Amplifying Latina Voices in Law and Policymaking

By 2050, Latinas are expected to make up 13% of the U.S. population and account for 11% of the labor force. Yet Latinas comprise only 2.5% of all U.S. lawyers, account for less than 1% of all partners in law firms and have never served on the highest court in 44 states. To address this gap in Latina representation and leadership in law and policy, the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute; Latina Futures, 2050 Lab; Latina Lawyers Bar Association; and UCLA Chicanx Latinx Law Review hosted the inaugural Latina Futures: Transforming the Nation Through Law and Policy symposium. The event, which took place Jan. 20 and 21 at UCLA’s Luskin Conference Center, brought together nearly 400 Latina scholars, attorneys, politicians, policy leaders and students from across the country to explore today’s legal and advocacy challenges and opportunities through a Latina lens. “This weekend, we are replacing the status quo with forward-thinking, accurate and necessary contributions from Latina leaders now and well into the future,” said Sonja Diaz, founding executive director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute. Diaz co-founded the Latina Futures, 2050 Lab with Veronica Terriquez, professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin and director of UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center. Terriquez expressed hope that the symposium would inspire participants to continue their advocacy and leadership. “We have the potential to inform social, political and economic changes that benefit the majority of this nation,” she said. “This is a long game, and it builds on the work that came before us.” — Cristian Rivera

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Building Youth Power to Influence Policy

UCLA Luskin Urban Planning Professor Veronica Terriquez and UCLA undergraduate Kahlila Williams wrote a Stanford Social Innovation Review article on the importance of supporting youth who are joining together to work for a more equitable future. The number of youth-organizing groups in California grew from 10 to 15 in 2010 to 171 by 2019, in part due to heightened engagement from undocumented youth and the Movement for Black Lives, the authors write. This mobilization led to calls for change that included a campaign to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, which Williams participated in as a leader in the Students Deserve group. In addition, massive voter registration and education campaigns contributed to a near tripling of youth voter turnout between 2014 and the 2018 midterm elections. “By embedding young people in relationships and activities that help them constructively respond to hardships and trauma, youth organizing can channel their energy toward building a multiracial democracy,” the authors write.


UCLA LPPI Hosts Policy Briefing at State Capitol

The UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute brought policy experts, advocates and state leaders together May 9 at the state Capitol for its fourth annual policy briefing to discuss critical issues affecting the Latino community. The session reflected UCLA LPPI’s commitment to strengthening the Latino presence at the Capitol and ensuring that state leaders know that every issue is a Latino issue. With over 20 legislative offices and community partners represented, the briefing served as an opportunity to hear directly from UCLA LPPI faculty experts covering COVID-19 recovery, housing insecurity and Medi-Cal expansion. Veronica Terriquez, director of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center and a professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, kicked off the expert research presentations with a focus on the impact of COVID-19 on Latino youth as they transitioned to adulthood. UCLA LPPI faculty expert Melissa Chinchilla then presented on the growing crisis of Latino homelessness and offered policy recommendations to address some of the underlying issues with housing services. Arturo Vargas Bustamante, UCLA LPPI faculty director of research and professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, ended the day with a discussion of important implementation issues related to expanding Medi-Cal access to undocumented adults age 50 and older. The community briefing offered strong policy recommendations to create transformative change for the Latino community and other communities of color throughout the state of California. — Janine Shimomura

View photos and a highlight video from the policy briefing.


Terriquez on Lessons Learned From L.A. Scandal

Urban planning professor Veronica Terriquez spoke to media outlets including Newsweek and USA Today about how Los Angeles can move forward after the scandal sparked by a leaked recording of racist comments by city leaders. “Civil society leaders learned a valuable lesson here, that hate speech cannot be tolerated among Latinos or any other elected officials,” said Terriquez, who directs the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA. She said she sees hope in the overwhelming condemnation of the bigoted comments, as well as in the rising political generation’s ability to build bridges between groups. “In Los Angeles and Orange County, you see diverse coalitions across ethnicity and race,” Terriquez said. “I think that the younger generation tends to form coalitions that are more inclusive.” She concluded, “The lessons learned from this week may pave the way for the more careful selection of leaders and inclusive representation.”

UC-Wide Initiative to Increase Voter Participation

Freedom Summer, an initiative founded by UCLA urban planning and Chicano studies professor Veronica Terriquez in 2018, has spread to a UC-wide movement to help students from communities with low voting rates participate in voter outreach. The program consists of over 100 students from all nine UC undergraduate campuses as well as a few community colleges. “Seven out of 10 young people in California are young people of color,” Terriquez said. “Engaging them is an important part of building an electorate that effectively represents the people of the state.” Students in the program have been able to effect change within their communities by increasing voter participation and reducing apathy. Terriquez said youth of color tend to mobilize less than other groups, in part because high school students from low-income communities do not receive much education about civic engagement and the importance of voting. They are also less likely to be reached out to by voting organizations and political campaigns. This fuels a continual cycle of people from these communities not voting because they were never contacted. Freedom Summer is continuing to make efforts to increase voter turnout, especially by engaging students from underserved groups because they feel a stronger connection with their communities and are able to make a direct impact on local legislation. It is estimated that Freedom Summer has registered or pre-registered over 5,000 new voters this year alone.

