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Voices Behind the Vote: Urging Latinos And Immigrants To Exercise The Right To Be Heard

Yasmin Khan
Isabel Calderon (right) with her mother Juana Santos in the backyard of their home in Barelas in Albuquerque.


New Mexico has the highest percentage of Latinx and Hispanic voters of any state in the U.S.; according to the Pew Research Center, nearly 43% of eligible voters in the state are Hispanic. Isabel Calderon, a Peruvian graduate student, lives in the Barelas neighborhood near Downtown Albuquerque with her two young sons and her elderly mother. She spoke about the importance of exercising her right to vote as an immigrant and what issues she’s keeping in mind this election. 

"We are at my house. I’m with my sons and my mother, like always, she is cooking for me and my family," said Calderon in Spanish. She moved to the United States from Peru 15 years ago, first living in Seattle before settling in Albuquerque.  

"I feel connected with a lot of people who still have significant connections with their home countries," I have friends from Argentina, Brazil, it is a big community that is also very political. And I think it is one of the things that I like most about living in Albuquerque. I didn’t have that experience in Seattle."

Calderon says caring for her two young boys and school keep her busy. She is working on a master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology at the University of New Mexico. 

"In Peru, I was a super activist," she said. "I knew lots of people with clear, formed ideas about politics, and I have always felt attracted to these kinds of political activist movements. Here, I am less active. I participate, but not as much as I used to. I think it has to do with being in school and my changing priorities."

This election, Isabel says, she’s thinking about the health care system, the education system, and all the democratic systems that seem to be at risk right now. 

"I have in mind that we need a president that at least demonstrates growth, that shows that they are at least open to hear ideas and recognize their mistakes, because if not, there is no movement forward. We need a person who takes this seriously, that thousands of thousands of people have been affected by this pandemic, who have died, the businesses and economy that are destroyed," said Calderon. "And how the actual President has represented us at a global level and how he has managed this pandemic - it’s embarrassing and sad. It has to change."

Isabel says voting has always been important to her. She has voted twice since she moved to the United States. She had to wait several years to become eligible to take the citizenship test, and says it was frustrating not having a say in the political system while living, working and paying taxes here.

"I felt very frustrated and impotent, and angry. When one is contributing to the economy and playing the role of a citizen, you should have the right to ask for what you need. And above all, when you are part of the economy and are part of this country for so many years, you want to speak up. Your voice is important."

She says elections are very different in Peru. Voting is mandatory there, and like in several Latin American countries, there are strict rules around it. In Peru, alcohol and firearm sales are banned during voting days as are large gatherings and even entertainment shows. 

"In Peru for example, you have to vote or else you have a fine. You have to pay a lot of money," said Calderon. "Here, because you don’t have that, people are a lot less interested in voting. We are in the cradle of capitalism, so there are thousands of distractions to keep you from thinking about politics, the education system, the health care system, whatever. So people here have more instruments to distract them, which keeps them apathetic." 

"I want to say to the Latino people in this state: if you have the right to vote, exercise that right and vote. There is a lot at stake, these are very important elections. Your voices will be heard."


Yasmin Khan covers worker's rights in New Mexico, with a focus on Spanish-speaking residents. She is finishing her Ph.D. in human geography and women & gender studies at the University of Toronto where she studies refugee and humanitarian aid dynamics in Bangladesh. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from UNM. Yasmin was director of The Americas Program, an online U.S. foreign policy magazine based in Mexico City, and was a freelance journalist in Bolivia. She covered culture, immigration, and higher education for the Santa Fe New Mexican and city news for the Albuquerque Journal.
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