Key quote: “I have never seen a level of commitment to the Latino community as I have from this governor,” she [Janeth Vazquez] said. “She provides a very inclusive environments for Latinos here in Kansas.”

Vazquez participates in Day at the Capitol

Liberal Times

February 19, 2021

The number of Hispanic and Latino individuals in America has grown substantially over recent decades, and the demographic rise has created an increase in concerns for those populations as well.

Recently, the Kansas Hispanic and Latino American Affairs Commission (KHLAAC) hosted its annual Hispanic and Latino Day at the Capitol, with this year’s event being through virtual means.

Members of the organization were joined by Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, and Liberal’s Janeth Vazquez, a technical advisor for KHLAAC, said the group of about 100 people was gathered for the purpose of celebrating, connecting and supporting Hispanic communities throughout Kansas.

Vazquez said a variety of sessions took place throughout the day.

“We had training on civic engagement,” she said. “We also had training on how to communicate with our legislators, and we had training on how to increase our voter turnout within our area. The biggest thing for us is literally just being able to increase the Latino voter turnout in Southwest Kansas. They taught us some concept and ideas on how we can engage and encourage our Latino members to get out to the voting pools.”

Those sessions, Vazquez said, included a mix of topics as well.

“It was a big collaboration of a lot of Latino leaders across the state and how we can all work together and empower each other for our voices to be heard, not just in the polls, but being civically engaged across a lot of other topics and factors,” she said. 

One of the big topics, Vazquez said, was educating Hispanics and Latinos about the legislative process and what it takes to run for an elected position.

“The biggest thing I learned is there are a lot of leaders across the state,” she said. “Sometimes, we feel a little bit isolated out in Southwest Kansas. We need a little more support. What this made me realize is there’s a huge network of Latino leaders across the state, and they all have valuable resources and tools that can help us in many projects out in this area. We’re not alone, and I feel we can all work together to accomplish a lot more. Instead of reinventing the wheel in each little color doing their own thing, if we work collaboratively and work together, we’ll be able to accomplish a lot more.”

Vazquez said by using resources in the rest of the state, more can be accomplished not only in Southwest Kansas, but in other parts of the state as well.

“Out here in Southwest Kansas, we feel like it’s the same small circle, the same leaders every time, and I feel this showed us there’s a big network of support across the state,” she said. “Sometimes, when we have some issues or challenges, we don’t know how to fix them, or we don’t have different ideas. Now I feel we have a bigger network of support that can help us bring new ideas. It’s more teamwork. Now we have more mentors across the state that can help us.”

Vazquez said she feels many in the Hispanic community have fear when it comes to reaching out to elected officials about things that concern them.

“I feel this session could help increase the community between Latinos and our legislative leaders and open those lines of communication,” she said. “I feel within the Latino community, that’s just something we don’t do. We don’t typically reach out to our elected congressmen when we have issues or things that concern us.”

As a technical advisor for KHLAAC, Vazquez stressed the importance of Hispanic and Latino Day at the Capitol for other reasons as well.

“I have my role to be present there, but I also think it’s important because all of these valuable lessons and tools I now have access to can be pushed out,” she said. “I can also share all these resources within my community.”

Vazquez advised those in the Hispanic and Latino communities who either intend to run for office or contact lawmakers to do so with confidence.

“It’s hard for me to have a short message because there’s a lot I would say to my community, but what I would say is don’t be afraid,” she said.  “At the end of the day, all of our voices are equal, and if there are concerns, we need to be reaching out to our elected officials. It will be a lot more impactful if we share these concerns with people who can make a difference. It’s a much more powerful voice if you reach out to the correct people. Don’t be afraid to contact them. At the end of the day, they’re humans, and they’re there to represent us. They’re there to work for their community.”

Vazquez said the lack of leadership and communication from many in the Hispanic and Latino population is primarily due to a lack of education.

“There’s some potential people who want to run, but they don’t have the resources or the knowledge to know where to start,” she said. “The Liberal Area Coalition for Families put a session together, and that was very helpful. Hopefully, they can do something like that again in the future.”

Vazquez praised the work of Governor Kelly in working with Hispanic and Latinos.

“I have never seen a level of commitment to the Latino community as I have from this governor,” she said. “She provides a very inclusive environments for Latinos here in Kansas.”

Vazquez said she feels some in the culture make contacting elected officials harder than it is.

“It’s really not that hard,” she said. “It’s very simple. I feel a session would build more confidence within them to be able to actually make those connections and reach out.”