Trash Talk interview with Author

“Trash Talk: Anti-Obama Lore and Race in the Twenty-First Century” explores the rumors, legends, and conspiracy theories surrounding Barack Obama since his initial run for President in 2004, and continuing to present day. We spoke with author and professor Patricia A. Turner (Departments of African American Studies, and World Arts and Culture/Dance) who discusses how these rumors, legends, and lore often focus on identity by attacking Barack Obama’s faith, patriotism, sexual orientation, and citizenship, and speaks to the impact of such attacks on the political and sociological landscape both now and throughout history.

0:04 – Intro
0:46 – Main argument and contribution of the book
1:38 – Description of Anti-Obama lore
4:18 – Did you think Obama’s presidency would constitute a post-racial America?
6:32 – Why should this folklore be taken into account?
8:06 – Why is this a critical book to read and/or assign?

Dept. African American Studies – https://afam.ucla.edu
Dept. of World Arts and Culture/Dance – https://www.wacd.ucla.edu
Arthur Ashe Legacy Program – https://arthurashe.ucla.edu

Interviewer: Dr. Celia Lacayo, Associate Director of Community Engagement, UCLA Social Sciences & Professor Chicana/o & Central American Studies and African American Studies Department

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UCLA LPPI at CHCI Conference

by Alise Brillault

UCLA LPPI experts and policy fellows were well represented at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. on September 12-15, 2022. CHCI is a leading national organization that convenes members of Congress and other public officials, corporate executives, nonprofit advocates, and thought leaders to discuss issues facing the nation and the Latino community. Taking place at the onset of Hispanic Heritage Month, the conference sought to highlight Latino excellence through an offering of 26 sessions featuring over 200 thought leaders and elected officials – including remarks from President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

UCLA LPPI at CHCI Conference

Pictured left to right: Jessie Hernandez-Reyes, Paul Barragan-Monge, Rodrigo Domínguez-Villegas, Nick González, and Bryanna Ruiz Fernandez

Paul Barragan-Monge, director of mobilization at UCLA LPPI, and Rodrigo Domínguez-Villegas, UCLA LPPI director of research, were featured panelists in two different sessions during the week. Barragan-Monge spoke in a breakout session sponsored by UCLA LPPI centered on criminal justice reform. With Latinos accounting for increasingly higher percentages of people in U.S. prisons, the conversation focused on how policymakers and community leaders can pursue comprehensive justice reforms and support formerly incarcerated Latinos in successfully reintegrating back into their communities.

In a breakout session sponsored by Casey Family Programs, Domínguez-Villegas spoke on how to strengthen communities to reduce Latino family separation. From acute crises such as family separation at the border, to longstanding socioeconomic inequities, Domínguez-Villegas discussed with other panelists about the innovative policies and interventions needed to protect Latino families’ holistic safety and well-being.

UCLA LPPI was able to sponsor the attendance of three alumni policy fellows, Bryanna Ruiz Fernandez, Jessie Hernandez-Reyes and Nick González, as well as current policy fellow Rocio Perez.

Ruiz Fernandez had a powerful experience reconnecting with her former UCLA LPPI colleagues in the nation’s capital. Having recently graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in political science and chicana/o studies, Ruiz Fernández is now working as a financial analyst at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in Washington, D.C.

“Sharing a space filled with Latina/o trailblazers in public policy, as a UCLA LPPI alumni, highlighted the abundance of opportunities I have been granted as a result of mentors like Sonja Diaz and Rodrigo Domínguez-Villegas, who are dedicated to opening doors for young Latinos hoping to enact meaningful change across our communities,” Ruiz Fernández remarked.

González, now a second-year Master of Public Policy student at Georgetown University and intern for U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, was inspired by Latino leaders he met at the conference and the diverse fields they work in.

“Aside from reconnecting with my UCLA LPPI colleagues, my favorite aspect of the conference was networking with so many Latinos in public policy from a broad range of issues and sectors,” said González. “Hearing about the diversity of their work felt like a reminder of LPPI’s mantra that every issue really is a Latino issue.”

Perez, currently a Master of Public Policy student at UCLA, was likewise inspired by the community of Latino leaders with whom she was able to network – and some of the high-profile speakers.

“It was incredible to learn about the journeys of Latinos in different industries and network with empowering individuals, as well as reconnect with friends and mentors,” Perez shared. “One of the highlights was witnessing remarks by both the Vice President and President of the United States – who would have thought I would be there!”

