María Teresa Kumar

Remarks at MCON 2017 – June 5, 2017

María Teresa Kumar
June 05, 2020— Washington, D.C.
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Good morning, Washington. [audience quietly responds, "Good morning."] Good morning, Washington. [audience responds, "Good morning" a little louder.]. Perfect. See, I already took up 20 seconds.

Thank you so much for being here today. I was super excited when Derek asked if I wanted to participate. I think that the work that folks do here at MCON brings conversations together. Like-minded people, brings other people that are on the fence, but more importantly, calls us to action.

And today I want to talk a little bit about where we are in this moment in our country's history. And I want to remind ourselves that as we look forward, not only do we see opportunity but we have to remind ourselves that we've been here before. I know that is a little hard, a little sticky, a little undefining, a little nebulous, where we are when it comes to American identity and what it means to be American Latino in this country. But I want to remind ourselves where we've been.

America's first act. A hundred years ago, if you transport yourself to the turn of the century, we were going through massive technological changes. Our workforce was moving from agricultural to industry, to factories. We were facing massive immigration – massive for that time. We were going through war and through Great Depression.

And what did we do as Americans? We decide to pick ourselves up. We decided to define who we were. We created the GI bill, that created a whole class of educated Americans. We created home ownership for a certain class of Americans. Not everyone had access, but we did, we doubled down and created a middle class. We created the roads and the infrastructure. We created the sciences that later allowed us to go to the moon. And I like to say we also started laying down the fiber optics. We created the internets of today.

If that sounds familiar, it should, because I think that that's one of the things that we're happening right now in this country. We are grappling with what we're going to do with massive change, massive immigration. We're trying to grapple how we're going to make sure that we are going to provide for our veterans through a war. And we're still recovering from the Great Recession.

But this generation is slightly different from the last generation. So the baby boomer generation – they're the voting generation. Oftentimes when you say American voters, who they're really talking about are the baby boomers. Because millennials –are not participating at the levels that they should. But millennial voters are actually large, millennials are actually larger as a generation than baby boomers, and Generation Z is larger than the millennial generation.

But they're also 50% diverse.

So as we're talking about where are we today in this country, when we start talking about what are the fractures that we might be experiencing, and we're scratching our heads and we're trying to figure out, are we going to double down on ourselves as Americans, we should have a very clear understanding that some of this is that this America looks significantly different than 100 years ago. It has every shade in between. And I think that's what makes us stronger. I don't think – I know that's what makes us stronger.

And what gets me excited about this generation of young people, just like the Greatest Generation of the 1900s, is that they're willing to participate. They're willing to organize. They're willing to define the country that they want.

For the last ten years, young people have taken to the streets and marched. In 2006, our country witnessed the largest civil rights marches of our nation's history up to that point. Two million people marched for immigration reform. Slowly after that we saw Occupy Wall Street. We saw folks marching for the environment, for LGBTQ, for choice. Most recently we saw people march for Black Lives Matter.

And if you were to ask me what the woman's March here in Washington and across the country and across the world really was – it was a unification of all those marches, recognizing that we are not siloed, but that young people for the most part who are leading the way are marching for the exact same thing – equity and justice – so that they can define a world that they want, the America that they want.

But I have to say that those marches did not translate into voting. [displays graphic of 2016 election results showing overall vote vs. millennial vote] This is basically…the red map is where the majority of Americans voted, across the baby line. And that was the actual night; that was actually the map of November 8, 2016.

Had we peeled back the map and only counted millennial voters, this is the map we see [referring to a much more blue map]. These are the Americans, for the most part, that marched in Mississippi, Tennessee, during the woman's March.

I often like to say that people like to highlight the millions of people that came out in marched in Boston and in Chicago and Los Angeles and New York, and I applaud those efforts. But the bravery to march in Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi – my hat's off to you. Because you came out and said, this is not the America that I believe in. The America I believe it is one that unifies, that believes in the future, a common collective.

But that future is very different from just a generation ago. My daughter is going to be five years old on the 4th of July. She's a Washington, D.C., baby and speaks English with a very heavy accent – we're teaching her Spanish at home – but she is now represents Generation Alpha. I don't think there's a cool name for that generation yet, but Generation Alpha is a majority-minority generation.

So what is happening right now in this country is trying to figure out how do we define what we look like – but we do have common values and those common values are ever-present and the young people are constantly marching and asking and demanding for change.

Right after the election, though, the American Latino community took a really serious hit. I can tell you at Voto Latino, we went from providing election protection information on the Tuesday of election night to 1-800 numbers for suicide prevention. There were 760,000 young people that had filed their information for DACA that all of a sudden felt exposed by the federal government and they felt that they had exposed their families.

