In 2014, there were 53.3 million Latinos in the United States, comprising 17.1% of the total U.S. population, according to the Pew Research Center. Those numbers will grow, but troubling research indicates a low level of civic engagement for Latinos across the nation.
Latinos are less likely to be politically involved in their community than members of any other minority group, although it is the largest and fastest growing minority group in the U.S. However, as the Latino market grows its presence in the economy, there is hope for increased political participation if they are more incorporated into political life. Given these statistics, Latino Millennials also make up a larger share among Latino eligible votes than other groups, and this trend will continue to grow.
Latino Millennials have the potential to become a powerful force that could strengthen civic institutions and social infrastructures in the decades to come, yet they do not pursue traditional forms of political participation. Growing up in the information age, Latino Millennials are gravitating away from institutional forms and finding other, more accessible avenues to participate in their communities. They have failed to engage in electoral politics, but seek to add value to their communities and are optimistic about their role in building a better future.
Yes, the Latino electorate is young, restless and has the power to transform American politics, but are they making their voices heard? What will motivate young Latinos to vote and participate in the American civic life?
These are questions that the Aspen Institute Latinos & Society Program is trying to address by identifying barriers and formulating recommendations for unlocking the civic potential of Millennials. They are achieving this by hosting the four-day Deep Dive: Increasing Latino Civic Potential, Millennials conference (June 1-4) which will bring together influencers and decision-makers to find areas of common ground that advance issues and policies of importance to Latinos and the country as a whole. The goal is to develop the leadership capacity of Latinos to participate fully in all aspects and level of society.
This year, I was selected as one of 25 individuals to participate in this event, where I will be proudly representing San Antonio.
I’m inspired by what former San Antonio mayor and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said about this city: “San Antonio is a peek at the Texas of tomorrow and the America of tomorrow, we’ve called it the new face of the American dream.”
It’s true, according to Forbes, San Antonio leads the nation in Millennial population growth, and as we move forward into the 21st century, San Antonio will continue to play a vital role in the U.S. economy.
Additionally, we are a city where two-thirds of our 1.4 million residents are of Latino heritage, which means we are representative of the potential leadership role that Latinos are playing in the U.S. and will continue to play.
That’s why I believe that political participation of Latino Milliennials is an important issue we face in San Antonio as a community. There are a number of obstacles and enablers the Latino community faces that challenge political participation, but it’s important to mobilize this community and find ways to engage them in the civic sector. I find technology as an enabler for civic engagement and political participation, because technology – when used thoughfully – can bring about positive change.
There has been a significant amount of energy and technical expertise focused on identifying and solving governmental problems in cities through the use of civic technology. An example is Code for America, which has an installment in San Antonio and provides fellowships to tech-savvy public servants to help cities create web-based solutions to civic problems. This serves as an incentive to be part of the electorate cycle. It motivates young people to vote.
Personally, I’m driven by this trend in the public sector. In 2015, I co-founded Cityflag, a mobile application that aims to increase community awareness and public participation in local governments. With Cityflag, citizens can “flag” issues in real time using a customer relationship management and a geolocation platform.
Citizens can report issues such as potholes, power outages and vandalism just by using their mobile phone. They can snap a picture or video and send this information directly to the City. We launched our beta at SXSW and are currently testing it in San Antonio and Mexico City. My goal is to officially launch in San Antonio this year and engage Latino Millennials.
Many entrepreneurs are trying to find solutions to the lack of civic engagement and political participation among Millennials through the use of technology. I believe government works best when citizens are directly engaged in policymaking and public service delivery. There is a big movement to make city government more technologically savvy so citizens can participate at a greater scale, have direct influence and be informed. But what conditions are necessary for inclusive and effective citizen engagement?
Political participation is important to the health of a democratic nation. The goal of the Aspen Institute Latinos & Society Program event is to develop actionable, innovative, creative, and collaborative strategies to boost Latino civic participation.
This week I will be representing San Antonio at the Aspen Institute event and I’m interested in learning from our community. What do you think we can do as a leading city to engage young Latinos in the political process? Send me a tweet at @betoaltamirano.
For more information on the event, click here.
Top image: Alberto Altamirano, CEO/co-founder of Cityflag, at a recent event in San Antonio. Image used with permission from Getty Images.