photo: Julie Carmen

The Latino vote in the 2016 presidential election will be historical because, according to Pew Research, a record 27.3 million Latinos will be eligible to vote. And there's a very simple reason why Latinos are getting politically involved more than ever before: His name is Donald Trump. But back in 1992, it was a different story. There was no Voto Latino, or other organizations that were specifically established to garner the Latino vote, but then actress Julie Carmen came along and changed all of that. 

Although Carmen — who starred in a number of film and TV roles, including The Milagro Beanfield War, ER, and NYPD Blue — was somewhat involved in politics while attending college, it was during the '92 presidential election between Bill Clinton and George Bush that she became proactive about the Latino vote. 

"I became deeply concerned about the direction of our democracy," Carmen says. "It was also around the same time that I became pregnant, and, bingo, my stake in the future sky-rocketed — it was time to act."
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photo: Julie Carmen

She, along with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), took initiative to get this movement started, and invited as many Latino VIPs as they could find.  

"Everyone made a pact to work together," Carmen says. "Government and Hollywood had a Kumbaya moment of Latino togetherness. Bel Hernandez was just launching Latin Heat, the first English-language Latino Entertainment magazine. The Los Angeles Theatre Center opened and a few hit movies with Latino actors and actresses were being noticed." 

As Carmen said, this period in Hollywood was a special time for Latinos, especially with the rich diverse arts movement thanks to comedy groups such as Culture ClashLatins Anonymous, and the television show In Living Color

This period proved to help Carmen seize this moment for a great cause, however, she and her crew faced plenty of obstacles while setting up the voting public service announcements. Money and technology were not as accessible as they are today. 

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"I pitched the idea of an all-Latin cast, but even Rock the Vote wouldn’t produce it," Carmen says. "But once it was complete my friend Patrick Lippert, who was the executive director of Rock the Vote, added both our PSAs to their master reel. That’s why the two spots ran nationally on every network. In those days, networks were obligated to give some free time to public service announcements, but Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP) covered the costs."

The result of Carmen's hard work paid off in unexpected ways. Both of her PSA's won CLIO awards and, more importantly, Latinos did indeed go out and vote in the '92 and '94 elections. 

"Hearing the President of [Southwest Voter Registration Education Project] Antonio Gonzalez say that our spots got a million Latinos to register and vote in 1992 — a million voters. Do you know what that meant? At the time there were only about 13 million Latinos here — in the whole country."

According to a study titled the "Latino Voter Registration Dilemma," in 1992 there were more than 5 million Latino voters registered, while only 4.2 million actually voted. In 1996, there were 6.5 million Latino voters registered, though only 4.9 voted. And the increase in Latino voter registration continues to grow. More and more Latinos want to vote this year and are making it their No. 1 priority to make sure they're eligible, so much so that figures from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services show a "14.5 percent jump in naturalization applications in June-December of 2015."

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When Carmen heard those encouraging words from Gonzalez, and that she in fact made a difference, she decided to launch another campaign for the following election in '96. 

For that PSA, she only wanted Latina entertainers and politicians to be featured in the spot as a way to shine the light on her colleagues and peers. The PSA featured a slew of talented and powerful Latinas including Jennifer Lopez, actresses Raquel Welch and the late Lupe Ontiveros (The Goonies, Real Women Have Curves), and former member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Gloria Molina

Carmen, who's still very active as an actress, her most recent film Dawn Patrol said that today's Latino movement is very much invigorated with that same drive and passion that was in place in the '90s.

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"There was once a time when Latinos and many groups of people were marginalized, but today I see far more Latinos and all varieties of people graduating college, taking the LSATs, attending nursing and medical school, holding high government positions and teaching our children," Carmen says. "It’s a time of a vibrant social democracy."