Top News Stories

Rosario Dawson, the Voto Latino Trailblazer on Empowering Latino Millennials: 'They Are Going to Claim 'Sí Se Puede' for Themselves'

Voto Latino Power Summit 2014

"¡Sí se puede!" said actress and Voto Latino Co-Founder and Chairwoman Rosario Dawson as she addressed a sea of driven and high-spirited Latinos (and some non-Latinos) during the Voto Latino Power Summit kickoff on April 11 at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

The crowd eagerly looked on, craving inspiration during a time when change for Latinos is within reach, but still too far to fully grasp without the help of the powers that be who need to sign the dotted line to implement real, concrete change.

Dawson was fresh off of a flight from Ghana, where she is launching a clothing line to help local designers in Accra, through her creative projects with Abrima Erwiah's Studio One Eighty Nine and her clothing line, Fashion Rising "that directly employs Africans and trains them through pop-up fashion schools." Despite having traveled thousands of miles, she was glowing; she was full of life, and her energy was contagious.

While addressing the crowd, an older, Caucasian male, who was also a Voto Latino volunteer, caught my attention. Moved by Dawson's words, he yelled "right on!" proving that while the driving force behind the Voto Latino movement may derive heavily from Latino Millennial, it's also inter-generational, colorblind and extremely powerful.

When Dawson wasn't wowing audiences on the big screen in Rent, Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez's adaptation of Frank Miller's Sin City, or Diego Luna's Cesar Chavez (where she played United Farm Workers' co-founder Dolores Huerta), she was on a mission to empower young Latinos as the future leaders of America.

Voto Latino, a nonpartisan organization, empowers Latinos to vote, voice their opinions, and fight for their rights to education, healthcare and immigration reform, etc., is celebrating its 10-year anniversary with the Voto Latino Power Summit 2014 that will expand to a four-city national tour. Latino Millennial will participate in leadership, advocacy, and media and technology workshops with community activists, grassroots organizers, elected officials, celebrities, and business leaders. They can also participate in the VL Innovators Challenge, the organization's tech competition where Latino Millennial can design and use technology for change.

Still in awe of how far Voto Latino has progressed with the help of fellow trailblazer and Voto Latino President and CEO, María Teresa Kumar, Dawson realizes that at the same time there is so much more to do to implement change.

She recalled a conversation that she had with longtime friend and fellow actor Wilmer Valderrama  (who is also the Artist Coalition Co-Chair for Voto Latino) during the inception of Voto Latino. The two discussed the best ways to get Latino Millennial engaged, which was to speak to them in English and reach them online, where they had and continue to have a strong presence.

"We needed to encourage them to be the voice of their generation, and now we are seeing statistics and the numbers really showing and proving that," she said. "Millennials are 77 million strong and that is very important because baby boomers are 78 million -- and you know what an affect that has had on our community and country and our world."

What are some of the obstacles that Latino Millennial face and what moves them towards change?

"This is a community that is the most diverse that we have ever seen where almost 20 percent of them are Latino. They over-index online; they are very excited; they are very interested, and they understand that they are inheriting trillion dollars of debt, that they are drowning in underwater student loans. They are living at home with their parents. They are pushing off getting married; they are pushing off having children. They are trying to figure out what their next steps are," Dawson added.

"They are very interesting because they are not interested in doing like their parents did. They really want to change the name of the game. Two-thirds of them support same-sex marriage, they support medical marijuana," which she says she can't believe that it's passing in parts of the country.

"That shows that there are some really big, bold changes ahead of us and that there's an Electorate behind it to make those changes. People who are ready write their names down in history, who understand that the people before them have given them an opportunity that they can take so far, and it's not just in a Latina, first black president, that is the least of their gains, I can assure you. They are going to claim 'Sí se Puede' for themselves - and that's very exciting."

Dawson is is also "very interested" to see how this demographic is really going to spread its wings.

When getting people involved in the movement and knocking on doors, Dawson points out how crucial it is not to put people in a box and make them choose a side. To her, what's amazing about Latino Millennial, is that they are not "party-loyal," Dawson points out, "which is one of the reasons that Voto Latino is non-partisan."

"This is a demographic that isn't interested in being put into a box, if anything they are more interested in being put in a circle. They are rounding it out, they are rounding the conversation out -- and it's a beautiful thing to be a part of," she said.

The beautiful actress admits that she is on the "cusp" of being a Millennial (the demographic includes people born in 1980 and earlier, or 18-34 years old) and jokes that she's proud to be a '79 baby.

Regardless of whatever generation you come from, it's the issues at hand that really matter, and Dawson sees the big picture.

