Keynote Speaker for Latinx Heritage Month Counsels Students on Political Action

Richard Pineda Headshot
October 16, 2020

Now, more than ever, young Latinx people and their families need to become increasingly engaged in the political process, and they must accomplish that by embracing two courses of action: voting and running for elected office.

This was the message delivered during the keynote address presented virtually on Monday, October 5, as part of St. John’s University’s annual celebration of Latinx Heritage Month, which honors the rich legacy, traditions, contributions, and achievements made by Latinx and Hispanic individuals and communities. This year’s event carries the theme, “Mi Momento, Nuestra Historia: Subir de Nivel Latinx” (“My Moment, Our Story: Level Up Latinx”).

“First, and most important—be smart and vote. You are probably thinking, ‘No kidding! I’ve got that part.’ But based on the data, we know that is not true. We know that younger Latinx folks are not registering to vote, and they are not actually voting when they get a chance to do so,” said Richard D. Pineda, Ph.D., during his talk, “The View from La Frontera (Border): Lantinidad and the 2020 Presidential Election.”

Young Latinx voters should vote across a range of elections, suggested Dr. Pineda, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Communications at The University of Texas at El Paso, where he also serves as Director of the Sam Donaldson Center for Communication Studies.

“People are excited because it is a presidential election, and that is going to have a huge effect on all of the races down below the presidency. But if you are excited, worried, or nervous about this election, you should feel the same way when the election is to the school board, or to the community college board, or as dog catcher,” said Dr. Pineda, a popular commentator on political communication who appears frequently on regional and national media. His research and public advocacy focus on the intersection of political communication, culture, and leadership.

Acknowledging that running for office can be “scary” for many, Dr. Pineda said young Latinx who are considering political office should target their community’s next school board election or community college board election—in part, because what these boards do at the school level have “an immediate, translatable effect on the constituents: the kids and the community college students.” 

These boards can also impact important areas such as curriculum and expansion of technology, said Dr. Pineda. “What we are discovering right now is that school boards and school districts may actually be the crucial piece to get communities through the pandemic.”

“Not only are they providing education,” he observed, “but, in many cases, they are also providing technical support by opening up their internet and wireless hubs, and they are providing nutritional support in ways that sometimes would not be taken advantage of in a regular school year.”

Dr. Pineda, a native son of El Paso and a Mexican-American who grew up in a house located seven blocks away from the US-Mexico border, also addressed the negative attitude among a portion of the American public in regards to immigration.

“One of the things that is always disappointing to me about the national conversation on immigration is that it focuses largely on threat construction, the idea that immigrants somehow are far more dangerous than any other group of people,” said the professor, whose interests include immigration as a public controversy.

“I am also disappointed that immigration is racialized in the United States,” added Dr. Pineda. He attributed that to the rise of white nationalism and white supremacy taking place in the US. He also said it is caused by “the way we talk about immigration in the United States in a way that makes it easy to demonize immigration.”

He explained that the national discourse of undocumented immigrants as “disease carriers” is not new. “But I want to be very clear on this point: if you use these kinds of generalizations, you are sparking an irrational fear in people.”

Dr. Pineda’s areas of expertise and his own cultural background are some of the reasons why he was invited to deliver the keynote address, according to Mona I. El-Shahat, Assistant Director of St. John’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, which organized Latinx Heritage Month.

In addition, she said, “It is important that we have students see individuals who look like them represented in our programming as they navigate their campus journey, and that is especially important as we celebrate Latinx Heritage Month.”

Karina Mendez, a graduate student studying Government and Politics, and Paola Sosa, a senior undergraduate majoring in Marketing, served as moderators at the event.