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This story first appeared in the Oct. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The 24 million or so Latino Americans eligible to vote this fall represent the sleeping giant in American politics, and Eva Longoria and Wilmer Valderrama, who’ve been friends since they were penniless actors, are doing their best to awaken it and make it roar. Only half of Latinos voted in the 2008 election, and few in the youth demographic. So in 2004, Valderrama co-founded the nonpartisan Voto Latino with Rosario Dawson to bring more Latinos into the process. “About 50,000 Latinos turn 18 each month,” says Valderrama, a regular on last season’s NBC series Awake. “We’re trying to make them understand that in numbers, they’re going to get something done. They don’t realize government is almost begging for this feedback.”
“Hungry for it,” emphasizes Longoria. The Desperate Housewives actress — a Voto Latino supporter and spokesperson for PADRES Contra El Cancer (Parents Against Cancer) — also is working to win Latinos to Obama’s side as one of his campaign co-chairs. “Voto Latino is at the forefront of the fight against voter ID laws, which disenfranchise blacks, Latinos, elders and students.” Since 2011, 41 states introduced 180 such bills, which affect Latinos, about 16 percent of whom have no government photo IDs.
Valderrama’s group — which is holding daily national registration events until Election Day — is not interested in whom people vote for, only that they do it. In The Enforcers, a funny new PSA he co-directed with Adam Sandler and co-stars in with Rob Hoffman, Valderrama thrusts an irresponsible citizen up against a wall and yells, “You’re not registered to vote!” First-time Latino registration rates are falling nationally, though they are up in the swing state of Florida, which is 23 percent Latino.
“I’m on Obama’s re-election committee,” says Longoria, “so I’m not bipartisan — look, I’m wearing my Democratic necklace somebody sent me, with gold and diamonds. [It is Alex Woo’s Little Activist Donkey Pendant in Yellow Gold and Diamonds.] My job is, after Wilmer registers them to vote, to make them vote Democratic.”
That won’t automatically happen, says Longoria. “It’s a misconception that Latinos are just going to vote Democratic. A lot of the time they will vote against their economic interests for their social interests. I tell them, ‘OK, you don’t support gay marriage. But your child can’t afford to go to college, and Obama just upped the Pell grants.’ “
The pair know not all voters want to hear Hollywood advice. “People say, ‘You’re a celebrity, what do you know?’ But if I were a dentist or a lawyer, I’d still be civically engaged,” says Longoria. “It doesn’t take a politician to know what’s wrong with this country.”
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