Single-mom and full-time SEIU-USWW Janitor Jenny Meija and her two sons pictured with a computer provided by Building Skills Partnership’s digital equity initiatives.

By Lucy González, Graduate Student Researcher; Sophia L. Ángeles, Graduate Student Researcher; Janna Shadduck-Hernández, Project Director, UCLA Labor Center

There is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on families. Low-wage essential workers, such as janitors, have been hit particularly hard. The work demands placed on janitors dramatically increased as new safety standards were instated by 2020 COVID-19 protocols. Front-line janitors were at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, and their families also faced serious financial challenges due to job loss and reduction of work hours. The difficulty of juggling parent-worker responsibilities impacted their well-being and mental health. However, few studies have explored the unique experiences of janitor parents and their critical role in the pandemic.

In the fall of 2021, the UCLA Labor Center conducted 16 interviews with janitor parents who are members of the Building Skills Partnership and SEIU-USWW (Service International Employees Union-United Service Workers West) and have children attending LAUSD schools. The study’s goal was twofold: 1) to understand how changing working conditions affected janitors as parents and workers and 2) to understand how an ever-evolving year of online learning shaped parent workers’ ability to support their children. Preliminary findings point to janitor parents’ resiliency in light of the challenges they encountered.

First, our research team found that the sanitation training janitor parents received in the workplace made them acutely aware and critical of their children’s school sanitary practices. Selene,* a Guatemalan mother of two students, shared her worries after learning that her children were tasked with disinfecting shared spaces. She cited that disinfection practices needed to be performed by professionals on a daily basis. Janitor parents’ access to specialized training equipped them to act as health brokers as they consistently discussed best health practices with their children to keep them safe from COVID-19.

Reflecting nationwide trends, more than half of the janitor parents reported that their children struggled academically. Parents cited the lack of personalized communication and consistent support from teachers and school staff as contributing factors. Iris, a Latina mother of two, shared that she reached out to her daughter’s school counselor for help, but never heard back. She believed this lack of support was due to her Latina ethnicity, as she had received negative responses from school staff when she called speaking Spanish versus the more positive responses she experienced when she spoke English.

Single janitor parents also consistently struggled. Nora, an Honduran single mother of two children with special needs, shared how burnt out she was juggling work and parenting since the start of pandemic:

“As a single mother, how is it going on a daily basis? Very hard. It is very hard because I have to be at 100% … I go to work at 6pm until 2:30am … I sleep for just 3 hours … Then go drop them off … Then I take classes … After, I have to pick up my sons. Then I serve them dinner. Can you imagine? I have no life.”

To support janitor parents, we suggest the following recommendations::

  1. Provide coordinated support and resources for working parents, particularly single parent households (e.g., flexible childcare options, financial assistance).
  2. Ensure that school-parent communication is multilingual and through varied and accessible formats.

An article on this research is forthcoming. Read our previous report on the UCLA Labor Center’s programs with worker parents, Learning Together! An Innovative Tutoring Program for Low-Wage Janitor, Garment and Domestic Worker Children (click HERE to download).

Lucy González is a graduate student researcher with the UCLA Labor Center and is a recent MSW graduate. She plans to be a school social worker to work on creating a safe and culturally inclusive school environment for all children.

Sophia L. Ángeles is a graduate student researcher with the UCLA Labor Center’s Worker and Learner project and a PhD candidate in the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies.. Her research focuses on the intersection of immigration and language to examine newcomer youths’ educational experiences and their K–16 trajectories.

Janna Shadduck-Hernández, Ed.D., is a project director at the UCLA Labor Center and teaches for UCLA Labor Studies and the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Her research and teaching focus on developing culturally relevant, participatory educational models with first- and second-generation university students, community members, and youth, with a focus on the organizing efforts of low-wage workers to combat labor and workplace violations.

* All names are pseudonyms to protect our participant’s identity.

“Latino Policy and Politics Institute Founding Executive Director Sonja Diaz, Center, with past and current institute staff and policy fellows. Photo by James Michael Juarez.”

The UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative has officially become the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute (UCLA LPPI), thanks to $3 million in ongoing annual funding from the state of California.

The funding, championed by the Latino Legislative Caucus, was initially secured in 2021 and initiated UCLA LPPI’s transition into a permanent research fixture with a robust fellowship program and a network of nearly 50 affiliated faculty experts across UCLA’s College and professional schools.

