By Evelyn Pérez-Verdía
January 1, 2020
When I was 23 and a campaign manager for a race in a large Latino district in Tampa, Florida, I met a man from Cali, Colombia (I am going to call him Mr. Cali). He spoke only Spanish and had a local radio show.
He would like to visit and share ideas with various campaigns that usually involved a big Salsa concert or beautiful girls in bikinis in rollerblades distributing political pieces at traffic lights. Even though we did not take action on his advice, we must recognize he had a sincere intention to gain candidates more votes on what he believed would work with one of the subcultures of the many in our Latino communities.
One day, after the General Election of 2002, as some of our candidates won, and others lost, Mr. Cali invited me to his home for a traditional Colombian soup.
I entered a house where his wife stood on a chair and revolved with a large wooden spoon, a soup in a very large pot. At this home, there were four more individuals the man had invited. As we enjoyed our soup, the man with bikini stories started sharing his concerns about our community not being involved in politics.
Me. Cali also highlighted that the candidates and people in government needed to do their part. That day, he gave us a mission. He told us that we were capable of many things. He mentioned that we could reach so many people due to our bilingual skills that he wished he had. He asked us to make a difference in our community, in politics, and our government. He mentioned that we needed to reach out to Spanish speakers and our community.
From that meeting, the five us formed a group that was called “Conciencia” (consciousness in Spanish). We would get together every Wednesday to see how we could be of use within our community. We took water and helped migrant families in Wimauma after being affected by one of many hurricanes that have hit Florida. One was a journalist and would write articles highlighting other Latinos who were doing something to make a difference. One of the five became the treasurer of the local DEC and ran for office. Another became a leader in sustainability in his area. We, along with other like-minded friends, supported a local Democrat in a countywide race in Hillsborough County. She won against the Republican incumbent who had three times the money, and we did it by uniting all communities–of all cultures, colors, and citizens born inside and outside the United States. There were many more victories that we accomplished. The secret is that the mission was never about “me”—it was always about “we.”
As we enter 2020, I will tell you what the secret is to winning. Always remember:
1. It does not matter who gets the credit. What matters is to get the job done.
2. There is work for everyone. We need to stop pushing each other down. We must help each other and lift each other. Your success is my success.
3. Communicate. We are only stronger if we understand the responsibilities of each, and communicate with each other in the groups or organizations we are involved in. It is vital to know how each piece and person connects and how we can make the desired results better.
4. I have seen this again and again for over seventeen years. Please, please leave jealousy and your ego aside from the work that needs to be done. If elections are lost, it is because people, especially consultants, are more focused on how important they are vs. what is essential for our communities. When you have these feelings, remember to focus on the goal. Imagine yourself being part of the winning team on November 4, 2020.
5. Be kind, and think before you speak. As a successful friend once told me: “Think. T: Is it True? H: Is it helpful? I: Is it important? N: Is it necessary? K: Is it kind? THINK before you speak.”
6. Make sure all communities feel included in the conversation and show respect to each other. About respect, the media should also receive respect, and they should be responded to as soon as possible-no matter in what language they are covering the story.
7. I can not emphasize enough the work we need to do to make sure all communities register to vote, know where to vote, and feel confident in the voting process. We have a tremendous job this year with this.
8. We must not wait for others to lead. We must lead anyway, even when others may not be willing to listen (as sometimes has occurred).
2020 is the year that we can not wait for our communities to come to us. We must go to them. It is confirmed when we see that the top Google Trend by 3,300% nationwide on November 6, 2018, was “Donde votar” (where to vote in Spanish) that our community wants to vote–many continue to find the process complicated. It is necessary that Supervisors of Elections place information in the three languages required by certain counties.
This 2020, we can’t forget the mission. We must start by understanding our Latino community and its subcultures. We must engage Swing State Florida, with its 2.1 million Latino voters, that can make a difference when we lost 2018 by 10,000-30,000 votes.
We must do everything possible to never experience the pain when we saw how others took advantage of our community as they searched for some TLC. We must show the double standards of running two separate campaigns:
1. A campaign that showed a candidate teaching children and adults to build a wall.
2. A different campaign lead in Spanish filled with words stating that they care for our Latino communities. They did this while they continued to deport many to the oppressed countries they were fleeing.
When we win, rest assured that I will be the one standing on a chair, stirring a Colombian soup, and my husband will be standing in another chair stirring a Mexican Pozole soup on Saturday, December 19, 2020, waiting to celebrate what we did together, in the power of unity.
I look forward to sending the invitation to all of those who did the work. In 2020 and onward, may we count on each other, to work diligently and elect a president we can be proud of, and that we always remember that strength comes in unity—never alone.
May these thoughts be turned into action. May you reach out to each other. My wish is that we do great things together. We all know that our mission does not involve rocket science. We each have some ideas of how it can be done. And for this reason, it is essential to use the words of Hillel the Elder from 2,000 years ago: “If not now, when? If not you, then who?”
The time was yesterday to get to work.