Voto Latino Power Summit empowers community, emphasizes voting

Over 500 student leaders from across the nation convened at the Voto Latino Power Summit at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center to hear from a variety of panelists and to engage in immersive workshops. The two-day leadership conference brought college and high school students alike to interact with media, technology, advocacy tactics and each other to mobilize change.

Voto Latino aims to create discourse on issues concerning the Latino community. The student leaders’ toolboxes are then packed with innovative trainings and collaborative networking to push advocacy efforts.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler kicked off the opening plenary by validating the importance of Voto Latino attendees in making legislative differences throughout Austin, the state of Texas and the nation as a whole. “This city needs you,” Adler said.

Adler alongside María Teresa Kumar, CEO and Founder of Voto Latino, reiterated the importance of getting Latino youth voter registered as the election cycle approaches; especially since the Latino population in Texas has been notoriously known for lack of voting — with last year’s number sitting at 40.5 percent of Latino voter turnout during the presidential election per the Texas Tribune.   

“Texas is not a red state. It is not a blue state. It’s a no vote state,” Adler said. 

Kumar went on stress that an increase in Latino voting in just five counties in Texas has the potential to alter Texas’s political lean.

Adler offered final words of encouragement to set the tone of the two-day conference in pushing students to look beyond speeches and discussions and more into the root of the issue.

“Change is not speeches,” Adler said. “Nuts and bolts work, work in the trenches, conversation, leadership, energy, commitment.”

Kumar offered the last word on action by reminding the Latino youth of the multiple facets of their identity, and how this influences motivation.  

“[We are] fiercely Latino, but damn proud to be American,” Kumar sad. “[It’s] not enough to be educated, but to be participating.”

The opening plenary then transitioned into a panel, “Trailblazing Latino Leadership,” with “SuperLatina” executive producer and entrepreneur Gaby Natale and President of SEIU Texas Elsa Caballero, moderated by Emmy award-winning TV host, Pili Montilla.

Natale recounted her seven-year journey in becoming be a part of the first independently produced Spanish daytime show.

Before getting involved with the Grammy-nominated “Super Latina,” Natale was a News Anchor; however, Natale realized she wanted Latina news anchors to be properly represented. Natale then quit her position to pursue her green card to inspire other Latinas in the workforce.  

Montilla transitioned into the importance of Latinos standing up; especially for Latinas in a culture where women refrain from speaking up.

“My mom used to tell me, ‘calladita te ve mas bonita’ [‘quieter you look prettier’]” Montilla said. “I say ‘calladita te ves mas fea.’” Montilla refuted the saying with “quieter you look uglier.”

Natale explained that in order to speak up and take action that Latinos must align their thoughts, feeling and actions.

Caballero bounced off Natale by saying that the culture must change to promote equity for the Latino community. Caballero admitted that combatting these challenges does not come easily.

“We have to start someplace,” Caballero said. “I believe in change.”

As a part Irish and part Puerto Rican woman on television, Montilla admitted to not feeling Latina enough for the media industry. “I don’t fit in anywhere, so I’ll create my own space,” Montilla said.

Montilla reminded the audience over the importance of failing in the pursuit of justice. She told the story of when her father congratulated her for getting rejected for a casting role.   

“He said, ‘Every no gets you closer to a yes,’” Montilla said. 

Caballero concluded the plenary by pushing the audience to utilize their fears towards inciting change.  “It’s okay to be scared,” Caballero said. “It’s about what you do with that fear.”