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Diaz on Fair Representation and Latino Voting Power

Sonja Diaz, executive director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute, spoke to media outlets following the midterm elections, weighing in on issues including fair representation and the impact of the Latino vote at the local, state and national level. A Los Angeles Times article on the reelection of Sen. Alex Padilla emphasized the significance of a Southern Californian in the powerful position after three decades of Bay Area Democrats holding the state’s Senate seats. Diaz noted that Padilla brings greater urgency to issues facing urban communities of color, including immigration and the environment. She was also cited in an L.A. Times column on Latinos’ party preferences and an editorial calling for an increase in the size of the Los Angeles City Council. On KCRW’s “Press Play,” Diaz described the Latino electorate’s alliance with other diverse voting blocs, harkening back to the broad coalition that propelled Barack Obama into the presidency.


 

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.”

Missed Opportunity to Deepen Connection With Latino Voters

A Los Angeles Times op-ed about the Rick Caruso mayoral campaign’s outreach to Latino communities cited Sonja Diaz, executive director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute. Running as an outsider, Caruso is courting segments of the Latino vote that include moderate Democrats, independents, Catholics and others, raising the question of whether L.A.’s established political class understands that Latinos have a variety of political viewpoints. “We know Latinos are not a monolith,” Diaz said, “but does the California Democratic Party know the difference between Latinos in Sun Valley, Pacoima, Van Nuys, west of the 110 or east of the 110, Northeast and East L.A.?” Around the country, Republicans have made inroads with Latino voters while Democrats have missed opportunities to build the national profile of top elected leaders, Diaz noted in an Elle profile of Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, the only Latina in the U.S. Senate.


 

On the Complex Dynamics of the Latino Vote

The Boston Globe highlighted findings from a UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute (LPPI) report that identified the complex dynamics of the Latino vote in the 2020 elections, with lessons for campaign strategists in this fall’s midterm elections. Latino voters are the new swing voters, but the Democratic Party seems to be in denial about this insight, the Globe columnist wrote. Researchers found that Latino voters split their ballot at a significant rate in 2020. “They are convincible, you can go out and reach out to them, and they’ll think about their vote carefully,” said Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas, LPPI’s director of research. “They will eventually make a decision based on what resonates the most with them, but also on who engages them the most.” Dominguez-Villegas said some Democratic campaigns still use an outdated, one-size-fits-all approach to Latino engagement without recognizing inherent differences between, say, voters of Venezuelan descent and second-generation Mexican-Americans.


 

The Young and Mighty LPPI

Research centers are born for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it’s just the right thing for a public research institution like UCLA to do. In the case of the Latino Policy and Politics Institute (formerly Initiative), “it was the single-biggest missing element in the School,” said Gary Segura, who co-founded LPPI soon after he became dean at UCLA Luskin in 2017. “We were a school of public affairs in a state that is 43-44% Latino, and we didn’t have any faculty expertise focused on that area.” Learn more about LPPI, which has attained funding of $13.5 million in just five years of existence,  from its founding director, a current student fellow and an alumna whose time with LPPI has proven crucial to her career.

Sonja Diaz MPP ’10, founding director of LPPI

What are you working on now?

A U.S. Latino data hub will create a portal for the first time of taking government data and disaggregating it by Latino subgroups. So, you’ll get a sense of the differences between Cubans in Florida and Puerto Ricans in Florida. And that, frankly, hasn’t been done across a number of indicators, from housing to the environment to voter registration. The second big project is a summit, and we’re trying to create a programmatic nexus between our scholars, our staff and our different policymaking audiences, lawmakers and researchers who need the support to have a Latino lens. We’re hoping to convene people in Washington, D.C., and establish a national presence for LPPI.

How did your directorship at LPPI come about and what has it meant for you personally?

I was leaving a position with a statewide constitutional officer at a time when we expected a different outcome from our 2016 U.S. presidential election. And it made sense for me to look at UCLA, which is personal to me and my family. My father received a Ph.D. in urban planning here when I was a toddler. Some of his faculty are my colleagues today. And in that way, it’s been one continuous line. What I didn’t expect was to be given the opportunity to marry policy and research. 

Now, after being on this job for a number of years, I am recognizing the impact that we’ve had, not only in the students that have walked through our doors, and even our staff colleagues, but to our community members. It has been mind-blowing. 

Recent successes of note?

Two things happened in ’20-21 that I think were so important for LPPI, but also for the Latino community writ large. The first was our work to advance full representation of Latino politicians to an important body, which is the U.S. Senate. And that was cemented with Gov. [Gavin] Newsom’s appointment of now-Sen. Alex Padilla, the first Latino in over 170 years to occupy that office.

The second thing, and this was happening at the same time, was providing a data lens to the COVID vaccine policy in the state of California that, in many ways, had disenfranchised youthful racial minorities, including Latinos, in the face of the evisceration of Latino households during COVID-19. And our work with over 40 community organizations, based on our data analysis, really changed course for the state and made it so it wasn’t just wealthy and older Californians who had access to the vaccine, but the hardest-hit communities that were working on the front lines.