When the President said that he was going to go after only the criminal aliens, he has not held up his end of the bargain. There are so many American Latinos and Latinos that are undocumented that are increasingly racially profiled whose life has 8:21altered changed the day after the election. I would say that that's the same feeling for the Muslim American community, the Jewish community, for women and for African Americans, for the future of what America looks like.

And it's really difficult, when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to say during this talk on American Latino identity, it's a tough one to say, because for the most part – and Eva Longoria, she's a supporter of Voto Latino – often says, "You know, I'm from Texas. I didn't migrate to America – the border moved across. I've always been American."

But just last week, we had several members of Congress go on a delegation to Mexico to visit veterans who had been deported, people who had served their lives willing to die for this country.

So our identity is mixed in part because of the majority of our fellow Americans don't know who we are; like to place us, create us as spaces of less than American. Sixty percent of Latinos right now are 33 years and younger – 60% of the second largest group of Americans. The majority of them are 16 years old, and what concerns me is what are the messages that they're taking home every single day in the school yard of who people think they are and what their possibility is.

And that is not the America I know. I was fortunate enough to come to this country when I was four years old. I grew up in a very rural area. And while I definitely had to battle stereotypes, I knew that America was a land of opportunity and of freedom. And those are the ideals that we should continue instilling and remind ourselves that we are better than what is happening right now in current conversations.

What gives me strength and courage is the bravery of the two young people in Oregon who basically lost their lives protecting two Muslim young women. Because that is who we are – we stand up for the weak. We stand up for the vulnerable and for the voiceless.

And the Latino community right now is incredibly powerful with their voice, but deeply challenged with their identity in a country that doesn't recognize their contributions.

Often times, though, I say, you know, how do we change this narrative? And one is by storytelling, so thank you, MCON.

But another one is with conversations. There is not one young person right now within the Latino community that is either getting racially profiled….

There are six million Latino families of mixed-status family, meaning that there's one person in their family that is undocumented. So there's a child that goes to school, sits in the classroom and worries whether or not they're going to come home to their parents.

But the reaches of the law are not just right there. Just last week there was a school in Queens who had to hold off ICE agents because they were about to try to deport a fourth grader. In Texas, the governor just signed on a Sunday – to show a sign of how cowardly he, is on a Sunday – SB4, which allows authorities to ask any person of color – children, minors – if they are American.

Remember what I said? Eva said, "I didn't move into Texas – the border moved me."

So what we need now is allies. We need strength. We need conversations. And in this moment people keep wringing their hands and asking, what is it that I can do? What is it that I can do?

We know how our democracy works. We know how participation works. It's important to march. It's important to call your members of Congress. It's important to write those letters. Because I can tell you – I worked as a congressional staffer and it would drive people bananas when the phones were going off the hook.

But we also need to show empathy. We need to show kindness, understanding. You need allies, but ultimately we need to register and we need to participate, because this election didn't happen because we woke up one day and didn't.

There are a lot of people out there that decided that they were going to abstain for this election or show a protest vote by voting for the third party. That's a hard pill to swallow.

But I can tell you that if you look at the numbers – in 2020, in less than four years, we're going to have 12 million young people eligible to vote, 12 million more. Twelve million more than baby boomers. Because right now millennials and baby boomers are at parity.

How do we ensure that they participate? Because I do believe that this is a conversation of, where is America's second act? Where do we go from here? And what gives me pause and what gets me excited is the fact that people are marching/. They're saying, not on my watch is my America not going to be inclusive and not going to be great.

And so I encourage you all to participate, to register to vote and get other folks to do so as well.

Thank you so much.

MODERATOR: I just want to remind everyone – I'm going to ask a couple questions but we want to get your participation in as well. You can get your questions in at All right. Well, let's kick this morning off with…you alluded to a lot about how where Americans of color are today and the feelings, but maybe put a finer point on it. How are Americans of color feeling right now, given Donald Trump tweeting about the travel ban, things coming up in the news every day, you mentioned a lot of those different, you know, ICE, these situations.

KUMAR: Yeah, I mean obviously I can't speak for all people of color, but I think that for the most part I think that their America, our America changed. And I have found that people feel that they have more ability to say things that should be kept in their head out loud. Yesterday I did a panel discussion at a news organization. It was interesting that a young man – he's a first- generation immigrant, meaning that he was born here, he's children of immigrants – he's at the top of his game, and he asked, "Am I always going to have to refer to my identity? Because when my parents came to this country, we were proud to be Latino. But now it doesn't feel like it we should be proud anymore." And I had this conversation with him and I said, "But you did exactly what the American Dream is, right, and you actually represent what America is." And it's this idea of a person of coming from a different country, mobilizing themselves, working really hard to achieve the best version of themselves, and somehow that has been lost in who we are.

