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Paola Ramos Wants You To Pay Attention To The Latino Vote

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Unlike the 2016 presidential election, voting is personal this time around for many Latinos, says Paola Ramos, VICE news host and former Deputy Director of Hispanic Media for the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign.

And what's making it personal, she says, is COVID-19.

"Most of them are voting because they've had enough," Ramos says. "They've seen 36,000 Latinos die [due to COVID-19], they've seen their parents and their grandparents be unemployed, and they've seen their undocumented friends not get a stimulus check from Congress, even though they've been told they're essential."

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Ramos, daughter of the venerable journalist Jorge Ramos, says that with a record 32 million Hispanics eligible to vote this year, the impact of the Latino electorate on the election will be "huge."

But don't be so quick to assume who they'll be voting for.

"Donald Trump won almost 30 percent of the Latino vote in 2016 and that number is still very stable," Ramos says. "People are shocked by that. It's very likely that he will win 30% of the vote again in 2020."

Ramos says trying to understand what's driving Latino Trump support is at the core of her interest in politics. "I think it goes back to the heart of the problem, which is they don't feel like they belong [in the U.S.]," she says.

In her new book, "Finding Latinx: In Search of the Voices Redefining Latino Identity," Ramos explores that sentiment and what it means to be Latinx in the U.S.

Paola Ramos joined Take Two host A Martinez to discuss her new book and what to expect from the Latino electorate this election cycle.

Here's what she had to say (reponses have been lightly edited for clarity).

AM: Let's talk politics now, because in your book, you really highlight the diversity of the Latino vote, the notion that Latinos are not a monolith and that not everyone votes blue. What are some of the biggest things that Republicans and Democrats need to understand about this idea?

PR: I think many Democrats think that Latinos will always vote blue, that Latinos are liberals. And so we just have to break away from that stereotype. In reality, Latinos are liberals and conservatives.

I think in the last four years, that yearning to belong in American society, to be included, is what's driving some Latinos to the Democratic Party, where they see hope once again, and others to Donald Trump.

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Trump has created this illusion that with him, they're not the other. And that with him, they belong in a sort of the boys club. And that proximity to white power is pretty enticing for a lot of us. We have to understand that. You can write that off as racist or just extreme right wing, but I think it's deeper than that.

AM: Do you think the reason why Latinos will go from one party to another or support one party or another is alienation? So for Republicans, maybe it's immigration policy, especially in the last few years and for Democrats it's this 'I take your vote for granted.' Do you think that alienation is something that both parties don't quite understand how to get around?

PR: Yes. I was just in Arizona last week and one of the things that shocked me was hearing that the Latinos for Trump campaign has three offices in the state. That's pretty unheard of.

One of the things that a Latino Trump supporter told me, who was a former Democratic supporter, is that the Trump campaign has been here for the past three years. They never stopped after 2016. Whereas what you hear about the other side is that Democrats show up during the last six months of the campaign [when they realize they need us].

I do think the Biden campaign and the Democrats have done a way better job this time around. You see that they are online and they are starting to ask the right questions. But that narrative [of alientation] isn't going to end.

I think the problem is that we don't want to just be talked to. We want to have a role at the table. We want to be invited. We want to be the ones that are creating the platforms and the agenda. I think that's the problem. We don't see ourselves in these campaigns. We don't see ourselves in the White House. We don't see ourselves at the decision-making tables. So as long as that's the case, I see a big problem for both parties.

AM: Now, this year, Latinos are expected to be the nation's largest racial or ethnic minority voting in a US presidential election, with about 32 million who are eligible to vote. How significant a role could the Latino electorate actually have? What message do you foresee Latinos sending at the ballot box?

PR: Huge. Latinos and Latinas are turning out in unprecedented numbers. More than 3 million Latinos voted early this election.

I think it comes down to the number one issue that's in people's minds, particularly Latinos' minds: COVID-19. Perhaps there was a moment in 2016, where for many Latinos, politics wasn't personal. I think we could put it to the side. But I think now, politics are personal.

Latinos are coming out for themselves this year and I think that's a big difference.

AM: Now in your book, you write about the challenges that you faced trying to define your own identity. So how have you come to understand the term Latinx and what does it mean for you ?

PR: For me, the story really begins in that I didn't really know where I fit in, what I called myself. My dad is Mexican. My mom is Cuban. Yes, I'm Latina. But I'm also queer. I grew up in Miami, but then when my parents separated, I ended up in Spain. I've been ping pong-ing between different regions, different identities since then.

So when I first heard the word Latinx, it felt right to me. I didn't know what it meant. I didn't know exactly how the sentiment behind it was supposed to make me feel, but it just felt more like me. I think that's the interesting thing about this word ... it incites some rejection and people are freaked out about it, but for a lot of us, it feels like the term that we've been waiting for for many years.

AM: Why did that word sound so right to you when you heard it for the first time?

PR: I've never really even understood why it felt right. It just felt like a queer word and it felt like a word for women. It felt like a word that was meant to embrace. It felt like I could include people like my own girlfriend who is a Blaxican. It felt like it included people like my mom, who's Cuban. It just felt more open.

AM: Now your father is Jorge Ramos, the Univision anchor. How does he feel about the word Latinx?

PR: You know what ... now he says it. Literally the other day I was scrolling down Twitter and he was doing one of these cheesy commercials using the word. It was for Hispanic Heritage Month and everyone was like, "Yo soy Cubano," "Yo soy Mexicano" and my dad said "Yo soy Latinx."

So I think once you break down the term for people, even if it's the older generation, even if it's more conservative folks, people get it and they don't reject it.

I think it's been interesting to see my father embrace it. Maybe it's because of me. Maybe if I had never written this book, he wouldn't be saying it, but I think it's symbolic that he is.

AM: Now for the book, you visited Latino communities all across the country and you started off in California. You visited a farm worker community in the Central Valley and you met a young woman named Bianca. Who's Bianca and why did her story resonate with you?

PR: Bianca is the daughter of farmworkers; she grew up in the Central Valley in Kern County. One of the reasons why I wanted to spend some time with her is because I think it's a story that I found almost in every state I went to, where it's the younger generation that grew up watching their parents succumb to a reality of 'we go to work and we are exposed to pesticides every single day, our rights are limited, and you feel grateful, right? You feel grateful for even having that opportunity, so you don't complain.'

Bianca grew up with that mindset and that made she become an activist. That made Bianca speak out on behalf of herself and on behalf of her parents.

And the message was very clear: 'I don't want my children and my grandchildren to grow up that way, to think that being in literally toxic environments is the norm. I don't want to assimilate in the way that my father and my mother did.' And she hasn't.

Bianca's job now is to speak out on behalf of herself and her parents.

In every community I visited, I found this younger generation of Latinos, that grew up watching subtle injustices being normalized. And they don't want that anymore. They reject that.