Wilmer Valderrama has been active on the political scene for 10 years, and he's coming to Miami this weekend to inspire young Latinos to exercise their right to vote.
Actor Wilmer Valderrama takes Miami this week to inspire young Latino voters.
The actor/co-chair of the Voto Latino Artist Coalition is in town to speak at the Voto Latino Power Summit, a two-day event (June 13-14 at Florida International University) meant to inform and empower local Latino millennials. We sat down with Valderrama to discuss his political passions, the 10th anniversary of Voto Latino, and his aspirations for the 2016 presidential election.
Tell us about Voto Latino and why you feel it's such an important organization. WILMER VALDERRAMA: Voto Latino works to bring Latino millennials into the political process so they can create a better future for themselves, for their families, and for their communities. [It’s] important because it’s one of the few organizations focused just on reaching young Latinos, one of the fastest growing groups in the country. More than 15 million young Latinos live in the United States, but only a small portion of them vote. We have a lot of work to do to get the rest of our community engaged, and with 800,000 Latinos becoming eligible to vote every year, the work becomes even more important. [We also] encourage young Latinos to be civic-minded year-round and to keep up with issues they care about. We want [them] to see themselves as problem solvers. That’s why we’ve launched campaigns on issues like immigration reform and affordable healthcare.
How long have you been a part of Voto Latino? WV: I joined Rosario [Dawson, the organization’s founder] and her mother about 10 years ago to help launch Voto Latino. [Their] commitment to the cause was something that I felt was unique and very forward-thinking. I wanted to be a part of that visionary initiative. A decade later, I am just as passionate about motivating young Latinos to be involved in their communities.
What would you say to young Latinos who feel their vote doesn’t matter? WV: That’s only true if you let it be true. Only around 11 million Latinos voted in the 2012 presidential election, which means that more than 12 million eligible Latino voters didn’t come out to vote. That’s a lot of people. One vote can seem insignificant, but the collective voice of 12 million voters can shape elections and legislative priorities in Washington. With numbers like that, politicians have no choice but to listen to Latinos, but it won’t matter unless they show up to the polls on Election Day. As more Latinos reach voting age each year, it is more important than ever for young Latinos to get involved with the civic process.
What do you think are some of the most important political issues Latinos are facing today? WV: The most important political issues for Latinos are the same ones [that] all Americans face. We see the need for jobs and fair wages, we are concerned with the state of the economy, [and] we care about access to education and being able to afford that education. Immigration is [also] an issue that concerns all Americans, not just Latinos. It impacts our jobs, our education, our entire lives. Latino issues are American issues.
What can people expect from the upcoming Voto Latino Power Summit in Miami? WV: First, they can expect a good time, but more than that, I can guarantee that everyone in attendance will learn something useful. Voto Latino has put together a great set of workshops in advocacy, leadership, and media and technology—skills they will actually use in real life. Normally, we only do Power Summit once a year. It’s really cool that this year Voto Latino has taken Power Summit across the U.S. because that makes it much more accessible to people in areas like Miami. Power Summit can help Latinos prepare to make a strong impact in the professional world.
What are your favorite things to do while you’re in Miami? WV: The first thing I do is put my running shoes on and go for a run on the boardwalk. I normally stay at the Fountainbleau and one of my favorite afternoon restaurants is SUSHISAMBA.