Founded in 2017 through a partnership between UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs and division of social sciences, UCLA LPPI was launched to address the most critical domestic policy challenges facing Latinos and other communities of color. Since its inception, the institute has utilized the power of research, advocacy, mobilization and leadership development to propel policy reforms that expand genuine opportunity for all Americans.

Under the leadership of Sonja Diaz, UCLA LPPI’s founding director, the institute has gained national standing as a leading Latino policy think tank. Further, it has become a critical piece of infrastructure in UCLA’s march toward achieving federal designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution by 2025.

Some of UCLA LPPI’s key stakeholders shared the following thoughts on the significance of the institute’s work and the transition from an initiative to an institute with long-term sustainability:

“As chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus, I am so grateful for the Latino-centric research from UCLA LPPI that has helped us formulate the policies our communities need most. Latinos play an essential role in California, yet we are disproportionately impacted by issues like the gender pay gap and disparate health outcomes. It is critical that we have a Latino-focused think tank with readily available data on the various topics that Latinos care about most.”State Sen. María Elena Durazo

“It would stand to reason that the state with the largest number of Latinos in the country would recognize the need for a permanent voice on these matters, especially at UCLA – a vanguard of public higher education. This transition reflects the hard work of UCLA LPPI’s original founders and the growing influence of our ‘gente’ in academia and beyond. I applaud UCLA and the staff of UCLA LPPI, and I look forward to greater things and continued collaboration.”Juan Cartagena, UCLA LPPI advisory board member and president emeritus of LatinoJustice PRLDEF

“As a member of the California Latino Legislative Caucus, we refer to data from UCLA LPPI to inform our policymaking on the issues that directly impact California’s diverse Latino communities. I’m especially appreciative of the gender lens that UCLA LPPI applies in its research products, which has played a key role in our Unseen Latinas Initiative. UCLA LPPI’s transition to an established research institute will ensure we are pushing for the right legislative solutions for years to come.”State Sen. Lena Gonzalez

“The Chicano Studies Research Center shares a strong alignment with UCLA LPPI’s scholarly research on the most pressing social and political issues affecting diverse Latinx communities in the U.S. As UCLA LPPI transitions into an institute, we look forward to deepening our partnership and bolstering our shared commitment to raise the profile of Latino scholarship on campus and beyond.”Veronica Terriquez, director of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.

This story and photo were submitted to L.A. Social Science by Alise Brillault (she/her), Communications Manager of the Latino Policy & Politics Institute.

 

Photo Credit: PeopleImages

By Jose Garcia, Policy Fellow at the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute

This spring, the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute (UCLA LPPI) awarded its inaugural round of applied policy research grants to six teams of Latino scholars around the nation. Funding will enable research to directly inform public policy and support the training of future Latino academics. The research projects cover topics from Latino homelessness to the impact of public art on policy to the relationship between immigration and educational equity.

Health Science Specialist Melissa Chinchilla of Veteran Affairs Greater Los Angeles leads one team along with Deyanira Nevarez Martinez, an assistant professor of Urban and Regional Planning at Michigan State University. Their all-Latina team is examining new methodologies to estimate the homeless population in Los Angeles that can better account for the unique ways in which Latinos often experience homelessness, such as individuals doubling up in homes. The study will also assess how definitions of homelessness and requirements for documentation affect access to housing subsidies.

The “Latino paradox,” a phrase used to describe the phenomena of Latinos having high poverty rates but not showing up at the expected rate within homeless count numbers given their poverty rate, drives their research. The typical explanation is that Latinos are less likely to be identified as unhoused because they are more likely to use their social network and informal support systems to avoid entering formal homeless service systems.

To address this paradox, Chinchilla and Martinez are hoping to create alternative measures for homelessness by examining rates of shared homes due to loss of housing or economic hardship as well as overcrowded housing. These measures can ensure that government programs and services reach Latinos facing housing instability.

“This project will help expand the work around Latino homelessness,” said Chinchilla. “We don’t have a lot of people locally or nationally doing this work, so we’re trying to build a research agenda around Latino homelessness and be present at more policy tables focused on racial and ethnic disparities within unhoused populations.”

