SAN JUAN — Signs with messages like “power to the pueblo” and “union, perseverancia, voto” were held in the background of Monday’s early voting kickoff press conference at La Union del Pueblo Entero’s headquarters.
“We know the suffering that comes from not voting,” Juanita Valdez-Cox, executive director of LUPE, said.
LUPE members stood in solidarity behind her, wearing their signature red shirts, holding flags and intermittently chanting, “su voto es su voz!” Spanish for “your vote is your voice.”
The organization, which represents colonia residents and advocates for their needs at the county, state and federal level, urged community members to head to the polls.
“The whole country is looking at South Texas right now. And they’re looking at South Texas Latino voters,” Dani Marrero Hi, LUPE’s director of communication, said.
Although midterm elections historically tend to draw fewer voters than presidential elections, current races have drawn national attention from both parties looking to claim the congressional seats open in Starr, Hidalgo and Cameron counties.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar will be facing off against his Republican challenger, Cassy Garcia, to keep his Congressional District 28 seat, which he has represented for nine terms.
Republicans are investing heavily in the race for Congressional District 34 where a Republican, Mayra Flores, won the seat after the democratic incumbent suddenly vacated it. Though she won the seat after a special election this summer, she must win again — this time against U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who switched from District 15 to run for District 34.
After Gonzalez left his district, the seat was open for a contentious challenge between Republican Monica de la Cruz, who ran against Gonzalez and won 47% of votes in 2020, and political newcomer Michelle Vallejo, a Democrat, who will soon bring Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to stump for her campaign on Sunday.
“With a nation at a crossroads, people are waiting to see how we will cast our ballots, because border voters are leading the charge to decide what future our country is going to see,” Marrero Hi said in her speech.
“We need to protect our freedoms, which include higher wages for higher living costs; access to healthcare; immigration based on compassion and dignity — not guns and walls; the freedom to choose when and how to form our families; and a democracy that is representative of all of us,” Marreo Hi added, “because Latinos, we are growing fast not only in the Valley, but in Texas and everywhere.”
Recent data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey report found that Latinos are no longer a minority in Texas and make up 40.2% of the state’s population, while Whites account for 39.4%.
Joaquin Garcia, a community organizer with LUPE, reminded people about their rights at the ballot box, including the protection against intimidation.
He described some of that as the aggressive interrogation of a voter’s immigration status, criminal history or other voter eligibility requirements.
Spreading false information about eligibility requirements, like saying that voters must know how to speak English before casting a ballot, is also against the law.
“Don’t forget, our vote is free and secret and federal law protects you,” Garcia said.
Attendees were also encouraged to report possible voter intimidation by calling LUPE’s offices at (956) 787-2233 or the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice’s national hotline at 1-888-839-8682.
“These tactics,” Garcia said, referring to propaganda and ‘fake news, “these racists and ill-intentioned people shouldn’t affect us. We can’t fall into their game. Their poison is to divide us and distract us, but here in LUPE the antidote is to unite and press ahead.”