MODERATOR: We talk about that. One of the questions from the audience has been talking about, kind of, individuals and are they becoming discouraged? There's obviously the Women's March, there's been a lot of activism. But when you are kind of talking to people, do you feel…what do you tell people who are discouraged in this environment?

KUMAR: Yeah, I think that it's…. Well first of all, we've been here. I think the community's done an amazing job. It is not by chance that the Muslim ban did not pass the judicial system. And what I mean by that is that the fact that Americans came out and allies came out and went to airports and basically saying, this is not who we are. I actually think that all of a sudden it gave judges pause and made them think twice and made them really look critically at the law. The fact that the media… I keep joking that these are the two jobs that the President did not intend when he said job creations was the progressive movement – all of you – and journalists. And it's our job to make sure that we're holding them accountable, but our job was also to say it's not enough to protest. We have to participate and we have to run for office. There's a new organization called Run to Lead and it's for specifically targeting young people to participate. The average senator is 63, 64 years old, white man. His grandchildren are probably in their 20s. So when he goes for Christmas and asks them what the American experience is, those grandchildren are not in the classrooms of America today. And what I mean by that is 51 percent of kids in public schools, in our classrooms, are kids of color. So it makes sense why there's not a translation happening between legislation and our America and that's why we need young people to participate, to run.

MODERATOR: Talk about participation, right? I mean, that's something you were obviously very involved with in this last election. What has been the barrier, right? The millennials haven't voted as much as maybe that we thought that they were going to vote. Is there things that are just, there's a reason for it? They just aren't as motivated as the, you know, the generation before them?

KUMAR: Yeah, well, I mean it's not that they can't…. And that's…. Purposely, the last slide is of President Obama casting his ballot was on purpose, because millennials voted for him and his ideals. And I think what we need to look at is that we need to make sure that we're participating not just for presidential and not necessarily for the coolest candidate, but we do need to be participating for who we want to be. And we want to make sure that we're participating at the municipal level because a lot of what we're seeing right now, even in Congress, started at the school board. They've ran for city council then they went to the state representatives and now they have control of Congress in a way that may or may not be in our favor. I would say that it's not in our favor because they are basically pulling us out of climate agreements. They're basically…there's a war on women and reproductive choice. There is a war on students when it comes to student death and the list goes on.

MODERATOR: What's your sense in terms of people who want, who are here obviously are interested in what's happening and getting educated. What's the best way for the tools for people to get educated on some of these issues?

KUMER: Yeah, well I think Run to Lead is fantastic. If you guys want to go and figure out how do you self organize, the Town Hall project basically gives you a list of all your members, of where they're going to be through August when it comes to recess. And if you look at all these town halls, I actually think these town halls are wonderful because they are giving people – our politicians, both Democrats and Republicans – political spine to do the right thing. What is absent from those town halls are young people and young people of color. So what they're only hearing is that people are angry about health care, but I can bet there's probably a whole host of other issues that we should be addressing.

MODERATOR: What's your sense…I mean, there's obviously a lot of doom and gloom among a lot of people here in DC and outside about what's happening. Are there opportunities? Where do you see some of the kind of those near-term opportunities, maybe even before 2018, 2020?

KUMAR: Yeah. So first of all, I am…. First, your municipal elections, absolutely. Second of all, I just said that we had 12 million young people that are going to be eligible to vote in 2020. That means we have to get started now. Voto Latino designed an app that's called VoterPal. You can download it and you can basically start registering your friends and family, and we basically remind them when to vote. You basically scan the back of their ID, there's a leaderboard of how many people that you've registered. One young woman in Oklahoma – she basically downloaded it and registered a hundred people on her campus. So it's not small. Like I said, 12 million people. It doesn't happen automatically unless you're living in California and God bless my state, but everywhere else it's going to be peer-to-peer and that's why we developed the tools, for it to be peer-to-peer. But I also think that we also have to look at what are the municipal elections. And I'm not kidding. When you call your members of Congress it drives them crazy to hear the phones ringing. It's almost like psychological warfare, for good.

MODERATOR: Speaking of that, you've talked about looking at kind of the opportunities, allies. Are there kind of non-traditional allies that you're looking to reach out to, or what kind of allies would people in this audience maybe look towards?

KUMAR: Well, I think that there's…like again, there's a whole host of new organizations popping up, but also look at, you know, not new organizations but folks that have been doing the work for a long time. I think that the ALCU is doing a fantastic job, but MALDEF is doing a fantastic job. They are the legal defense fund working specifically on SB4 that I mentioned earlier and a couple of other pieces of legislation. We need is to ensure that when we are talking about allies that we are again intersectional, that the marches that symbolize the last ten years culminated in the Women's March, but that we have to make sure that we are continuing those conversations and saying we're not going to leave anybody behind. This is full front.

MODERATOR: Unfortunately we're out of time, but we really appreciate your time this morning.

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