However, expanding the scope of research from Latino academics across the country is only one purpose of this funding. The funding from UCLA LPPI also provides a fertile training ground for the next generation of Latino scholars. Each research project has undergraduate or graduate research assistants like Alisson Ramos, a senior at UCLA studying Political Science. She is working alongside Efrén Pérez, a Professor of Political Science and Psychology at UCLA, to analyze the role of solidarity between communities of color in electoral politics.

“Previously, we’ve only measured attitudes, but with this grant, we’re hoping to analyze how the solidarity between people of color can influence political behavior,” said Ramos. “This grant allows me to utilize the research skills I’ve gained to hopefully flesh out this research project into a Ph.D. dissertation and create a pathway to become a professor and support other students like me.”

UCLA LPPI has a clear remit to develop the next generation of academics and leaders and sees the applied policy award grants as an integral investment in our collective future.

“With these grants, we are not only helping to develop the next generation of researchers,” said Sonja Diaz, UCLA LPPI’s founding director. “We are continuing to push the value of applied research as a road to impactful strategies that can drive highly targeted policy and real-time impact that creates increased and sustained opportunity for Latino communities.”

The UCLA Latino Politics & Policy Institute is providing these grants through generous ongoing annual state funding by the California State Legislature to conduct research and develop policy solutions to address inequities that disproportionately impact Latinos and other communities of color.

Join the UCLA Center for the Study of Women (CSW) for a special virtual event on Wednesday, May 18th to honor the center’s accomplishments, student award recipients, and this year’s Distinguished Leader in Feminism Award honoree.

FEATURING THE KEYNOTE ADDRESS

Trans Latina Resilience: Past, Present, and Future

by

Bamby Salcedo

President and CEO of the TransLatin@ Coalition

This year, CSW has selected Bamby Salcedo as the recipient of the Center for the Study of Women’s 2022 Distinguished Leader in Feminism Award. Bamby is the President and CEO of the TransLatin@ Coalition, a national organization that focuses on addressing the issues of transgender Latin@s in the US. Bamby developed the Center for Violence Prevention & Transgender Wellness, a multipurpose, multiservice space for transgender people in Los Angeles.

Her talk will highlight historical and intergenerational institutional violence against Trans, Gender Nonconforming and Intersex (TGI) people. She will also address the current state of TGI people and how she envisions a better world for the TGI community.

 

To find out more about this award ceremony and the outstanding keynote speaker, click HERE.

By Alise Brillault

April 26, 2022

Some of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative’s (UCLA LPPI) most sought-after research products are its analyses of Latino voters. As the nation’s second-largest ethnic group, Latinos are consequential in determining the outcome of elections. Thus, understanding the size and voting behavior of Latino communities across the country is critical to mobilizing this growing electorate.

Dr. Rodrigo Domínguez-Villegas, UCLA LPPI’s co-director of research, has spearheaded several reports that analyze the size of the Latino population that is eligible to vote, the number of Latinos who register to vote, and the actual candidates and ballot measures that Latinos support. With these studies, UCLA LPPI is debunking the myth of Latinos as a monolithic voting bloc and asking questions to understand the nuances of this diverse electorate.

UCLA LPPI understands that while the Latino vote is consequential, when voters of color come together they can wield significant influence. That is why UCLA LPPI prioritizes working in multiracial coalition to understand the collective power of voters of color. As such, UCLA LPPI has affiliations with faculty experts like Dr. Natalie Masuoka, UCLA professor of political science and Asian American studies, to study the voting behavior of Asian Americans and Latinos in conjunction.

“Latino voters and Asian voters are the two demographic groups growing fastest in the country,” Dr. Domínguez-Villegas explained. “Their impact on deciding elections has grown in the past decade, and it will only keep growing.”

Dr. Masuoka emphasized that researchers also learn the most when thinking comparatively. “We cannot analyze a population in isolation,” she said. “We therefore can’t understand the impact of race on voting by only looking at one group – we need to look at how it’s constructed vis-a-vis other groups.”

Some of the projects that UCLA LPPI has worked on in collaboration with Dr. Masuoka and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center include an analysis of Latino and Asian voters in the 2020 primary elections and a study of racial differences in the support of California propositions that same year.

The innovative method of conducting this research was originally conceptualized by Dr. Matt Barreto and is unique to UCLA LPPI. Rather than relying on traditional exit polls, wherein surveyors only interview small numbers of voters, UCLA LPPI analyzes actual ballots cast in all precincts and matches that data to demographic information. This allows researchers to more accurately understand the choices of Latinos and other voters of color.