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Terriquez on Mobilizing Young Latino Voters

A Sacramento Bee article on efforts to mobilize Latino voters ahead of the fall midterm elections featured California Freedom Summer, an outreach effort led by Urban Planning Professor Veronica Terriquez, director of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. California Freedom Summer promotes the engagement of youth to increase overall voter turnout. College students trained in the spring are spending the summer mentoring other youth leaders. In the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 midterms, when Latino turnout could be critical in determining the outcome of several California races, they will participate in bilingual and bicultural workshops and other community events. “We know that young people get together around culture, around the arts, and they’re excited to build community,” Terriquez said.


Faculty Also Lead Research Centers Across Campus

Several research centers based outside of UCLA Luskin are led by one of our faculty. Here are two examples, both of which changed directors in the summer of 2021. The first involves a newly hired faculty member, and the other is a longtime professor who has taken on a new responsibility. 

Veronica Terriquez Ph.D. sociology ’09, hired into the position of director of UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center and as an associate professor of urban planning and Chicana/o Studies

Tell us about yourself, the center and your first year as its director. 

I’m a proud daughter of Mexican immigrants with 100-year roots in the L.A. area. I really believe that higher education is an important tool for addressing issues of equity and inclusion. 

We are doing a lot that is addressing the needs of young people as they seek to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial injustices that they have experienced in recent years. I’m leading some projects that focus on that, take a participatory action research approach to understanding the needs of young people, which includes meetings with adolescents and young adults — high school through their 20s. 

A lot of people have suffered during this pandemic, but young people, particularly those in low-income communities, have encountered multiple setbacks to their healthy and successful transitions to adulthood. And part of what I want to do is figure out exactly what is going on so the research can inform local and state investments in young people. 

I’m also developing work to support ethnic studies implementation at the high school level. I’m hoping that the Chicano Studies Research Center could serve as an additional resource for supporting efforts by educators across the state to bring quality ethnic studies to the classroom and to train the next generation of teachers. 

What lies ahead?

I hope that there will be more targeted and quality investments in the lives of young people who are most impacted by social inequalities. And, if those investments are made in the long term, we will see reduced economic and social inequalities in the state of California and beyond.

Professor Susanna Hecht is director of the Center for Brazilian Studies at UCLA.

Susanna Hecht, professor of urban planning, a specialist on tropical development in Latin America who has affiliations in Geography and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA

Please talk about your new role.

I am delighted to be the director of the Center for Brazilian Studies. First, because Brazil is so amazing, and it has been a major site of rethinking so many paradigms about development. Brazil has been an engine of products, concepts and practices that have really changed how people look at things. 

It’s reshaped how we think about conservation. 

Now everyone listens to Brazilian music, has seen Brazilian movies, likes to eat açai bowls and other Brazilian food, and has at least heard of Amazonia. It’s not quite as exotic, although it still maintains the allure of the beaches — its beauty and its beauties! 

When and why was this center created?

Area studies, in general, are an outcome of the Cold War. The isolation of different forms of knowledge across academia made it difficult for understanding of localities through a number of dimensions, including their languages and literatures, their histories, their anthropologies, and their sociology, politics and geography. The geopolitics of the time and the extensive intervention of the U.S. as a novel political power brought a need for consolidation of forms of knowledge in the training of students and fostering interaction between scholars of different kinds. 

These sites also became important areas of critique of American policy and politics in the developing areas that they encompassed. 

Brazil’s new constitution was written in 1988 and it became a template for constitutions in Latin America. It recognized indigenous rights and Afro-descendent land rights, and it paid attention to the new array of environmental questions. 

So much of Latin America is in the tropics, which are seeing deforestation and many extraordinarily important consequences of climate change, including species extinction and changes to livelihoods, both urban and rural. 

Area studies, generally, are useful venues for thinking globally. And in places like Los Angeles, which has become more international in its population — and its arts, music, foods and livelihoods —  area studies centers have been venues for rethinking the relationship of Los Angeles and the world. 

As time went on, large centers like the Latin American Institute realized that its regions were very distinctive, and each needed its own arena of study. This was certainly true of the Brazil Center.

Latino, Asian Households Lag in Access to State Rent Assistance Program In a new report, UCLA researchers recommend extending protections against eviction

By Jessica Wolf

California has extended eviction protections to June 30 for hundreds of thousands of renters made vulnerable by the pandemic’s economic disruptions, yet tens of thousands of renters who might need assistance remain either unaware of the program or face barriers to applying.

This problem is especially acute among tens of thousands of low-income Asian and Latino households that are behind on rent and have not yet applied, according to a new UCLA report (PDF).

“We find that not much has changed since the onset of the pandemic — lower-income people and people of color are disproportionately struggling to pay the rent,” said Paul Ong, director of UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, who led the study.

