The unmistakable scent of pepperoni pizza, the crackle of adolescent laughter and a buzz of excitement filled Wesley Bolin Plaza on the evening of Oct. 9, as a crowd of about 300 young Hispanic volunteers congratulated one another and shared the personal stories that brought them there.
The reason for their celebration: More than 34,000 newly registered Hispanic voters throughout Maricopa County since April of this year.
Oct. 9 was the last day to register for this year’s election, and it marked the end of the initial effort by Campaign for Arizona’s Future to urge greater Hispanic political participation.
The group’s effort, supported by other Hispanic activism groups like Promise Arizona in Action and the hotel workers’ union Unite Here! focused largely on unseating Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to encourage more Latinos to register to vote.
Many of the teenagers involved in the effort have personal stories that they say helped to open the conversation about why political participation is so important for the Hispanic community.
Leslye Carrillo, a 15-year-old Tempe High School student, said when she approached people and asked whether they were registered to vote, many Latinos simply said they weren’t interested.
“But if I ask their opinion about Arpaio, that gets them hooked into a conversation,” Carrillo said.
She would recount stories about how her friends at school talked about their families possibly moving out of Arizona because of Arpaio’s crime suppression sweeps or the passage or recent court approval of SB1070.
“Back in 2010, when I was just in eighth grade, my friends would call their parents at lunch to make sure they were OK. I remember wanting to do something then,” Carrillo said.
Talking about SB1070, Arpaio and disappointment over the failure to pass a “DREAM Act” reform provided a pivot from opening discussions to action.
The volunteer activists connected registration and political participation to the opportunity to bring changes the Hispanic community wants to see, Carrillo explained.
Admittedly, 34,000 new Hispanic voters won’t necessarily turn around every discontent, organizers concede.
Daria Ovide, one of the lead organizers with the effort, said she recognizes the group’s accomplishment is only a small win, when considered against the totality of Arizona’s and Maricopa County’s voters.
But there are future dividends that will be paid by their efforts today, she said.
“We’re training a whole generation of Latinos in how to take an active role in the local politics that affect them,” Ovide said. The roughly 300 core volunteers will be active next year, in city council elections, and in the 2014 cycle as well, she said, and they’ll bring in more volunteers on the momentum of their success.
Additionally, the newly registered voters will be added to voter tracking databases that activists come back to each year to urge continued participation.