Young Latina women are making their voices heard in a unique way.
On Oct. 29, a group of young girls wearing their quinceañera dresses led their friends and families in a parade of trucks and limos through the streets of San Antonio, Texas, to encourage people who are eligible to vote in the midterm elections.
A quinceañera is a coming-of-age party, celebrated much like a Sweet Sixteen but for a young woman who turns 15. It is celebrated throughout Latin America, marking the 15-year-old girl's passage from girlhood to womanhood. The young girl who turns 15 is also called a quinceañera.
“It’s important to me to encourage my friends, family and community to vote because not a lot of teenagers pay attention to the democratic or voting process,” Eulogia Rodriguez, a 14-year-old ninth grader at William H. Taft High School, told TODAY about being a part of Poder Quince, a campaign by the nonprofit Jolt Initiative. “They know there are issues that impact them, their families and their communities, but they don’t know exactly how or how much those issues affect them.”
To raise awareness, young Latinas filled the streets with their colorful quinceañera dresses, typically worn during a young woman’s 15th birthday celebration. Roughly 100 community members turned out for the event.
“I believe the importance of wearing a quince dress is to show others that quinceañeras can be empowering towards young women that feel that they aren’t important,” 16-year-old Victoria Silva also told TODAY via Zoom.
The event, Quince to the Polls, is part of the national campaign called Ride to the Polls from the nonprofit Harness, which aims to get young, Black, Indigenous and other people of color to vote in culturally authentic ways. Poder Quince started in 2020 and has organized events in San Antonio, Dallas Fort Worth, Houston and Austin.
Actors America Ferrera of NBC's “Superstore” and Annie Gonzalez of “Gentefied” were among the Latinas who attended the recent event in San Antonio.
Silva said she got involved in the event because she “wanted to make a change.” While not old enough to cast a vote, she said she hopes her community will take a hard look at “issues in the LGBTQ+ community, issues within women’s rights, environmental justice and school safety.”
“I love that I can encourage other people (to vote) and get their voices heard,” she said.
Rodriguez said she believes that people in Texas “are hurting right now.”
“With the rising prices of everything from gas to milk and income that hasn’t gone up in a long time, they are living paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “We need well paid jobs and to make sure that workers’ rights, like worker’s compensation, health insurance and paid time off, are prioritized.”
Mirella Arianna Lupe Mena, a 10th grader from San Antonio, celebrated her quince in August. She’s now continuing her coming-of-age celebration by encouraging others to vote. The top issue on her list is abortion “because it’s women’s bodies so it should be women’s rights.”
“They should have a choice over what’s best for their own bodies, their own health and their own lives,” Mena added. “It was mainly men’s choice to ban abortion.”
Abortion is a topic that affects many Latinas. According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, 42% of Latinas between the ages of 15 and 49 live in the 26 states that have banned or are likely to ban abortions. That makes them the largest group of women of color affected by current and future state abortion bans and restrictions, NBC News reports.
Mena said she's also concerned about school safety, gun violence and education, noting, “I don’t have heroes in my books that reflect me and my community.”
All three young women said they feel like Latinos don’t vote as much as they should because they aren’t as informed as they could be about the issues at hand.
Latino voter turnout is a hot topic, especially going into the midterms. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that Hispanic Texans made up 40.2% of the state’s population in 2021, while non-Hispanic white Texans made up 39.4%.
Going into the midterms, NBC News reported that about 40% of Latinos who consider themselves independents say they remain undecided whether to vote for Democrats or Republicans in congressional and Senate races, with 6% of Latino voters saying they are not following the elections at all.
Rodriguez said she wants political campaigns and parties to do a better job at reaching out to Latinos, just like she and the rest of the Poder Quince ladies are doing.
“I feel like if more Latinos voted, their vote could really make a big difference. There is a big population of Latinos in Texas, so if we empower them to use their voices and their votes to make change, then it can really change all of our futures,” Rodriguez said
Mena agreed, adding, “The more people who vote, the more chances we have of electing people into office who will put the best interests of our community first.”
In an NBC News/Telemundo poll, 58% of Latino independents said they had not been contacted by any campaign, political party or organization asking them to vote. Still, nearly 1.8 million Texas Latino voters are expected to cast their ballots this election, according to findings from NALEO Educational Fund.
Mena shared how her mom was one of those people until this past election year when she voted for the first time. “(My mom) felt so content in the outcome,” she said. “It brought her joy and tears to her eyes.”
On the day of the quinceañera event in San Antonio, Silva proudly wore her dress and enjoyed having “conversations with people about voting and committing to vote together.”
“I’m glad to speak with others my age and encourage them to get involved early,” she said.
More than 70 attendees at the event signed cards pledging to vote.
“While 15-year-old girls can’t yet vote, we have earned their buy-in into the civic engagement process for life, which more than likely includes the civic engagement of their current families and those they will form as adults,” a spokesperson for Jolt Initiative told TODAY. “This voter activation event sets the course for these young ladies and the San Antonio community to truly own their voices and their votes and understand that they matter and can transform Texas.”
The event also inspired Jolt Initiative to begin organizing its first “Poder 16” on Nov. 18, 2023. The event will operate as the organization’s Poder Quince celebrations traditionally do.