Latinos. Engaged. United. Voting (LEUV),Houston’s newest Latino engagement political action committee, launched Wednesday night before a large crowd atRiceVillage’s Bam Bou. What began as an event to educate and inform a diverse set of guests turned into a celebration and rallying call for action.
“The women in the room definitely made our inaugural forum special,” said event emcee, Danita Gallegos. “Along with powerful presentations from candidates Cindy Vara-Leija and Erica Lee, we were honored to have Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, who just completed a third-term as President of NALEO, give the room a rousing pep talk; as well as HISD Trustee Juliet Stipeche who added to the new energy felt throughout the room.”
The Latino Gallery with a Purpose, a set of 18” x 24” infographics detailing various statistics and facts highlighting themes impacting the Latino community, such as education, public safety, and socioeconomic discrepancies, was a hit and a source of lively dialogue for participants.
Cindy Vara-Leija, candidate for Constable Pct. 1, spoke regarding much of what was featured on the Latino Gallery, especially the statistics on crime, child abuse, and the underrepresentation of Latina elected officials in Harris County and Houston,TX.
“Looking through the Gallery, I couldn’t help but get mad at some of the more troubling facts about the Latino community—Are you mad? And are you ready to take action to change these facts?” asked Vara-Leija, to which the crowd responded with a resounding, “Yes!”
Speaking of her own career, Vara-Leija, who holds the distinction of being the first Latina Captain in the Precinct 1 Constable’s Office, spoke about her three decades of experience in law enforcement, and about the challenges women face in the field moving up the ranks, making a promise to make the promotional process one that takes women seriously
With this first test of the Latino Gallery with a Purpose, there are now plans to expand it and take it on the road.
“We want to enhance our ability to engage the community by offering these visual depictions on issues and themes impacting Latinos,” said Fidencio Leija, Jr., LEUV Co-Founder, adding, “From the students in attendance to guests, which included HISD Trustee Juliet Stipeche, Judge Richard Vara, and Commissioner Garcia, all recognized the creative impact the gallery had on the crowd.”
Leija emphasized the fact that LEUV will continue to utilize modern tools to deliver a more engaging message on civic involvement, taking the gallery to schools, churches, parks, and especially through social media outlets.
Erica S. Lee, candidate for Harris County Board of Education Pct. 1, gave a poignant presentation, highlighting issues she faced working as a 1st grade teacher in Houston’s East End, stating that the experience, combined with her public policy work, has given her the background needed to be an effective member of the Board. Lee also made mention of President Obama’s recent DHS policy change benefiting DREAMers.
“Some of these are the kids that I taught early in my career,” said Lee. “President Obama’s effort to help DREAMers will open up doors of opportunity that will ultimately benefit our Nation, and we must support that.”
Local teacher, Adriana Salcedo-Saldaña, felt empowered by the candidacy of a fellow educator who wants to serve her community. “I was honored to introduce Ms. Lee as she has helped open my eyes to how state and local politics affects my classroom, and how I need to be proactive in ensuring my students and their parents are better served.”
In her introduction of Vara-Leija, Commissioner Garcia gave mention to a need for new and energetic leadership that will empower the next generation to become engaged in the political process. “I am so proud of this new organization and congratulate them on their first event,” said Garcia, “Their passion, energy, and commitment will help move our Latino community forward.”
In another presentation, guest speaker Joe Cardenas, III, former State Director of LULAC and also a high school teacher, challenged LEUV to take on lobbying duties when the State Legislature reconvenes. “It doesn’t matter if you are Democrat or Republican, if you think public education should be a top funding priority in Texas, then you must lobby for it at the Capitol,” said Cardenas, inviting them to rally on the first day of the legislative session in January, 2013.
Beyond the energy of the speeches was the number of guests volunteering for action, whether it was to give a few hours to a campaign or registering to vote. Deputy voter registrars Adan Gallegos and David Bustillos worked a registration table and were excited about registering someone who had not only attended her first political event, but was an educator who had never registered previously.
“The Latino community struggles with low voter participation and LEUV will work to increase that through our efforts,” said Bustillos. Adan Gallegos added, “Along with our low participation rates, we have to also increase our voter registration efforts, and tonight showed us that first-time voters are just as crucial to achieving success at the ballot box.”
Finally, event sponsor, LEUV founding contributor, and local business leader Greg Compean called supporters to “huddle up” for some sound advice, telling them that all of the speeches and all of the statistics will not matter much unless everyone in the room does their part in the process—volunteer on campaigns, volunteer to register voters, get involved in the legislative process, give donations, and just promote the greater good.
“The LEUV are young and energetic, with a lot of great ideas. They have a lot of potential because they are reaching those people who have not been reached,” said Compean, “and that is the next step to achieving success for the Latino community in the political process.”
LEUV is planning additional forums and events throughout the summer and fall in the lead-up to the July 31st Runoff Election and November’s General Election, including a sequel to the Tacos and Votes event on Friday, July 27. Stay Tuned!