Bryanna Ruiz Fernandez, an LPPI student fellow who majored in political science and minored in public affairs and Chicano/a studies and who will join the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a policy fellow after graduation

Talk about yourself, your role at LPPI and your future plans.

I am a proud product of immigrants. I come from a mixed-status household. We are from a border town, El Centro, California. I actually grew up in Mexico for part of my childhood, until I was around 8 years old. And then we immigrated to the United States. Spanish is actually my language of birth. And my mom, just recently, I was able to sponsor her for residency, for her green card.

She just became a U.S. resident, and it was a huge deal for the family because of the laws that can be discriminatory and negatively impact one’s life. 

And my dad is in the process. 

I understand immigration policy firsthand, and when it’s not properly researched by people with firsthand experience or who are culturally competent, what kind of impact it can have on communities of color, like my family.

I feel very fortunate to have been a fellow for LPPI for, basically, my entire undergraduate career.

In the classroom, I was learning methods and these broad concepts, but I didn’t really understand, especially as a first-generation college student, how that applies to the real world.

As a fellow, I was able to work with UCLA faculty. I was able to see firsthand how they conduct research, how they write reports. And on the other hand, I was also able to see how that research needs to be amplified. Because if we’re doing research and no one knows about it, then what impact is it actually having?

woman with short hair smiles broadly

MPP and MSW alumna Gabriela Solis Torres

Gabriela Solis Torres, MPP and MSW ’19, a founding student fellow at LPPI who now works as a project leader for the Harvard Kennedy School’s Government Performance Lab in Houston, Texas

Please explain your work.

We’re a research and technical assistance organization that provides support to governments who are pursuing ways to combat some of the most complex social challenges. That’s things like trying to reform the criminal justice system or the child welfare system, or trying to address homelessness.

A lot of things have changed because of the pandemic. But a big change in my work came after the murder of George Floyd. Harris County, where Houston is, and a lot of other jurisdictions across the United States started thinking about what their policing looks like and really started exploring, I think, more seriously the alternatives to their emergency response approach.

And now I’m leading our portfolio for alternatives. I provide technical assistance to five jurisdictions across the United States that are implementing alternatives such as sending unarmed teams to 9-1-1 calls. 

Did your experience with LPPI have a direct relationship to what you do now?

For me, I think it really opened my worldview. I came into the Luskin School from a direct service background. I was a case manager doing outreach with folks who were homeless in Venice and Venice Beach, and I thought I wanted to be a clinician. I was going to school to study social work and learn to do therapy.

But I was thinking too much of the macro, always complaining about the rules and the limitations. And I was advised to get a public policy degree. And I didn’t really know anything about public policy. I think being at Luskin and then participating in LPPI really changed my worldview and my whole career track completely.

I like working directly with governments. I grew up in East Los Angeles. I’m first in my family to go to college and have a professional job. My dad used to work in a factory. My mom was a stay-at-home mother. And I had no access to professional spaces. 

Another thing has to do with access. I had never really talked to anyone who was an official, and LPPI was my first exposure to people who had a lot of power or influence. 

I remember when I first came to UCLA Luskin and received the Monica Salinas Fellowship, which was created by a successful marriage and family therapist, and I got to have dinner at their house. And that was, like, so fancy! It was the first time I’d ever been in a space like that. And it was very cool because she was also a Latina and was very supportive of the work. 

Then, with LPPI, I would help organize panels or events, which meant having to manage details with elected officials or work with very high-level stakeholders. It helped me develop confidence that is applied to my job.

Every day now, I work with mayors, city managers, the director of an emergency communications center. Those experiences at UCLA were very pivotal in assuring me,
“I know how to communicate. I know how to write. I know what I’m talking about.”

How did you get involved with LPPI?

I found out that Sonja was opening the shop, and I just went to talk to her in her office. There was no formality. This thing is happening, let’s go. And I think I was the first or second person she hired. 

What I really appreciated from working with her was the true openness to being collaborators, making me feel like my opinion was important, that she actually cared about it. 

Myself, and Sonja, and the other student fellows were a team. And we got real. It was a growth environment where everyone was expected to step up. If you didn’t know something, your mentality was: “I’ll learn how to do it.” 

We understood that we were in a startup environment. … I have very fond memories of that time and just feeling like I was helping to set up something that was big. And I take pride that LPPI is where it is now.

