Junior political science major Eric Diaz joined the Young Democrats at the University of Texas-Pan American after attending his first meeting two years ago.
"I was pretty amazed with what the organization was doing," the 23-year-old said. "I went back, was elected treasurer and now I am the president. We have a lot planned for the future."
Diaz is one of the 30 members of the Young Democrats, a student group advocating the importance of voting and the values of the Democratic Party. They also provide information to students about candidates of local, state and national elections, Diaz said.
Though he wants to educate as many people as possible about the importance of voting, the Reynosa-born Diaz -- a permanent U.S. resident -- is ineligible to vote himself.
"It's funny, right? I'm not the only one in the Young Democrats who can't vote. There's another student also," said Diaz, who hopes to earn his citizenship in time for Election Day in November. "We do it because we're passionate about it."
To educate students about upcoming local elections, the Young Democrats have organized events on campus, including April's candidate fair.
"We brought almost 50 local candidates to come speak to UTPA students about their campaigns and platforms," Diaz said, and more than 1,000 students attended. "It was a great turnout."
This Thursday, the Young Democrats are hosting a debate between Terry Canales and Agustin Hernandez Jr., the Democratic contenders for state House District 40 who will face off in their party's primary runoff July 31.
"The reason this district is so important is because it represents UTPA," Diaz said. "We want to give students the opportunity to ask them any questions they want."
The Young Democrats plan to continue promoting the Democratic Party for the upcoming presidential election.
"We want to turn the state blue, but it also feels nice to participate in something like this and know you can make a difference," Diaz said.
The Promesa Project
In 2010, the voting rate among eligible Hispanics was 31 percent -- compared with 49 percent for non-Hispanic whites and 43 percent for blacks, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Raising the Hispanic voting rate is one of the goals of another pro-Democrat force at UTPA. The Promesa Project was created by the Texas Democratic Party to harness online and grass-roots techniques to recruit and engage young Latinos, according to a Jan. 19 news release.
The participating Democratic "messengers" were trained by experienced campaign professionals, according to the news release. Their goal is to register voters, recruit Latinos to the Democratic campaign and organize campus events.
The project encourages young Latinos to go home and spread the message of the Democratic Party to their families to raise the Latino voting rate.
Texas Democratic Party spokeswoman Rebecca Acuna said that "with any issue concerning Latinos, Democrats are better at helping them."
Acuna said the Young Democrats are doing "a wonderful thing."
"There are few places where there are concentrated populations of Latinos, and (UTPA) is one of those places," Acuna said, "so we need to do what we can to have Latinos vote."
Sandra Aguilar was hired by the Texas Democratic Party to spread the word for the Promesa Project at UTPA. Aguilar, who earned a bachelor's degree in sociology and a master's in education from UTPA, currently manages the Gear-Up grant for Santa Maria Independent School District.
"I want to help turn Texas into a blue state because I think it will help the quality of state education and other things," Aguilar said. The promise in the Promesa Project "is that you sign on with us and that you and your family are going to vote Democrat when it comes time to vote."
The Promesa Project will continue for the upcoming presidential election.
Aguilar has worked with the Young Democrats in different events, including April's candidate fair.
The Promesa Project and the Young Democrats share the same goal, Diaz said.
"We were aiming to educate Latinos between the ages of 18 and 25 who are not involved in politics and don't know everything about elections coming up," Aguilar said. "Latinos are important. The youth can make a difference."
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