Furthermore, going beyond party choice to focus on ballot propositions allows researchers to gain a more granular understanding of the diversity of political views within communities.

Another distinctive facet of this work is the hands-on engagement of  policy fellows in the research. Graduate students use their quantitative skills to gather and present data to research analysts therbey by helping to draw substantive conclusions. These graduate fellows in turn train undergraduate students such as Bryanna Ruiz Fernández, which facilitates unique mentorship opportunities.

“As a first-generation college student, higher education has been a difficult space to navigate, and research even more difficult,” said Ruiz Fernández. “However, having the opportunity to be guided by individuals like Michael Herndon and Daisy Vazquez Vera who faced similar challenges as myself, I was able to receive individualized support and guidance in order to build the skills that will ensure I am successful in whichever research-focused role I find myself in.”

Policy fellows also bring to the table key insights from their lived experiences growing up and working in Latino communities.

“Many of these students have participated in voter mobilization efforts,” Dr. Domínguez-Villegas explained. “They can understand the needs of the Latino community and voters’ priorities through an organizer’s perspective.”

UCLA LPPI is now gearing up for the 2022 midterm elections, with research that will focus on key states like Arizona, Florida and Georgia where Latino and other voters of color will be consequential to election outcomes

DEFENDING SELF-DEFENSE: A CALL TO ACTION BY SURVIVED & PUNISHED
VIRTUAL WEBINAR ON THURSDAY, MARCH 3, 2022

Date: Thursday, March 3, 2022
Time: 3:00-4:30PM PST
Location: Online/Zoom (registration required)

REGISTER ONLINE

EVENT FLYER

Survivors of domestic and sexual violence who defend themselves are systemically targeted for punishment by the legal system. Join us for the launch of Defending Self-Defense, a community-based, survivor-centered research report that identifies key patterns in the criminalization of self-defense and recommendations to transform the conditions of criminalized survival.

This report is produced by Survived & Punished, Project Nia, and the UCLA Center for the Study of Women.

Survived and Punished (S&P) is a national organization that advocates for the decriminalization of survivors of domestic and sexual violence through community organizing, policy advocacy, and engaged research. S&P provides publications and organizing tools that help highlight the intersections of prisons and gender violence, as well as mobilize grassroots support for criminalized survivors. S&P also includes the following three local/regional affiliates: Love & Protect in Chicago, S&P New York, and S&P California. CSW’s Thinking Gender 2020 conference featured an art exhibit showcasing S&P’s work and accomplishments, as well as a keynote address by Mariame Kaba, a co-founder of Survived & Punished. Kaba is also the founder and director of Project Nia, a grassroots organization that fights to end youth incarceration.

UCLA School of Law is a State Bar of California approved MCLE provider. Up to 1 hour of general MCLE credit will be available (see Further Readings below).


Event participants:

Survived & Punished

  • Mariame Kaba (respondent)

Defending Self-Defense Research Team

  • Alisa Bierria
  • Colby Lenz
  • Sydney Moon

Defending Self-Defense Survivor Advisory Council

  • Liyah Birru
  • Tewkunzi Green
  • Robbie Hall
  • Wendy Howard
  • Roshawn Knight
  • Ky Peterson
  • Anastazia Schmid

Further Readings:


Cosponsored by:

  • Criminal Justice Program at UCLA School of Law
  • Critical Race Studies Program at UCLA School of Law
  • Williams Institute
  • Department of Gender Studies

Faculty and researchers from UCLA’s Latino Politics and Policy Initiative in the Luskin School of Public Affairs are not only documenting the changing dynamics of voting in America. They also serve as champions of voting rights that will allow Latinos and other underrepresented groups to step into their political power.

Since 2014, the initiative has drawn on extensive research and real-time analysis of election cycles, diving into issues that impact voters of color—particularly Latinos, a population that represents the plurality of California and is the largest non-white ethnic group in the nation.

The group’s flagship advocacy effort, The Voting Rights Project played a role in shaping new voting rights legislation that has passed the U.S. House and is awaiting Senate action.

Led by UCLA alum Sonja Diaz as founding director, the goal of LPPI is to drive policy actions that address the needs of Latinos.