"It's been remarkable thing being on this journey, seeing how it's grown, knowing that if you build it they will come, and here you are," she said. "Thank you so much for that because we have a lot further to go. We really need inter-generational conversation to be a part of that. We need to guide our young people and we need to listen to them."

Dawson referred to the week-long, intensive, annual art festival, Burning Man, which she loyally attends, saying that to be involved, you have to be fully dedicated..."It's radical inclusivity, you have got to be in it to win it."



This California GOP Hopeful Wants Free College For Science And Math Students

BERKELEY, California (Reuters) - California Republican gubernatorial hopeful Neel Kashkari called for free college tuition for students pursuing math and science degrees, part of an education reform plan released Tuesday that would also model public schools after charter schools.

Kashkari's proposal would waive tuition for students pursuing a four-year degree in any science, technology, electronics, or math subject in exchange for a percentage of their future earnings after graduation.

It came as Kashkari, trailing a distant third in recent polls behind incumbent Jerry Brown and Republican Tea Party favorite Tim Donnelly, is struggling to add momentum to his campaign before the June primary.

"The point here is to reduce the barriers of student debt," Jessica Ng, a spokeswoman for Kashkari, said on Tuesday.

Ng said there was a shortage of students trained in science, technology, engineering and mathematics "and this is one way we can incentivize students."

Kashkari is a former Treasury Department official who served during the mortgage meltdown spanning the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

He hopes to unseat Brown, who is seeking an unprecedented fourth term at the helm of the most populous U.S. state.

To face Brown in November, Kashkari needs to come in ahead of Donnelly in the state's open primary, which allows the top two vote-getters to advance to the general election.

Kashkari, who is seeking support from business interests in the state and is more moderate than Donnelly on many social issues, has made jobs and education his campaign cornerstone.

He was widely believed to be a strong contender for moderate voters when he entered the race in January. But conservative party activists have rallied around Donnelly, pushing him way ahead of Kashkari in a Field poll released earlier this month.

Kashkari's tuition program draws inspiration from a similar exemption program in Oregon, Ng said.

Ng said his proposal for public schools also draws on the education policies of former GOP Florida Governor Jeb Bush, whose administration spearheaded a plan to tie schools' standardized test scores to state funding.

Under the current system, education funds are given to California's school districts and then handed over to individual schools.

Kashkari's program would instead provide funds directly to schools, Ng said, giving teachers, principals, and parents more control over how money is spent. The proposal would also allow public schools to function more like charter schools.

He has not discussed his plan with University of California or California State University leaders, Ng said.

UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein said there were "all sorts of problems" with the idea of trading tuition for future earnings, including the assumption that students who graduate with degrees in math or science always land high-paying jobs.

Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at UC and a former adviser to the California legislature, described the proposal as "essentially a way to subsidize the training costs for the electronics industry."

"We're going to have a shortage of family physicians, we desperately need bilingual teachers in classrooms, but rather than focus on those needs he would prefer to subsidize the electronics industry," he said.

Read more:


Sonia Sotomayor Delivers Blistering Dissent Against Affirmative Action Ban

The Supreme Court upheld Michigan's ban on affirmative action Tuesday, but not without a blistering dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Sotomayor said the decision infringed upon groups' rights by allowing Michigan voters to change "the basic rules of the political process ... in a manner that uniquely disadvantaged racial minorities."

"In my colleagues' view, examining the racial impact of legislation only perpetuates racial discrimination," Sotomayor added. "This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society."

The court's 6-2 decision upheld a voter-approved change to the Michigan state Constitution that prevents public colleges from using race as a factor in its admissions. As the AP noted, the ruling provides a boost for other education-related affirmative action bans in California and Washington state.

ABC News pointed out that Sotomayor has been open about the role affirmative action has played in her personal life. In her memoir "My Beloved World," Sotomayor wrote that it "opened doors" for her.

"But one thing has not changed: to doubt the worth of minority students’ achievement when they succeed is really only to present another face of the prejudice that would deny them a chance even to try," she wrote.

Pushing the little-known Latino Generation into the public sphere

I participated in the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books held April 12-13 at the University of Southern California. I was on a panel titled "Exercising Your Voice" with co-panelists Tom Hayden and Astra Taylor. Each of us has recent books or books about to be released. I spoke about my new book, The Latino Generation: Voices of the New America, published by the University of North Carolina Press. I introduced my book by saying that it had to be contextualized by certain facts.

First, Latinos became the largest ethnic group in California in April, exceeding those of white European descent. Latinos now compose 40 percent of the state, the most populous one in the nation. Second, Latinos today represent the largest ethnic/race minority in the country, with approximately 57 million Latinos, or 17 percent of the total population. And third, by 2050, Latinos will constitute one out of every three Americans. The Latino Generation is part of this demographic reality.

