When Rosario Dawson began developing Voto Latino in 2004, the goal was to get out the vote.“Voto Latino was started as a public service campaign encouraging American Latino youth to participate in the political process,” the actress explains. Previously, no org was effectively using technology and entertainment to reach young Latino voters, she says. Dawson teamed with political consultant Maria Teresa Petersen to establish a board, expand an arts coalition of celebrities (Cameron Diaz, John Leguizamo) and find powerful supporters such as Pacific Gas & Electric and the Silicon Valley Foundation. “We created the first voter registration engagement programs that involved iTunes, MySpace, YouTube, radio stations and youth-space networks, and we were the first organization on a national level to use kids text messaging and the first to use viral videos like telenovelas,” says Petersen, founding executive director of Voto Latino, which is 98% volunteer run. “We discovered a real opportunity to get American Latino youth engaged in civic participation because no one else was doing it. And over 50,000 new Latino youth become of voting age each month,” notes Dawson, adding that most of them speak English. Since Jan. 1, Voto Latino has registered more than 22,000 people in the U.S. on VotoLatino.org. “For me, as a second-generation American, Voto Latino is personal,” Dawson says. “I’m proud to say that a lot of my work has helped shed light on this often misunderstood electorate.” Carlos Ernesto Hernandez When 20-year-old USC student Carlos Ernesto Hernandez hooked up with Voto Latino, he hunted for potential young voters in their everyday habitat, leading his fraternity brothers on a voter registration drive at a B-Side Players concert at the Key Club in Hollywood. “A club or concert, who would have thought of going? We did it under Voto Latino,” he says. “We told them, ‘If you care about your country, then go and vote!'” Hernandez grew up in Bell, Calif., went to school in Watts and is now a summer intern at Paradigm. “Getting involved with Voto Latino allowed me to realize how important it is for our people to vote. I realized a lot of Latinos aren’t doing this. They aren’t aware of the power they hold by voting,” he says. His next venture will be a drive to register voters in heavily populated Latino areas in Los Angeles, this time targeting older voters as well as the young. – Annie Garcelon
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