues are Latino issues. He is only 15 years old and won’t be eligible to vote until 2022, but he’s already very involved with the Republican Party. He’s treasurer of the North Carolina Teenage Republicans and an intern with North Carolina state Rep. John Bell’s reelection campaign in eastern North Carolina.

“In terms of the economy and making sure that we are keeping our basic freedoms and stuff like that, I think it’s very important to support the Republican Party as a Latino person,” he said.

Estrada, who is of Mexican and Uruguayan descent, thinks that young Latinos are inaccurately stereotyped as liberals and Democrats. He hopes to be part of the generation that breaks that cycle.

“I want to make sure that that stereotype is broken because Latinos, or one race, or a whole generation, shouldn’t be confined to just one political party,” he said. “Personally, I don’t think that’s a good representation.”

If you think of the Latino electorate in North Carolina like a pie, the two biggest pieces are Democratic and unaffiliated. But there is still a sizable slice of Latino voters that are Republican — 14%. However, party affiliation doesn’t matter as much as the issues, said Wake Forest political science professor Betina Cutaia Wilkinson.

“Right now, the top three issues that are of concern to the Latino electorate at the national level and in North Carolina are jobs/the economy first, then immigration and health care,” Wilkinson said.

In the last presidential election, Wilkinson surveyed for the Latino Decisions poll in North Carolina and found that Latinos can be easily swayed with those top issues.

“In 2016, 30% stated that they'd be willing to vote for a Republican candidate if the Republican candidate proposed a pathway to citizenship to unauthorized immigrants,” she said. “That sheds light on the fact that it's not a done-deal that Democrats can count on Latinos, the Latinx community, for now and forever.”

Research from UNC Chapel Hill’s Carolina Demography shows that 88% of Latinos in the state — naturalized or U.S.-born — became eligible to vote since the last presidential election.

One in five of all Gen Z voters in the country is Latino. These young Latinos are the largest voting bloc among all Latinos and other racial and ethnic groups such as Black and Asian people.

And Wilkinson says, if those Gen Z Latinos come out to vote in this election, it’s likely they will return in future elections. That trend could be key in establishing Latinos' power at the polls.

Laura Brache is a Report for America corps member and covers immigration and the Latino community in Charlotte for WFAE and La Noticia.

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Laura Brache works with WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte, through Report for America to cover immigration and deportation issues facing the Latino community. She also reports on the Charlotte immigration court, one of the toughest in the nation with the second-highest deportation rate in the country in 2019.