Maria Teresa Kumar presents 9th Annual Cesar Chavez Lecture
“To make change, start by participating. Take your vote to the polls.”
Maria Teresa Kumar delivered this timely message April 12 at the 9th Annual César Chávez Lecture, sponsored by the Division of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She talked about the immigration issues that face America, while acknowledging the issues specific to the Kansas City area.
As founding president and CEO of Voto Latino, a leading national civic engagement organization targeting acculturated American Latino youth, Kumar is working to make change happen and to engage youth. She was nominated for an Emmy for her work on MSNBC’s Changing American and is a widely sought-after political analyst. She appears regularly as a commentator on several programs including “HardBall” with Chris Matthews and “Morning Joe.” She is also a frequent guest on such media outlets as NPR and Telemundo.
“You are a microcosm of what’s happening right now,” Kumar said. “So many people are healing right now. But keep fighting the good fight.”
Kumar said the best way to make change is to participate and get involved.
“Start at the polls,” Kumar said. “We’re living in a unique time.”
Kumar’s message honored the legacy of Cesar Chavez and the continued struggle Latinos face in America. Voter registration was Chavez’s first project. Just as it was then, voter registration among Latinos and the immigrant population remains low. But in the spirit of Chavez, Kumar told the group, “We don’t want our past to eat up our future.”
In the 1950s, America tackled civil rights injustice. But today, we’re having the same discussions, Kumar said. She told the audience she continually wonders why that is, considering the country is evolving. In fact, Kumar said the young population is more diverse than ever before, with Latinos making up the second largest group of Americans. But yet, Latinos are underrepresented in almost all areas of daily life, including positions held by business leaders, policy makers and legislators.
“We need to make sure we’re preparing the next generation for the future,” Kumar said. And the best way to do that is to bring the second largest group of Americans to the table – Latinos — when important issues are being discussed.
“If we’re not including them, how can we help? Why are we not part of the conversations?”
Immigration is not a Latino-only issue. She said it’s a human rights issue. And immigration reform came to the table because people voted. But she said many didn’t hear the Latino population, because they didn’t participate.
Kumar is an immigrant and grew up on the legacy of Chavez. She navigated America at a young age on behalf of her family. Many still do the same today. “Pay it forward for our immigrant parents by getting involved,” Kumar said.
Kumar and her team at Voto Latino are reaching out to the Latino youth in ways they can relate to, which includes technology. The group also addresses the impact peers have on each other and the power of coalition. She is partnering with the League of Women Voters and with other social movements such as Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ advocates.
As Kumar ended the discussion she quoted Chavez: “We don’t need perfect political systems; we need perfect participation.”
“We’re living in a special moment, one that will define us for the next 100 years,” Kumar said. “We need to all come together. Talk together to move forward. It’s up to us to capitalize on this moment and vote.”
Bridget Koan | Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications