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Bernie Sanders reaches out to Latino voters at East L.A. campaign rally

Juvenal “Juve” Quintana was never really into politics until he learned about Bernie Sanders’ first presidential campaign.

In 2016, Quintana heard the Vermont senator’s talk of providing everyone with health insurance and thought that would help Latinos in his hometown of Modesto, but he didn’t think they were getting the message from Spanish-language media. So Quintana, the lead singer of Grupo La Meta, wrote a ballad: “El Quemazón,” or “The Bern.”

“He’s the man with a vision to better this country,” the corrido begins, in Spanish. “Bernie Sanders is his name. Now you’re going to feel his burn.” Quintana’s song has had hundreds of thousands of views since then, and the message still stands, he said in an interview.

“Bernie’s talking about the same exact things that I wrote about in 2016,” said Quintana, 30. “I’m 100% for Bernie. I feel like he’s the candidate who will listen.”

Young Latinos like Quintana were strong supporters of Sanders in 2016, and the candidate is reaching out to them again in hopes they can help him capture primaries nationwide, and particularly California’s March 3 Democratic contest. On Saturday, Sanders held a raucous rally in predominantly Latino Eastside L.A.

Bernie Sanders supporter James Won, 35, holds up a sign in Spanish that reads, “United with Bernie,” before the Vermont senator’s arrival at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in East L.A. on Saturday.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

The L.A. punk-funk band Ozomatli opened the rally to a packed scene at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in El Sereno, calling Sanders “one of those down-from-day-one-type vatos.” The band endorsed Sanders in 2016 as well.

“I come to you today as the proud son of an immigrant,” Sanders told the crowd, “and virtually everybody out here are the proud sons and daughters of immigrants. And we are sick and tired of the demonization of the immigrant community.”

The senator’s pitch was broad, touching on topics including tackling climate change and taking on corporate America.

Sanders also talks about issues important to Latinos, such as criminal justice reform and access to education, said Cal State L.A. student Deborah Samano, 32.

“This is what we’ve been talking about for so many years, and finally we see somebody on a mainstream ticket that’s actually taking it seriously,” said Samano, who didn’t support Sanders in 2016 but stayed after the rally to learn about volunteering for his campaign.

The Sanders campaign debuted its first California office in East L.A. and opened another in the Central Valley, an area overlooked in past campaigns but where Democratic candidates this year are looking to capitalize on increasing diversity. Outreach to Latinos has been integrated into the campaign since the start, for instance in the form of senior Latino staff and bilingual ads, said Chuck Rocha, a senior advisor with the campaign.


Rally-goers wait for Sanders’ arrival. Most speakers before Sanders took the stage spoke Spanish or peppered in into their addresses.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

“There’s lots of Latinos in California, there’s lots of working-class young people, and working-class voters and lots of folks who have a history of standing up against power,” said Rocha. “Bernie Sanders is their candidate, and all we have to do is give them the tools to be reminded of when to vote and where he stands on the issues and they will show up.”

Nationwide, Latino voters are expected to be the largest minority voting bloc in 2020, surpassing black voters for the first time. But campaigns have failed to mobilize their full potential: Voter turnout for Latinos falls behind black voter turnout. And Latino voters in the U.S. skew young: Of the estimated 32 million eligible to cast ballots, 43% are 18 to 34, according to the research firm Latino Decisions. The average age of Latinos in the U.S. is 30.

Sanders polls well with Latino voters. Nationally, 34% of likely Democratic Latino voters under 30 supported him, compared with 11% for former Vice President Joe Biden, a November youth poll by the Institute of Politics at Harvard found, according to its polling director, John Della Volpe. And in a California poll released Wednesday by the Latino Community Foundation, 31% of Latino registered voters surveyed said they planned to vote for Sanders, compared with 22% for Biden and 11% for Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.


Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School. Sanders’ campaign is heavily investing in California and it sees Latino voters as the path to winning to the nomination.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

And Latinos are donating to Sanders’ campaign at a rate far higher than to his opponents, according to an analysis of ActBlue donations by marketing firm Plus Three, which used census data to identify Latino surnames. Sanders raised more than $4.7 million from Latinos nationwide in the first six months of the year, millions more than the next candidates. Los Angeles was the top city for fundraising from Latinos, and California the top state, according to the analysis.

Some of Sanders’ local support stems from his previous run. At 19, Estefany Castañeda became a volunteer organizer in Lennox for the 2016 California primary. She knocked on doors for Sanders, which exposed her to the needs of her community, she said. So in 2018, Castañeda challenged an incumbent for a seat on the Centinela Valley Union High School District board, and won.


Bernie Sanders greets supporters at the end of his East L.A. rally.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Castañeda, now 23, said Sanders, whom she calls el viejito bueno, “the good old man,” has a track record of supporting minorities. Even her older family members who voted for Hillary Clinton over Sanders in 2016 are taking him seriously, she said.

“This time around now, my cousins thankfully saw the light of day, and now they actively do discuss Sanders as a possibility,” she said. “The more that you get to know the Bernie campaign, the more that it checks off the majority, if not all, the issues that Latino families are facing in California.”

After the Saturday rally, Jorge Cruz, 27, said Sanders’ message resonates with young, working-class people.

“We see that he speaks to a lot of values that our communities have, like our communities of color, our queer communities, our undocumented communities,” said Cruz, a student at Cal State L.A. ”The fact that he comes out to the neighborhood,” Cruz said, shows how much Sanders values the Latino community.

“We feel like this current president is attacking our heritage,” he said, “And so when we get a candidate that supports us, that’s behind the immigrant community, that’s behind the Latino community, we return the favor. We go out and vote.”