Tony Castro, “Young Latino Democrats group emerges,” Los Angeles Daily News, Aug 17, 2009.
POLITICS: Founder of Valley group says Obama election energized him.
Jose Sandoval's political awakening during the Obama presidential campaign brought with it a sense of independence he hadn't expected.
"Suddenly, I'm feeling empowered because of a young African-American president - not just as a young person, but as a young Latino," says Sandoval, 30, a health care worker in Panorama City.
"And beyond that, not just as a young Democrat, but as a young Latino Democrat."
Thus, in the weeks after Barack Obama's inauguration, Sandoval broke his ties to the Young Democrats group he had just joined and formed his own organization - the Young Latino Democrats of the San Fernando Valley, which he says is a throwback to the Latino activism of his parents' generation.
With a membership of 50, his group has been chartered by the California Democratic Party as one of the few specific Latino Democratic organizations in a state where the growing Hispanic population has made the terms Democrat and Latino almost synonymous.
As of July, Latino voters registered as Democrats in Los Angeles County outnumbered Latino Republicans by more than a 4-to-1 margin (758,954 to 178,415) and represented 28 percent of the total number of registered voters in the state, according to the William C. Velasquez Institute.
"The difference between belonging to our organization and being a Latino in, say, the Young Democrats is that, for us, the issues important to Latinos and our community come first," Sandoval says.
"We are Latinos first and Democrats second."
Sandoval's account of what led him to form the group is repeated among many of those who have joined Young Latino Democrats.
For Lillian Hernandez, 35, a mental health clinician, it was also Obama's Supreme Court appointment of Sonia Sotomayor that brought out her political activism.
"I hadn't taken much interest in politics because I didn't feel like I personally fit in," says Hernandez. "But, ultimately, it was the Sotomayor nomination and confirmation that has made it all real - like we can make a difference."
Leaders of the new group say their immediate priorities include seeing that the upcoming U.S. Census accurately counts the number of Latinos in the Valley, becoming involved in the race to represent City Council District2, which includes parts of the heavily Latino Northeast Valley, and working to overturn Proposition 8, the measure banning same-sex marriage.
Last week, the Young Latino Democrats voted to support the repeal of Proposition 8 - and to actively campaign to change the minds of religious and social conservative Latino voters who might have opposed same-sex marriage in the past.
"We concluded it was time for us go out and educate our community on how important this issue is," says Sandoval.
City Councilman Richard Alarc n, who represents part of Northeast Valley, met with leaders of the Young Latino Democrats last week and came away impressed. Alarcon said he found it significant that many of those in the new group work for nonprofit organizations in the Valley and are involved in community service.
"They certainly represent the next generation of potential leaders," said Alarc n. "More important than that, they represent the spirit of wanting to get involved."
Political experts say they are not surprised at young Latinos asserting their independence to lobby and campaign for their own community's grass-roots issues.
"They are coming of age and finding, through the Obama campaign experience, that there's a role for them to play and that by doing it themselves it can be a more rapid way of getting their agenda across," says Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.
"There is also something to it being a Sotomayor moment - that you can bring your experience with you and sometimes your values come along."
Young Democrat leaders say they welcome the emergence of the new group, which they feel can help campaign on behalf of specific Latino issues the way the Stonewall Young Democrats crusade for issues important to the gay and lesbian communities.
"I don't see them as competition at all," says Greg Girvan, president of the San Fernando Valley Young Democrats. "I don't see it as anything but healthy and as a sign of maturing among young Democrats."