Editor's Note: This article has been updated since its initial publication.
It is easy to believe that colonialism is an issue of the past since U.S. citizens no longer deal with its traditional, external form — one nation exploiting another. Yet the remnants of this system survive through a form of internalized colonialism felt by members of the Latino community. This feeling manifests itself as submissive behavior, specifically by not voting.
Previous generations of Americans fought an oppressive system in order to guarantee a vote for every future American citizen. However, Latinos are not taking full advantage of this right — 27% of eligible Latinos voted in the 2014 midterm elections, compared to 46% of whites. Latinos, to their detriment, continue to treat voting as a privilege for the established majority.
There are many possible reasons for the low Latino voter turnout. One stems from internalized colonialism, meaning certain Latinos accept their obedient position as the dominated social group. In the past and present, Hispano-America, resisting the government had often meant risking one’s personal safety, because many Latin American countries still lack certain protected liberties. Survival is contingent upon silence, and over time, a habit of necessity became instinct. However, survival in the U.S. requires expression of thought, and Latinos in this country are at a crossroads.
Along with these internal factors, there are also external circumstances that contribute to the lack of Latino voter participation.
Government professor Raul Madrid discusses outside factors that dissuade voting and discourage belief in personal influence on politics.
“One issue is that registration here is not as easy as it should be,” Madrid said. “In addition to that, some Latinos feel alienated from politics. It’s a combination of certain barriers to voting, which could potentially get worse with the passage of voter ID laws, but also the fact that many Latinos simply feel like they can’t make a difference.”
Latinos are not purposefully choosing a colonial mentality, but they continually fall victim to it as a consequence of their culture. In fact, that mentality is so deeply ingrained that they tend to view it as the norm and accept the political power they are given instead of working to change it. Jaime Sanchez, president of the League of Latin American Citizens recognizes this downside of Latino society and proposes an idea to increase voter turnout.“I’d say that [voting] isn’t part of our culture — many people think that our vote doesn’t make a difference,” Sanchez said. “But if we made it a part of our culture with a celebration, such as going to vote, then grab lunch or dinner with your family, it’ll become more popular.”
Empowerment through voting is the vital first step toward social change and increased representation for the Latino community, creating a domino effect that Latinos desperately need. Voting will grant them the courage to face internalized colonialism and discover that it can be conquered.
Fernandez is a Spanish and rhetoric and writing junior from Allen.