“Directing UCLA LPPI has provided an unparalleled opportunity to leverage my entrepreneurial skills with my passion for social change in my hometown,” Diaz said. “It has enabled me to put a bright spotlight on the issues that Latinos care about and the power I’ve seen in our communities since I was a child.  “It’s also created the space to develop data-backed policy for this incredibly diverse and complex population that far too few people have taken the time to really understand.”

Diaz and UCLA professor of political science Matt Barreto, who are both voting rights experts, testified during House hearings on the bill and offered solutions to combat recent attacks on access to the ballot box. Their testimony contributed to “Voting in America,” a report led by Subcommittee Chair G.K. Butterfield that was used to develop the new voting rights legislation.

Drawing on extensive research and real-time analysis of election cycles since 2014 into the behavior of voters of color – particularly Latinos – Diaz and Barreto outlined the changing dynamics of voting in America.

They highlighted how the American electorate is shifting due to growing numbers of young Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander voters and how voting rights have been curbed since Shelby v. Holder gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act through actions like voter ID laws and lack of multilingual ballots.

They also recommended steps our federal government should take to protect access to the ballot box in light of the 2021 redistricting cycle. UCLA LPPI’s work on the new voting rights legislation included an in-person briefing with Rep. Butterfield at UCLA Luskin with senior policy fellows and policy faculty experts.

“The architects of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 sought to ensure all Americans were able to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot in the face of widespread discrimination.” Diaz said. “While we have made real progress in curbing the racial discrimination of Jim Crow, we find ourselves in a new era of vote denial and suppression and we cannot go backward.”

With more than 400 bills in state legislatures across the nation aimed at restricting voting rights introduced this year, the work is vital for all Americans.

“We are at a critical moment in our democracy,” Barreto said. “As the demographics of the country shift toward being less white, those who have always held power are doing everything they can to retain it, including trying to restrict the fundamental right to vote.”

Without a comprehensive solution such as sweeping voting rights legislation will protects the rights to vote, Diaz said she is concerned that the country not only risks silencing the voices of youthful, diverse electorates but also jeopardizing our very democracy.

Within this context, Diaz and Barreto’s pivotal efforts to ensure all eligible voters can cast a meaningful ballot couldn’t be more critical, especially because those efforts are squarely focused on protecting Latinos and other communities of color.

To this end, in just the past year and a half, LPPI has released research highlighting opportunities to expand access to the ballot box through vote-by-mail, the increasing influence of voters of color and information into why some may want to limit their power.

They are advocating for the need for deep, meaningful and sustained engagement of growing electorates like Latinos and Asian Americans. In December 2020, the Voting Rights Project hosted a symposium bringing together voting rights practitioners, expert witnesses, and legal scholars from around the country. The convening explored a path forward to protect the right to vote and craft a 21st Century voting rights act.

The work to increase Latino political power and strengthen the voting rights of underrepresented Americans is personal for Diaz. She marched in the streets with her parents to protest Prop 187, a California ballot proposition passed in 1994 that sought to restrict access to public services for undocumented immigrants.

“Protesting on the streets served as my first education in the power of the vote,” Diaz said. “It’s where I decided that I would use my power to advance equitable policy and expand civil rights, so that dignity and opportunity are not limited to where you live or how you identify, but accessible to everyone.”

By Alise Brillault, Communications Manager, UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative

November 29, 2021

Young Latino leaders are key to America’s future. As California’s plurality and the nation’s second largest ethnic group, Latinos were responsible for 51% of U.S. population growth in the last decade and represent an increasingly youthful and diverse population. More than half of young Americans are people of color, and six out of ten Latinos are Millennials or younger.

Yet, Latinos are underrepresented in leadership positions and overrepresented in low-wage jobs. Latinos only account for 1.2% of elected officials in the country. During a pandemic in which Latinos have been nearly three times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to die from COVID-19, it is imperative that Latino communities see themselves and their needs reflected in political decision-making. Further, the pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing economic inequities, even while Latinos serve as the economic drivers of America. In fact, if U.S. Latinos were their own country, they would have the 7th largest GDP in the world. Ultimately, the nation’s success is predicated on Latinos’ success, and these numbers remind us how critical it is to invest in young leaders of color.

UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (UCLA LPPI) recognizes the need to harness the talent and potential of young Latino leaders to bring us to a future where we all can thrive. Through its flagship student fellowship program, UCLA LPPI is training the elected officials and organizational leaders of tomorrow to center historically marginalized communities at decision-making tables. But the policy challenges that student fellows tackle are not just résumé boosters. The issues at hand are often deeply personal to them.