But despite these numbers, Latinos are still a very little-known group. Most Americans have no clue about the Latino experience. As a result, there are many misconceptions and stereotypes about Latinos. Some believe Latinos are a recent group and the last of the immigrants. Others believe Latinos are very different from earlier immigrants, especially those from Europe. Some think it is much more difficult, if not impossible, to integrate Latinos because they don't really want to become Americans; instead, they want to just live among themselves, speak their own language and practice their own culture. And some of the more racist in the country still believe the older stereotype about Mexicans being lazy, given to drinking, and dirty ("dirty Mexican"). But these are all wrong.

Latinos have been very much a part of this country. Why is the book festival held in Los Angeles? Did the name of this city come with the Mayflower? The fact is that everything from Texas to California at one time was part of the Spanish colonial empire. Spanish settlements in what later became part of the United States began in New Mexico in 1598. After Mexican independence, this northern area -- El Norte -- became a part of the new Mexican nation.

However, the United States with its ideology of Manifest Destiny coveted this territory, provoked a war of choice with Mexico, and conquered the area in the U.S.-Mexico War (1846-48). This transferred the present states of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and California to the United States. The Mexicans living in those states were extended American citizenship and became the first Mexican-Americans.

At the turn of the century, mass Mexican immigration to the U.S. began. Between 1900 and 1930, more than a million Mexican immigrants entered the United States to work on the railroads and in agriculture, mining and urban industries in the Southwest and Midwest. The migration has continued, with the exception of the Great Depression years in the 1930s, until now. As immigrants, Mexicans and their Mexican-American children and grandchildren have worked, worked, and worked. They could not afford to be lazy. Economically, Mexican-Americans and other Latino groups have contributed immensely to this country through their hard but mostly cheap labor. Latinos have also contributed their rich cultures to the American cultural mosaic.

Latinos have further struggled to be integrated into American society. They have acculturated by becoming bilingual and bicultural, and some are solely English-speaking and largely influenced by American mass culture. Combatting racism and other forms of discrimination, Latinos have a long history of civil rights struggles with the aim of integrations. Despite being considered foreign, strangers and aliens, Latinos shed their blood as American soldiers in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Gulf War, and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. In World War II, perhaps as many as half a million Latinos fought in the military -- not for the Mexican army, but for the U.S. Army.

Yet most other Americans know little about this history. It's not integrated into American history, certainly not at the K-12 level. I have students of every ethnic background, including Latinos, who know nothing or little of this Latino experience. Then you have the lingering misconceptions and stereotypes I referred to earlier.

So how does my book on the Latino Generation fit into all of this? I wrote this book in part to put a human face to this experience and to present the new voices of America to a country that knows so little about its neighbors.

This lack of knowledge has in part been responsible for the intense new nativism over the last several decades aimed mostly at Latino immigrants. Some clamor that we have lost control of the border as hordes of illegal aliens invade our country. They link Latino immigrants with crime, drugs, rape and other horrible accusations. They believe Mexicans in the U.S. want to work to regain the Southwest back for Mexico. "I want my country back!" the tea party types cry out, meaning that in part they decry the growing number of Latinos in the U.S.

In all this, Latinos are spoken about in the abstract, as if they are not even human. But they are. My book on the contemporary Latino Generation counters these misguided and even racist views by showing how young Latinos today are very much human, very much American, very much desirous of integration, yet very proud of their ethnic heritage and very much the voice of the new America.

This book is composed of 13 oral histories of some of my former students at the University of California, Santa Barbara during the first decade of this century. They are part of the millennial generation of Latinos. Demographically, they are the children of the new immigrants from Mexico and other parts of Latin America and the Central American political refugees, all who began entering the country in the 1970s and 1980s.

All of my former students were mostly born in the 1980s, but they are brought together as a generational cohort by other factors, as well. Their immigrant parents are the result of the new globalized economy that uprooted people in developing nations for cheap labor in the new American deindustrialized economy, which requires large amounts of unskilled service workers to serve the better-educated and high-tech workers and professionals at the other end of the economic spectrum.

The new Latino Generation is affected by the fact that members of this generation have come of age at a time when Latinos have become the largest minority group in the country. Being cognizant of this has empowered them. The Latino Generation is also the product of new technologies that have led to greater communication between the different Latino groups, which has helped produce a new consciousness as Latinos. This generation more than previous Latino ones has been affected by an almost permanent neonativism as they have grown up, and this has affected their sense of empowering themselves to combat this anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment.

And despite the nativist opposition, members of the Latino Generation have experienced more educational mobility, including going to college and graduate and professional schools, than any other previous Latino generation. The Latino Generation is also affected by the significant and unprecedented rise of Latino political power, and as they mature, members of the new generation are contributing to this and beginning to lead it. These factors, along with others I explain in the introduction to my book, characterize the Latino Generation and mark it a distinct generation.

My book is a case study of the Latino Generation, which is also a national generation with many of the same experiences and characteristics as my former students. These 13 stories are wonderful expressions of this generation. Each represents a distinct individual experience, even though shared historical experiences connect them. For example, all of them are children of immigrants. A few arrived as immigrant babies or young children. They attest to the hard work of their parents. They also recognize their parents' support of education for their children. The stories address the acculturation or transculturation as these second-generation Latinos become bilingual and bicultural. And they reveal young Latinos who want to better themselves as Americans and want to have as much access to educational mobility as possible. They achieve this through their hard work despite many difficulties in their public schools. They are, in the end, achievers, and not only have they graduated from college, but they have gone on to successful professional careers. In their stories, they come across as hardworking young Latino Americans who are pursuing their dreams and aspirations and who want to make this country a better and more democratic one. They are the Latino Generation and the voices of the new America.



GOP Lawmakers Fought To Keep These People Uninsured. Now They Have To Rely On Hope.

WASHINGTON -- Eight million Americans are insured through the Affordable Care Act's exchanges, President Barack Obama announced Thursday. Wendy TwarDokus wishes she were one of them.

The 60-year-old former traveling hospice nurse describes her health as generally "average," but she has a few complaints, including a prolapsed bladder. It sometimes protrudes outside her body when she picks up something heavy -- like the saddles she used to lift when she rode horses. She can't afford the surgery to treat it.

TwarDokus lives in Quinlan, Texas, a small town east of Dallas. Her husband, at age 71, is retired and covered by Medicare. But she's been uninsured since her nursing contracts dried up in the aftermath of the economic collapse, leaving her unemployed.

"When the website opened, I thought, 'OK, let's find out. Maybe there's something there for me,'" she said. With only her husband's monthly Social Security check of $850 for income, however, she couldn't afford the cheapest plan she could find, which cost $567 a month.

The Affordable Care Act was supposed to make sure that lower-income people like TwarDokus could access health insurance. But because many states refused to implement a key ACA benefit, there's a gap in the coverage.

For people making between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, the health care law provides tax credits to help pay for private insurance. TwarDokus and her husband don't qualify for that aid because their income is significantly less than 100 percent of the poverty level for two people.

The ACA was designed with an answer for that: It provides federal funding to expand Medicaid to adults making 133 percent or less of the federal poverty guideline. The federal government promised to pick up the full tab for the program until 2016, with states contributing 10 percent by 2020. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that the Medicaid expansion was optional. Twenty-four states, mainly driven by Republican political leaders, have chosen not to adopt it, with those GOP leaders expressing fears that the costs would be too heavy.

Under their unimproved Medicaid programs, many of those states, including Texas, set severe restrictions on which adults can qualify for Medicaid, generally excluding those without children or disabilities and setting income limits well below the federal poverty level for others.

"I'm thankful that I have not been ill other than the colds and the sniffles, but I need that bladder looked at. It's bad," TwarDokus said. "But I don't qualify. Going to the website was like pounding my head into a wall."

With little hope of finding a new job in her area, she's resigned herself to wait the five years until she qualifies for Medicare, depending on her own medical knowledge to notice early signs of infection and drinking plenty of cranberry juice.

TwarDokus is among an estimated 5.7 million Americans stuck in a coverage gap: making too little to qualify for a subsidy that helps pay for private insurance, but too much to qualify for Medicaid in states that chose not to expand their programs.

Earlier this year, HuffPost invited readers who fall into that gap to share their stories. Across the nation, they revealed medical problems left to fester amidst the political bickering over Obamacare. A Florida woman recounted borrowing thyroid medication from her mother to manage an illness she can't afford to treat. A young North Carolina woman described any medical care as a "debt sentence" for her and her boyfriend, neither of whom can afford to treat wisdom teeth abscesses or cavities. A Wisconsin waitress who's been putting off a hysterectomy and back surgery says she's no longer able to lift trays at work.

More than a fifth of the Americans who fall into the coverage gap, like TwarDokus, live in Texas, where non-disabled adults without dependents aren't eligible for Medicaid no matter how little they make, and parents must earn less than 19 percent of the poverty level to get that help. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates more than a million Texans are stuck in the gap.