LPPI Formally Transitions From an ‘Initiative’ to Become UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute

The former UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative has officially become the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute, thanks to $3 million in ongoing annual funding from the state. The funding, championed by the California Latino Legislative Caucus, was initially secured in 2021 and continued in the state budget bill passed June 14. The support has allowed the institute, known as LPPI, to grow from a start-up initiative to a permanent research fixture at UCLA with a robust fellowship program and a consortium of nearly 50 faculty experts across UCLA. Founded in 2017 by attorney and MPP alumna Sonja Diaz and UCLA Professor Matt Barreto through a partnership between the Luskin School and the division of social sciences, LPPI was launched to address domestic policy challenges facing Latinos and other communities of color. It utilizes the power of research, advocacy, mobilization and leadership development to propel policy reforms that expand opportunity for all Americans. “As chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus, I am so grateful for the Latino-centric research from LPPI that has helped us formulate the policies our communities need most,” said state Sen. María Elena Durazo. “Latinos play an essential role in California, yet we are disproportionately impacted by issues like the gender pay gap and disparate health outcomes. It is critical that we have a Latino-focused think tank with readily available data on the various topics that Latinos care about most.” LPPI’s status as a leading national Latino policy institute furthers UCLA’s goal of achieving federal designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution by 2025. — Alise Brillault


 

Latinos Underrepresented on L.A. Times Opinion Pages

A UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative analysis of the opinion pages of the Los Angeles Times between January 2020 and May 2021 found that Latinos were severely underrepresented. During the period that included a presidential election in which the Latino vote was critical and a COVID-19 crisis that devastated the community, just 4% of the paper’s op-eds were written by Latino authors, while 95% made no explicit mention of Latinos, according to the report, which was also cited in the L.A. Times’ Latinx Files blog. Opinion pages play a significant role in shaping policy, and Latinos’ lack of inclusion leaves them voiceless on crucial issues affecting their communities, the report concluded. “Papers like the Los Angeles Times have a responsibility to ensure that Latinos are given a proportional and fair opportunity to shape the conversation,” said LPPI Executive Director Sonja Diaz. A response from The Times pointed to recent hires aimed at increasing diversity in the newsroom.


 

Santos Takes Leadership Role at Hub for Latinx Scholars

Associate Professor of Social Welfare Carlos Santos has been named associate director of UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center. The center, part of UCLA’s Institute of American Cultures, supports intersectional research, programming and advocacy related to Chicano, Latino and Indigenous communities. “For decades, UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center has been a central hub for Latinx scholars and those studying issues affecting Latinx communities,” Santos said. “As part of UCLA’s commitment to become a Hispanic Serving Institution by 2025, we will help administer the hiring of several faculty, post-doc fellows and seed research grants. I am honored to support these and other exciting CSRC efforts intended to uplift Latinx communities.” Santos’ research explores ethnic-racial, gender and sexual minority identity among Latinx youth and young adults using an intersectional approach. He studies the contexts within which identities are formed, develop and change over time as well as the impact of discrimination and oppressive forces associated with these identities. Santos has received several early-career awards for achievement in research. He earned a doctorate in developmental psychology from New York University, a master’s degree in education from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree from New York University. The Chicano Studies Research Center was established in 1969 to have a systemic impact on UCLA’s campus, within higher education and across society through original research on the Chicano and Latino communities in the United States. The center is now home to one of the most robust archives of Latino and Chicano materials in the country.


 

Wells Fargo Provides $500,000 for LPPI, CNK Research The grant to UCLA research groups will support policy solutions to benefit small business owners of color

A new grant of $500,000 from Wells Fargo will support efforts by researchers affiliated with the Luskin School to determine best practices and policy solutions to benefit businesses operated by persons of color.

The award will go to the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (UCLA LPPI) and the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) for research aimed at increasing access to capital, technology and environmentally sustainable practices for these businesses.

“COVID-19’s disparate impact on small business owners of color highlighted the enduring legacy of structural barriers that impede economic opportunity and social mobility for large swaths of working Americans,” said Maria Samaniego, deputy director of UCLA LPPI. “This grant will allow us to develop policy research and resources that are specifically tailored to the needs of communities of color, which have the power to transform small business ownership in ways that will drive our economy for generations.”

UCLA LPPI and CNK will focus on understanding how to broaden access to financial services and technology tools. They will also explore how to best leverage public, private and social partnerships to boost the entrepreneurship potential of small businesses owned by Latinos and other people of color. The findings will lead to more informed decisions about post-COVID economic recovery policy relating to minority-owned businesses. Another goal will be increasing labor force participation in those communities.

“We cannot ignore the bright spotlight the pandemic has put on inequity, nor the responsibility and opportunity we have to close gaps in resources that have existed for far too long,” said Jenny Flores, head of small business growth philanthropy at Wells Fargo. “Investing in UCLA LPPI and CNK will offer an in-depth view into how the public and private sectors can better support and accelerate access for business owners of color who will be at the forefront of building an inclusive economy.”

Research Professor Paul Ong, director of CNK, pointed to previous research from UCLA that has identified economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and produced insight into how society’s systems and institutions often work against the interests of people in disadvantaged communities. “With this funding, we will be able to pinpoint the exact systemic barriers and to generate the knowledge to remove them for future generations,” he said. “Equally important, new insights will inform new practices that create greater equity for people of color.”

Support from Wells Fargo will also enable UCLA LPPI and CNK to identify best practices in sustainability that small businesses can adopt to help them meet the challenges presented by climate change.

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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