The careworn east Las Vegas strip mall had seen better decades, but not long after sunrise on election morning it was awhirl of energetic humanity set to the undeniable optimism of mariachi music.
Dozens of Latinos converged to fire up for one last push into the neighborhoods to get out the vote for the Democratic Party. The atmosphere was caffeinated as volunteers prepared for the long day ahead.
It wasn’t just any GOTV effort. One after another, just after 7 a.m. several Latino political leaders and Democratic Party Chairman William McCurdy III gave the workers a powerful pep talk while blistering the Super-Spreader-in-Chief in the White House. Then Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak took the freshly sanitized microphone. He knew the people assembled, masked and mostly socially distanced due to the coronavirus pandemic, could help make the difference.
“Donald Trump will not steal this election,” Sisolak shouted. “Not in Nevada, and not in the United States.”
Not that Trump doesn’t continue to try, showering the courts with specious litigation and filling social media with damaging propaganda about widespread voter fraud. If its outcome was falsely disputed and larded with misinformation, Election Day in Nevada would be competitive. Republicans turned out in solid numbers and were part of the president’s strategy to pick off Nevada’s six electoral votes.
Although in such a close election no part of the ethnically diverse Democratic Party could afford to stay home, getting out Latino voters was essential for success.
Las Vegas City Councilwoman Olivia Diaz is part of a new generation of Latinx elected officials who are proving that participation leads to representation. Her father worked 36 years in the Culinary Union. She’s a schoolteacher, former member of the state Assembly, and the city’s representative in Ward 3, the neighborhood of her youth.
“This election more than ever, the Latino vote needs to turn out so that we can ensure the change that the country needs to see,” Diaz said. “Our families are at stake, our dignity is at stake, and most importantly the future of how we embrace each other and we don’t demonize diversity, but we embrace it. And we say it’s okay to be different. That’s what America is all about, inclusion, forward-thinking and passionate people who care about each other.
“Compassion needs to come back to the White House.”
Diaz points to a decade of sweat equity through grassroots organizing and “culturally competent campaigns” as reasons for the political emergence. It’s not just getting out the vote, but grooming competitive candidates throughout the ticket.
“We are building our Latino power through increased representation in different elected positions and educating our community on the importance of voting,” she said in an email exchange after Election Day. She noted the impressive unofficial turnout figures by Latinos for democratic candidates, a higher percentage in 2020 than in 2016, with nearly 200,000 Latino voters going to the polls. Even more promising, she said, are the approximately 50,000 first-time voters from the community.
“This isn’t preordained and doesn’t happen by accident,” she said. “We’ve had year-round organizing and investment in the Latino community for the last decade.”
And, of course, there was more incentive to stand and be counted this year.
“The Latino community was attacked for four years under the Trump administration and the Latino vote is a clear mandate that the community didn’t want another four years of more hatred and division in our country and communities,” Diaz said.
The proud son of immigrants of the sort so often vilified by the president, on election morning Assemblyman Edgar Flores spoke emotionally to the ethnically diverse crowd about the importance of the moment. His parents came on foot. Today he is an attorney and a rising star in the Democratic Party.
“Look around you,” Flores said. “You see every race, every religion, all of us. This is America. This is what you’re fighting for. Not the candidates up here – you’re fighting for yourselves. We deserve a country where we recognize that this is normal. … You are on the ballot. Future generations are on the ballot. The soul of this country is on the ballot.”
The Democrats won the day, but the Latinx vote isn’t monolithic. It would be a grave mistake for Democrats to take it for granted. If Republicans ever chose to stop vilifying immigrant culture, the GOP could make inroads in a diverse community that celebrates family, faith, and freedom. And the Trump campaign in Nevada improved its position in the community.
“Certainly now we know it leans Democratic, but there was a lot of enthusiasm for the republicans as well,” Latin Chamber of Commerce President Peter Guzman said. “I don’t think they were voting for Trump. They were voting for their pocket book, and those who they believe are more business friendly.”
Potentially, that’s ray of daylight for the GOP.
“I think there’s a great opportunity there” for a more inclusive Republican Party, Guzman said. But Trump’s immigrant fear-mongering was too much for even many diehard entrepreneurs to stomach.
For now in Nevada, and especially in Las Vegas, those magical mariachis play for one party in anticipation of a new era in Washington.
Correction: This column has been updated to reflect Councilwoman Diaz's correct ward.
John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal— “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at [email protected] On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith