Election 2022

She Turned Her Quinceañera Into A Get Out The Vote Party

Dress code: Ball gown, tiara, and suffragette sash.

Originally Published: 
Lindsay Hattrick/Elite Daily; Rhyma Castillo; Shutterstock

Cocooned in a puff of sparkling blue tulle, Eulogia Rodriguez, 14, sits on the floor of her San Antonio home, reaching over her ornate ball gown to tighten the laces on her scuffed Air Force 1s. It’s not quite her birthday (that’s still a few weeks out), but Eulogia is preparing to celebrate turning 15 with a quinceañera, a Latine tradition that honors a girl’s transition from “childhood” into “womanhood.” She and 14 other girls are using this powerful milestone moment to encourage young Latine voters to make their voices heard at the polls — especially considering the upcoming midterm elections.

Eulogia is part of Quince to the Polls, an event run by nonprofit Jolt Initiative’s program Poder Quince, through which girls turning 15 can register to use their quinceañera celebration to promote voting in local, state, and national elections. For this year’s 2022 midterm elections, Poder Quince worked with Harness, a nonprofit organization co-founded by actors and activists America Ferrera and Wilmer Valderrama, to host a “Get Out the Vote Parade Festival” on Oct. 29 during the first week of early voting in Texas. The event, which traveled about a mile and a half from a press conference at San Antonio’s Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center to a quinceañera (aka quince) festival at the city’s Collins Garden Park, included Eulogia and 14 other girls speaking out about the importance of civic engagement to encourage their families, friends, and community members to cast their ballots in the 2022 midterm elections.

Rhyma Castillo

Standing in the sunny driveway of their Texas home, Eulogia and her mother, Guillermina Cepeda, 52, cheerfully fuss over her hair, dress, and nails. Cepeda lifts her arms to place a delicate tiara on her daughter’s head, and Eulogia holds her tulle skirts down in the wind. Her ensemble is complete: She looks like a princess. “The big dress was like something I've always wanted,” she says, emphasizing how it’s one of the most important aspects of a quince — other than, of course, “celebrating with your family, and the meaning of becoming a woman.”

As a teenage girl growing up in Texas, Eulogia has begun to realize that transitioning from “girlhood” to “womanhood” is more complicated than it might seem: When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, she thought about how many people were going to be affected. “Women should have their own choice to their bodies,” she says. She speaks quietly, but her words seem resolute: “It’s their body, and nobody should have control over that.” The gravity of the moment sunk in. At only 15, Eulogia will be old enough to be considered a “woman,” and yet, she won’t be allowed to make decisions about her own body in Texas.

This is part of the reason why, even though she isn’t old enough to cast her own ballot, she’s encouraging young people in her community to make their voices heard in the 2022 midterm elections. “I feel like I could help make a change, even if it's just a little bit,” she says. She believes just getting involved can drive movement. According to the NALEO Education Fund, a nonprofit organization that advocates for Latine participation in the U.S. political process, around 40% of Texas’ population is Latine. As of March 2022, people aged 18 to 24 make up around 17% of all registered Latine voters in Texas — compared to only 9% of non-Latine voters in the same age group. Furthermore, around 1 million Hispanic people all over the nation turn 18 each year, per Unidos U.S., a nonprofit organization working toward expanding civil rights for Latine communities in the United States.

“A lot of [young people] don't get informed, because they feel like they're not educated enough to actually vote, or they wait until they're 18 [to] start actually learning,” Eulogia says. “It should be different,” she adds. “Just get involved.”

Young people are gathering together, and they’re already hearing, listening, remembering, and becoming a little more interested.

As she’s grown older, she’s begun to realize how important politics are. “It could affect me in the future, because it's just my daily life,” she says. “It could affect inflation, or it could affect education, [or] housing.”

These kinds of real-life concerns have been the backdrop to her childhood. “My mom immigrated from Mexico to the United States, which was really hard economically,” she says. She remembers how her mother had to work long hours every day to keep her family clothed, fed, and housed. “We couldn't really afford much, so she tried giving us as much as she could,” she adds. “She really struggled mentally, physically, [and] economically, and she didn't show it … She always showed the happy lady [version of herself].”

According to San Antonio Councilwoman Teri Castillo (no relation to this author), who represents one of the city’s most economically underserved districts, Eulogia’s family experience is common: An October 2020 study from Ipsos and FiveThirtyEight found that several external constraints, including finding child care, transportation, and not being able to take time off work, can prevent voters from casting their ballots. “There [are] reasons why sometimes individuals aren’t making it out to the polls,” she says. “It’s not that our constituents don’t care to participate,” she adds. “They’re busy working, taking care of families, and don’t necessarily have the capacity to make it to the polls.”

Cepeda beams with pride when speaking about her daughter’s activism. “[Eulogia] has been very responsible from a young age,” she says. It moves her to watch her daughter’s enthusiasm — inspired by her own example — encourage other young people to take action. “She gets involved in all that is important, things that many young people ignore,” Cepeda says. “The young people are gathering together, and they’re already hearing, listening, remembering, and becoming a little more interested,” she says, noting how important it is for teens to be active members in their communities.

Rhyma Castillo

According to a September 2019 study from researchers at several Midwest and Southwestern colleges, including the University of Texas, researchers found that over 90% of children aged 5 to 11 expressed a marked interest in politics, but concluded that these children needed better education from both parents and schools to fill gaps in their knowledge. “Right now, the kids are like little sponges,” Cepeda adds. “I want [Eulogia] to be aware of what’s happening.”

Castillo agrees that when it comes to encouraging voting, waiting until teens turn 18 is too late. “We need to start having those conversations about the importance of civic engagement at [ages] 13, 10,” she says. “[Bring] your family to the polls; your nephews, your nieces,” she adds. “Let them know the power in the process of participating civically.”

The quinceañera celebrants are following that advice: As the girls boarded their colorful low-riders to be chauffeured to their destination, relatives and loved ones stood by to offer hugs, kisses, and take pictures of their grand send-off. Eulogia was accompanied by her mom, who tried her hardest to neatly arrange her daughter’s quince gown for the ride. In the car’s back seat, Eulogia smiled through the cloud of her dress, watching out the open window as the quinceañeras paraded down San Antonio’s Brazos Street.

Rhyma Castillo

On stage at Collins Garden Park, Eulogia stood alongside her peers and spoke about the importance of encouraging young people to take action, even if they aren’t old enough to vote. “Not a lot of teenagers know what goes into voting, or how issues impact them in their daily lives, so it’s just a matter of educating them so that in the future, they feel well-prepared and confident in voting,” she says. But that can change.

“We can make a difference in our communities and help determine the state’s future,” she adds. “Together, we can mobilize our families, our friends, our neighbors, and communities, to get out the vote and transform Texas one vote at a time.”

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