When she worked as a hospice nurse, TwarDokus saw the harm lack of insurance could do, tending to terminally ill patients who hadn't received medical care until it was too late.

"I see the dying part of it," she said. "They come in mostly as charity cases. ... Those who need the help desperately will die before they get it."

Another 7 percent of those stuck in the coverage gap live in North Carolina -- at least 300,000 residents, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Among them is Kelly Beckwith, a 32-year-old mother of three who works from home in Concord, N.C. She started trying to sign up for health insurance last October, but wasn't able to complete an application. By the time she was able to apply in December, her husband had lost his job. Even without his income, she and her husband still exceeded the Medicaid limits in their state, but they no longer made enough to qualify for an ACA subsidy. Beckwith applied as though he were still employed.

"The health insurance we have with the subsidy is much better than what we had with my previous employer, and it doesn't cost as much," Beckwith said. "But the fact that I had to lie to even get it, tell them that I made more money than we actually make right now?"

Beckwith hopes that her husband will find a job soon, raising their income or, ideally, giving them employer-sponsored health insurance. Her family could face consequences for lying about their income and may be forced to repay the government for the subsidy -- but with thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills and a husband with Type 1 diabetes, she sees little alternative. "I feel like it's the state's fault, because the state had the option to take the Medicaid expansion and it didn't," she said.

North Carolina's Republican governor, Pat McCrory, isn't up for reelection until 2016, but Medicaid expansion could become an issue in other races. The campaign for embattled Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) says it plans to link challenger Thom Tillis' opposition to the expansion with his backing from the Koch brothers-founded Americans for Prosperity.

State-level political fights over the issue are common. It has become a flashpoint within the Republican Party, with tea party groups challenging GOP politicians, like Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who backed some form of Medicaid expansion.

Yet Americans broadly support Medicaid expansion, even in states where it wasn't adopted and even as the Affordable Care Act as a whole remains unpopular. In Virginia, 56 percent of voters, including majorities in both parties, back expansion. In Texas, 67 percent support the option to expand Medicaid. Liberal groups have touted internal polls finding that the issue could hurt Republicans in midterm swing states.

In late March, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who made expanding Medicaid a plank of his 2013 campaign, failed to reach an agreement with the state's Republican-controlled House of Delegates for a two-year expansion to cover the nearly 200,000 Virginia residents who fall in the gap. Republicans in the state say they fear the federal government will renege on its promise to cover the expansion, leaving the state responsible for costs it can ill afford. Virginia's Democratic-controlled Senate has since passed a budget that includes the expansion, but the House is unlikely to follow suit.

As the politicians argue, Sara Philbrook, a 31-year-old from Collinsville, Va., has watched her medical bills mount. She qualified for Medicaid while pregnant with her second child last year, allowing her to finally get her asthma under control. But six weeks after giving birth in September, she was cut off. In Virginia, pregnant women are eligible for Medicaid if they live in households with incomes up to 143 percent of the poverty rate, but parents living with minor children qualify with incomes only up to 33 percent of the poverty rate. Her husband's part-time job, working with at-risk children, put them over the line for Medicaid, but beneath the level needed for a ACA tax credit. Although Philbrook's two children are still covered by Medicaid, she is going without insurance.

The loss of her coverage, however, came at an unfortunate time. She spent most of the winter suffering from kidney issues and a severe allergic reaction that led to several hospitalizations and more than $30,000 in medical bills. Her family is helping to pay some of the bills, but she isn't sure how she'll handle the rest.

"It's tough. I feel guilty. On the other hand, going to the ER also was lifesaving," Philbrook said.

Doctors urged her to apply for insurance through the new health care exchange site. When she received a card in the mail, she thought she'd qualified, but after attempting to use it at a doctor's appointment, she got a call from the office informing her that she was actually signed up for Plan First, a separate program covering only family planning services.

"It was embarrassing," Philbrook said. "I haven't had the easiest time having kids. We wanted at least another one or two kids, and it's just a slap in the face to me."

She and her husband, both from the Northeast, are considering a move back to find better jobs or at least better benefits.

"I push to keep healthy. Just bad luck and bad timing for illnesses," she said. "To be able to get Medicaid would help so much. I'm already in debt. I will probably die before my debts are paid off. I just want to see my girls grow up."


More Articles...

National Weather

National Weather

 Click on map for forecast


When it comes to the quality of health care you receive, are you better off, worse off, or about the same as last year at this time?


Receive occasional news and updates from by entering your name and email address below. This information is held in privacy and will not be shared with any third party. You may unsubscribe at any time.
First Name (*)
Please type your full name.
Last Name
Invalid Input
E-mail (*)
Invalid email address.