Turning Up the Volume on the Latino Voice

08/10/2011 10:40 pm ET | Updated Oct 10, 2011

When the results of the 2010 Census were revealed earlier this year, they turned what was critically important for the Latino community into something urgent. The gap between the demographic power of Latinos -- 50 million Americans and counting -- and our political power has never been larger. As the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S., NCLR realized that the best thing we can do to advance our community and fulfill our role as policy advocates would be to grow the Latino voice in the American political process.

That is why last month we announced that NCLR was taking the single most effective Latino voter organization -- our longtime partner Democracia U.S.A. -- and making it fully part of our organization. Our goal in the next 18 months is to develop a strategy that will increase the number of Latino voters by helping our community to naturalize, register, and mobilize come Election Day. To support this goal, we will also engage in extensive voter education and train grassroots leaders to get involved in these efforts. We intend to make Latinos the voting bloc to watch in the 2012 election and beyond.

A large part of that work will and needs to take place on the Internet. Latinos, especially young Latinos, are avid online consumers. Reaching potential young Latino voters means reaching them through social media and on the websites they visit. And because the Internet is the first medium in history in which Latinos are not all but excluded. Underrepresentation in film, television, newspapers, and most every other form of media has historically plagued the Latino community and the picture today is not that much better. Yet, because the Internet is still wide open and the barriers to entry almost nonexistent, Latinos flourish online. On the Internet, you can -- with a little work -- see the full picture of our community in all its astonishing diversity of backgrounds, colors, regional differences, and experiences.

That is not to say that there still isn't work to do for Latinos online. First, there is almost as much misinformation and stereotyping about Latinos as there is real, accurate, and solid information. That is why it is so important to NCLR and other Latino organizations to monitor what is going on online and correct and counter these ill-informed and often malicious impressions. Second, the virtual invisibility of Latinos in mainstream media is all too often mirrored on the mainstream media's websites. Diversifying web voices is as important as diversifying newsrooms, and we applaud Huffington Post for making "Latino Voices" one of its first new initiatives. The Internet is the future and so are Latinos. It only makes sense to put them together.

As I told those gathered last month at NCLR's Annual Conference, Latinos are a community of 50 million people. It's time we start acting like it. Through the vote and through the Internet, we can make that happen.