By Angelica Cesar, 2018-2019 Líderes Avanzando Fellow
Less than three months ago during the midterm elections, in Phoenix, my city of residence, civic engagement was an exciting buzzword. Politicians were running campaign ads, canvassers were out knocking on doors encouraging residents to vote, and 64% of Arizonans did turn out to vote this year, compared to 74% in 2016, and 47% during the 2014 midterms. Now, as we settle into the new year, that term appears to have faded from much of the public’s vocabulary—but not mine.
As a first-generation Mexican-American student from a mixed-status family, I know the importance of what we fight for when we talk about civic engagement. It’s a yearlong activity and one that can be done in and outside of politics, with or without the right to vote, and regardless of socioeconomic status. In fact, this year I joined the UnidosUS Líderes Avanzandoprogram to foster this awareness among Latinx students at Arizona State University, where I’m double majoring in political science and transborder studies.
By definition, civic engagement refers to any activity, political and nonpolitical, which strengthens habits of solidarity, mutual trust, and connection to those outside of our immediate spheres. Simply put, civic engagement is all about celebrating community and expanding our circle of care, which means that all of us can do it.
To show this, I have spent the past few months designing a social media campaign aimed at helping Latinx students celebrate the ways in which they already contribute to their community and consider what other impacts they could have. I have focused on developing content showcasing Latinx civic culture through open mic nights, community development projects, and days of service. This is especially empowering to undocumented and mixed-status Latinx youth, who may feel that they have been locked out of the civic sphere because of their status, language, and cultural practices.
I believe that creating inclusive spaces where directly impacted communities can connect and foster collective power is critical in working toward a more inclusive future. And the best part of my work? Using social media allows me to share this spirit of engagement across my state and beyond. It is time that we embrace the growing diversity of American society and co-create opportunities for Latinx civic innovators to unleash their talents outside of the political arena.