The state currently has an enormous backlog of applicants attempting to access California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which launched in spring 2020. More than half a million California renters have applied to the state’s relief program as of March 29, 2022.

To gauge how effective the rental assistance program has been, researchers from Ong’s center, along with colleagues from UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, Asian American Studies Center and Chicano Studies Research Center, examined the U.S. Census Bureau’s weekly Household Pulse Survey data gathered from July 21, 2021, to Jan. 10, 2022. They then compared it to publicly available information about renters who have applied for California’s rental assistance program.

The researchers found that Asian and Latino households are severely underrepresented among those who have managed to receive rent relief, compared to non-Latino white renters, even when accounting for income, age and metropolitan area of residence.

The report’s authors are calling for lawmakers to consider maintaining benefit programs like rental assistance and other safety-net initiatives until unemployment numbers for people of color in California drop below pre-pandemic levels.

“These findings reveal that funds have not been equitably distributed to those with the greatest needs,” said Melany De La Cruz-Viesca MA UP ’02, deputy director of the Asian American Studies Center.

Asian American renters had the lowest application rate for rental assistance, the report found. Only 25% of rent-distressed Asian American households applied for relief, compared to almost 50% of white renters and 64% of Black renters. The second-lowest application rate was among rent-distressed Latinos at only 39%. Rent-distressed is defined in the report as households that reported being behind on rent or would otherwise have been without assistance.

While 21% of white households and 20% of Black households received rent relief from the program, just 11% of Asian households and 14% of Latino households did.

Overall, the report notes that an estimated 14% of California renters are behind on their rent and 15% fear facing the threat of eviction. Roughly 10 times as many low-income renters are behind on their rent, compared to upper-income renters (21% compared to 2%, respectively). More than twice as many Asian American, Black and Latino renters are struggling to keep up relative to their white counterparts.

“We believe that the inequality facing Asians and Latinos is due in part to language barriers, citizenship status, access to technology and lack of robust community information,” said Urban Planning Professor Veronica Terriquez, director of the Chicano Studies Research Center.

The report notes that the Census’ Household Pulse Survey is not conducted in any Asian languages, further limiting information about how Asian American households are faring as the pandemic enters a third calendar year.

The most potent thing California lawmakers can do, the report stresses, is indefinitely extend the rental assistance and other safety net programs such as utility shut-off protection and food security programs, until unemployment rates for all racial groups fall below pre-pandemic rates.

Overall, around 60% of distressed renters in California either did not apply to rent-relief programs even though they struggled to keep up with rent or they applied and were denied relief, the report found.

“Part and parcel with that is designing and expanding programs to reach eligible renters, including funding community-based organizations as trusted messengers,” said Silvia González MURP ’13 Ph.D. ’20, director of research for the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. “We believe there are a significant number of distressed renters who are unaware of the emergency assistance program or are afraid to apply.”


Terriquez Reflects on Intergenerational Advocacy

Professor of Urban Planning Veronica Terriquez was featured in an episode of PBS SoCal’s “City Rising” documentary series. The episode illustrated the work of young people organizing their communities and participating in public policy, and called on experts to offer the history of youth engagement in the civic arena. “One of the factors that has contributed to young people’s ability to demand a seat at the table has been the decades of organizing, particularly organizing by people of color,” said Terriquez, recalling groups such as the Black Panthers and Asian Americans who paved the way in the fight for social justice. According to Terriquez, this is an intergenerational movement. “People who were involved in the farmworkers movement, who were former Black Panthers, were intentional about training the next generation,” she explained. “I think that gradually, young people are realizing that they can make these government systems work for them better.”

A Community-Building Vision for the Chicano Studies Research Center

As the director of UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center, Veronica Terriquez draws on her background as a community organizer to enhance Latino community networks and presence on campus, and further support university-community partnerships. On Sept. 24, UCLA announced steps it was taking as it seeks to achieve Hispanic Serving Institution status, and Terriquez and the center’s staff and faculty will become partial stewards of that process. The center will administer the hiring of 15 new faculty positions and 20 postdoctoral fellows whose teaching, scholarship or mentoring experience has ties to Latino experiences. “Research shows that underrepresented students fare better when they have a faculty mentor who can relate to their experiences,” said Terriquez, a professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin. Terriquez has also expanded the Chicano Studies Research Center’s faculty advisory committee, which now includes a greater breadth of disciplinary backgrounds. And on Nov. 1, the center is planning a special virtual Dia De Los Muertos event, open to the UCLA community. “The program will feature Dia de Los Muertos-related arts and performances, but it will also feature the hard data that remind us of the devastation Latinx communities have experienced during the current pandemic,” Terriquez said. “It will be a celebration and a call to action because we can’t let this happen again.” Looking ahead, Terriquez will be working on California Freedom Summer, a project that will train and place college students as summer 2022 interns at nonprofit organizations where they will focus on voter education ahead of the fall midterm elections. — Jessica Wolf

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