Bryanna Ruiz, Undergraduate student; Area of study: Major in political science, minor in Chicanx studies and public affairs; Expected graduation: 2022

For example, Bryanna Ruiz, an undergraduate fellow, had real worries about the health of her family members who were frontline workers. “My mother is a house cleaner, and at the beginning of the pandemic I was scared for her,” Ruiz reveals, also noting that her family did not qualify for the first rounds of CARES Act stimulus payments due to their mixed status. “In the pandemic, frontline workers were the largest impacted yet were treated as disposable.”  So, for fellows like Ruiz, it has been significant to be at UCLA LPPI as they conduct research on the effects of the pandemic on essential workers of color and convene advocates and policy leaders to identify solutions for protecting those workers.

Ruiz, who is now in her fourth year as a fellow, has also gotten hands-on experience with a variety of career paths that she never previously considered — from assisting co-founder Dr. Matt Barreto with mixed-methods research on automatic voter registration to aiding the communications team with report rollouts. “As a first-generation college student, it’s hard to picture oneself in roles not exposed to growing up,” says Ruiz. “I’ve discovered, for instance, that uplifting research through strategic communications is just as crucial as the research itself.”

The work has been so rewarding that Ruiz even decided to continue with her fellowship remotely while she studies abroad in Italy during UCLA’s Fall Quarter. “I didn’t want to miss out on important research around the 2022 midterm elections and the chance to engage in a collaboration between UCLA LPPI and the University of Florida’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program,” said Ruiz. The latter project seeks to uplift diverse Latino stories at this historic tipping point by collecting 1,000 oral histories.

Paula Nazario, Graduate student; Area of study: MPP (Master of Public Policy); Expected graduation: 2022

Graduate Fellow Paula Nazario also feels a direct stake in shaping a new Latino narrative with her work focusing on Latino economic issues. While contributing research to a report demonstrating that Latinas exited the workforce during the pandemic more than any other group, Nazario saw the same story playing out in her community, with women being disproportionately burdened by caretaking duties as schools went remote and childcare centers closed. “I saw how the pandemic hit women particularly hard in my neighborhood — everyone was relying on them for cooking, taking care of the children, etc., so, I was able to provide my own personal insight into that report,” said Nazario.

Nazario describes how support from Latina peers and role models at UCLA LPPI is guiding her own career path. She notes, “Seeing Kassandra Hernández getting a PhD in economics is inspiring, because I had never heard of a woman of color doing that before.”

Undergraduate Fellow Moris Gomez started a beauty salon business alongside his mother during the pandemic to support his family. During the process, Gomez began learning web development so that he could create a website for the salon, which ultimately sparked a passion for programming and design. Now as UCLA LPPI’s webmaster, Gomez describes how building on these skills in his fellowship is powerful for tackling policy issues that directly affect him and his community. He explains, “The connection to the data is very important because my community members are literally in LPPI reports. Knowing this information and disseminating it in a meaningful, accessible way can help the community.”

Moris Gomez, Undergraduate student; Area of study: Major in international development studies; Expected graduation: 2022

The community at UCLA LPPI also speaks to Gomez, who is undocumented. He reveals that he does not feel excluded or isolated. “I feel at home. Being surrounded by Latino professionals motivates me, and seeing Latinos with master’s degrees and PhDs makes me want to take it a step further,” said Gomez.

After graduation, Gomez wants to bring the skills he’s learned at UCLA LPPI to work that has a social justice perspective and direct impact on his community.

As America emerges from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, going “back to normal” will not be sufficient for achieving true equity. “Going back to normal for Latinos is marginality,” states Juana Hernandez Sanchez, UCLA LPPI’s director of programs. “What is needed is to disrupt the status quo by leveraging existing resources for a new pipeline of young leaders of color who can return to their communities with the relevant tools to tackle long-standing policy challenges.”

UCLA LPPI plays a key role in identifying and preparing this pipeline. Student fellows are supported with technical research training and the development of interpersonal leadership skills around communication, teamwork, professional network building and setting post-graduation goals. While encouraging students to lean into their lived experiences, UCLA LPPI is helping them find their place in the policy arena and identify ways to make a tangible impact that uplifts Latino communities and expands equity and opportunity for all.