By Ashton Elder (Originally Published in the October issue of Eco Latino magazine)
The animated woman’s voice at the other end of the phone is filled with excitement. A slight New York accent still lingers in her voice as she begins to talk about her extensive career in politics.
Vivian Rodriguez can be described as a trailblazer in the growing Latino political moment which has become increasing vital to determining the outcome of Presidential elections.
Rodriguez is the President of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida, and has made strides for the political causes of two minority communities, both of which she is a progressive member: the Hispanic Community and the LGBT Community. Rodriguez has been a mover and a shaker in the Hispanic political world for years. Originally from New York, she served as a decorated NYC Police Department officer and was active during the 9/11 terrorists attacks. Rodriguez has held several positions in Latino rights advocacy groups there and explained that when she retired, she immediately became involved here, too.
In 2013 she was elected as president of the caucus and since then she has made several progressive changes inside the organization. “Under my leadership, we really re-invented the Hispanic Caucus. We help with campaigns of Hispanic candidates. We have also started the first “Lobby Day” under my leadership.” She explained why she decided initiating the Lobby Day was so important. “If we were looking to further the issues for the Latino community, we decided we had to start going to Tallahassee and start lobbying.”
Rodriguez shed some light as to what they focus on while there. “Bills that affect the Hispanic community such as the economy, immigration and the HRC [Human Rights Campaign] are important to us. We want to get together and try to help Hispanics here.” The caucus slogan is: Hispanos Unidos, which encompasses the passion that both Rodriguez and the caucus have for the community, the cause and the voters.
However, the issues the caucus focuses on runs the gamut of the Florida political landscape from immigration to human rights. Rodriguez explains, “The Hispanic community is diverse and we see Hispanic issues as ones that represent everyone. Hispanics reflect everyone. In 2013 when I became the President of the Caucus, I was going to make sure the Latino Community was empowered. Our mission is to help Democrats get elected, especially Latino candidates in the party.” She shared a clear message as to what her focus is as president, “We are attempting to build a bridge for Latinos to government…We focus on issues we feel will help Hispanics.” Rodriguez said the most important issues to the Hispanic community were education and the economy. “Latinos understand that without a quality education the American Dream of upward mobility is difficult to obtain. Education is the key factor to success.” For Rodriguez the issue of education is tied with the economy. “In order to afford a quality education for your child, you need a job that can provide for their college advancement.”
Another issue that the Hispanic community is concerned with is immigration and the caucus advocates reform. “We applauded President Barack Obama’s Executive Action’s on Immigration Reform.”
The caucus will focus on the 2016 election next year and electing Democratic candidates. They will also focus on “providing Hispanic outreach and recruiting viable Latino candidates to run for office,” Rodriguez said. The caucus is focused on the future of Hispanics in politics. “We are in the process of creating and implementing various programs to provide the tools needed to prepare our future Hispanic leaders. Programs that will focus on mentoring and engaging our Hispanic college students to participate in campaigns throughout Florida and training programs on how to become a viable candidate and run for elected office.”
According to Rodriguez, the power of the Hispanic vote in Florida cannot be overlooked. “The state of Florida has changed dramatically. I believe the Hispanic vote will be the deciding factor in determining who will become the next President.”
In her view Hispanic voters have a voting power that continues to grow. “There has been a great migration of Hispanics in Florida. The changing landscape of Latino politics in Florida is also contributing to the increase of Hispanic Democratic voters… The increase of various Hispanic cultures migrating to Florida has changed the dynamics of Florida politics making it a true battle ground state.”
She explained she has a plan to get more Hispanics to vote and register to vote. “I believe that we can get more Hispanics to vote by reaching out to the communities and explaining the importance of their vote and the impact that it would make on their lives. Hispanics must vote in all elections, including state, local, and mid-terms. We must use all modes of communication to get out our message.” Rodriguez and the caucus have big plans for the future. “My vision for the Democratic Hispanic Caucus is to continue the growth by creating future local chapters in all 67 counties in Florida. Continuing with the mission and goals of empowering Latinos within the Florida Democratic Party and most importantly, unifying all Latinos within the state. As the saying goes, strength in unity. “