Editor’s note: The Report interviewed each of the panelists before the Candid Conversations event. This article contains both quotes from those interviews and from the event.
Latinos in Tarrant County are ready for their voices to be heard, and Latino community leaders believe it’s time for campaigns to reach out to the growing demographic.
With the 2022 midterm elections approaching in November, political leaders are considering how to engage with a key voting bloc, both in Tarrant County and statewide: the Latino community, which makes up about 35% of Fort Worth’s voting-age population.
On Sept. 29, about 60 members of the community gathered at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens for the Fort Worth Report’s Candid Conversations event, which focused on the complexity and importance of the Latino vote in Tarrant County. Three panelists shared their thoughts on misinformation in campaigns and Latino civic involvement.
“The Latino vote is critically important,” said Sal Espino, former Fort Worth District 2 City Council member and panelist. “I would like to see folks in every election try to reach out to the Latino vote – not just send a piece of mail – but make a concerted effort to do real outreach.”
The Latino community has grown rapidly in Tarrant County during the past decade. In 2010, the Hispanic population was 482,977. In 2020, the Hispanic population was 620,097, a 28.6% increase, according to previous Fort Worth Report coverage.
“The Latino vote is a demographic that is growing, and it (the Latino vote) has its say now,” said Ricky Rodriguez, executive director of Tarrant County Republican Party and a panelist. “The Hispanic population is understanding the power we have.”
As of July 1, 2021, 30.2% of Tarrant County identifies as Hispanic or Latino. Although nearly one-third of the community identifies as Hispanic or Latino, it is still incredibly diverse, said Roxanne Martinez, Fort Worth ISD District 9 school board trustee and a panelist.
“When people refer to the Latino vote, I think it is important to recognize that we are not one homogenous group,” Martinez said. “The Latinos are groups made up of so many different minds, cultures and beliefs – sometimes I wish people wouldn’t keep putting it all in one bucket.”
Rodriguez added that appealing to common Latino values – faith, family and freedom – is the way to get the attention of the Latino community. But, just because a candidate is Latino does not mean they automatically get the Latino vote.
“The best person with the best ideas that reaches out to people should win. I know the Hispanic community knows that,” Rodriguez said.
Howdy everyone! I will be live tweeting @FortWorthReport’s Candid Conversation on the political power of Latinos in Tarrant County.— Jacob Sanchez (@_jacob_sanchez) September 29, 2022
This morning’s panelists @FortWorthISD trustee @RoxstarRoxanne, @tarrantgop Exec. Director Ricky Rodriguez & former Councilman Sal Espino.
Engaging the Hispanic community in Tarrant County requires campaigns to communicate factual information efficiently in both English and Spanish. But, misinformation spiked in American public consciousness during the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
To prevent misinformation about elections among the Hispanic community in Tarrant County, Espino said that it is important to remember that your vote is important, and your vote will count in the election.
“In my humble opinion, in Tarrant County, we have fair elections and your vote matters,” Espino said. “Any misinformation out there that your vote is not going to count is not true – voting is important and your vote counts – that is the truth.”
To combat the spread of misinformation, candidates and informed voters must call it out, Martinez said.
“It’s a real disservice to allow misinformation to continue to be shared,” Martinez said. “When I see misinformation I try my best to find the facts and send them to that person – people are just so quick to share and post things on social media without a second thought.”
Rodriguez said it’s important to distinguish between actual misinformation and using it as an excuse for differing political ideologies.
“Campaigning is getting your message out, so I like to believe my people are smart enough to pick and choose what they believe. Just because you don’t agree with certain information doesn’t mean that it is misinformation.”
What is misinformation?
Misinformation is incorrect or misleading information. The Committee on Oversight and Reform for the U.S. House of Representatives stated that lies about elections, whether intentional falsehoods or pervasive misunderstandings, endanger both the democratic system and the people who administer elections.
All three candidates agreed that the best way to engage Latino voters in the upcoming election is through outreach.
“You have to go out and engage with the community, and I’m sorry, it’s hard work. It requires knocking on doors and talking to people about their issues,” Martinez said. “Quite honestly, I don’t see a lot of people do that in my brown community.”
Espino echoed that there is much more to connecting with voters than sending mail.
“I think most campaigns think they’re thorough with a phone call and piece of mail, no – you have to make people feel like they have a say,” Espino said.
Rodriguez pointed out that politics is a fluid process. What worked five years ago might not work today, he said.
“The (Latino) demographic is shifting, so you (candidates) have to shift with the times,” Rodriguez said.
All three candidates agreed that increasing Latino engagement in the community is just as important as increasing campaign outreach efforts. Rodriguez emphasized that residents don’t have to be elected to change their community. Being engaged means going to city council and school board meetings, he added.
Martinez said she learned about the democratic process by finding a particular issue or campaign to support. But she constantly reminds people of what is at stake if they don’t vote.
“I show them what’s going to happen if they don’t show up to vote who would end up being their voice,” Martinez said. “I’m always educating them on who’s voting – I give them a reason by making it relevant.”
Getting involved with faith-based organizations, serving on PTA boards and joining nonprofit organizations or city commissions are great ways to give back to the community and service leadership skills, Espino said.
As the largest ethnic group in Tarrant County, the Latino vote will become the swing vote in the upcoming election, Espino added.
“I’m pleased to see that both parties for governor are fighting for the Latino vote – whichever party gets the Hispanic vote will be the party in power,” Espino said. “Latinos are proud Americans, Texans, Fort Worthians and citizens of Tarrant County, and our voice should be heard.”
Izzy Acheson is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Reach her at email@example.com. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.