Sandra Sepulveda outside Haywood Elementary School in South Nashville, which she attended and still lives near. (Photo: John Partipilo)
On Wednesday, Tennessee Latino political leaders announced the creation of a PAC with the sole purpose of getting Latinos elected across the state.
Fuerza, meaning “strength,” will represent the interests of the state’s growing Latino populations by identifying suitable Democratic candidates and providing the essential support to navigate a political sphere not familiar to Latino candidates.
Metro Nashville Councilmember Sandra Sepulveda said that in her experience as one of few elected Latino public officials in the state, Tennessee’s current government does not reflect the needs of Latino communities.
“The new generation of Latino Tenneseans needs to be able to look at their elected officials and see someone who’s lived-experience reflects their own, which is why we at Fuerza are eager to hit the ground running to build the infrastructure for our community to be able to run competitive race,” said Sepulveda, who will serve as Fuerza’s executive director.
In Nashville alone, Latinos represent 10.5% of the population and 5.7% of the state’s total population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And these numbers are expected to grow, making political representation a necessity that “can’t wait any longer,” she added.
The Latino vote became a formidable force in the 2020 presidential election. Nationwide, Latinos came out in droves in support of President Joe Biden, casting 16.6 million votes. This was an increase of 30.9% since the 2016 presidential election. Although Tennessee’s Latino population is relatively new, with many having arrived after 2000, the population has since become the 27th largest in the nation, and there were approximately 92,000 eligible voters in 2016, according to Pew Research.
“They are business owners. They are activists. There were political operatives who have worked campaigns. We just need to activate them and engage them,” said Sepulveda.
She adds that although it’s one thing to run for office, it’s another to run as a Latino candidate.
Memphis political candidate Gabby Salinas knows how this feels. In 2020, she ran for state representative in Memphis’s District 97 and lost against Republican John Gillespieby a margin 466 votes.
Although over 60,000 Latinos live, work and contribute to the economy of Shelby County, there is no Latino representation in their city council, county commission or school board. This makes it difficult to address disparities in the community, said Salinas.
She now serves as a member of Fuerza’s board and hopes to use her experiences to address some of the systemic barriers that prevent many Latinos from seeking public office positions.
“Our state stands to gain a lot from diversifying its leadership, Latinos have a great deal to add to the richness of our community and our state,” she added.
Also serving on the board are Fabian Bedne, a Metro Nashville staff member; Bob Tuke, a former Tennessee Democratic Party chairman; Cristina Allen, host of the News Channel 5 Que Pasa Nashville; and Luis Mata, who will represent the Knoxville community.
The group plans to spend the next few months gaining influence, identifying suitable candidates and raising funds in preparation for future elections.
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