Eva Longoria on Election 2020, Latinx Power, and Why Voting Matters
Eva Longoria talks about politics with an urgency you might wish more politicians possessed. Best known for her role on Desperate Housewives, the actress-turned-advocate has a lengthy résumé of philanthropy and political activism under her belt. If Marco Rubio needs a refresher, it includes: being a top fundraiser and cochair of former President Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign; cofounding the Latino Victory Fund and, most recently, She Se Puede; putting 2,100-plus school-age Latinas through STEM programs; and disbursing almost $2 million in loans to entrepreneurs.
Over the past decade, Longoria has in no small part demonstrably bettered the lives of US-based Latinas. Through programs led by the Eva Longoria Foundation, her initiatives have improved a reported 90 percent of students' grades in math and science, created or retained 600-plus jobs to date, and improved "confidence in communicating opinions and ideas" for a reported 79 percent of participants, who have shown improved rates of high-school graduation and college attendance.
At 45, Longoria appears as engaged as ever. Dialing in from Mexico for our Zoom call, she exuded an energy you can't help but admire (and share in, if she has anything to say about it). She's here to get the word out that this election year, Latinas hold all the cards: "And they don't know it."
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
POPSUGAR: We know all that's at stake this election year, especially as it applies to Latinx people: everything from heightened ICE activity, to human rights abuses at the border, to housing insecurity, to widespread lack of access to healthcare — especially right now in the midst of COVID-19. I know you've been vocal about the importance of voting, especially among young Latinas with the She Se Puede initiative. So, why vote?
Eva Longoria: Why what?
PS: Why vote?
EL: Why vote? [laughs] I don't even understand the question, you know what I mean? I feel like you're right to ask it because so many young people, so many people from my community are like, why should I vote? And you want to rip your hair out.
"Voter apathy is probably one of the things that makes me most angry because we get to decide who's in office. These politicians work for us."
In the voting booth is the only time we are all equal. It doesn't matter your socioeconomic status, it doesn't matter your gender, it doesn't matter your race, it doesn't matter your sexuality. Your vote is the same as my vote: it weighs the same, it matters the same. And so, especially as a Latino and as a woman, there are people who died for us to have the right to vote. We stand on their shoulders today, and to abuse that right, or to not even acknowledge the importance of it, is really disheartening. Voter apathy is probably one of the things that makes me most angry because we get to decide who's in office. These politicians work for us. The most important part of the democratic process is the citizen. And so, I encourage everybody to educate themselves on issues, on candidates, on what you need to vote — where's your mail-in ballot, what's your polling place, what identification you need — there's so much we need to do. Take three people with you. Know it's not just about you. Share that information with your family, with your friends, with your neighbors, with your community, and it really makes a difference. We want everybody to be a multiplier, so if you have the information, share it: multiply that effect by five.
PS: In an interview with Refinery29, you addressed Latina voters, saying: "Not only are you powerful, but think about how you want to use and believe in that power." How do you go about improving Latina voter turnout?
"We need to convince people to get excited about the change that they want to see, and then once they are excited, make sure they have access, because voter suppression is real."
EL: Right now, we did some studies and we found that the margin of victory in a lot of these [races] is the Latina vote. Not even Lati-no vote: it's the Lati-na vote, the women of the Latina community. And they don't know it. We were like, how do you not know you are the difference? You make the difference. So we want to A) tell them that, B) make sure they believe in that power, and then C) use that power. There's always been an enthusiasm and motivation gap, where people just aren't that excited to vote. So we need to convince people to get excited about the change that they want to see, and then once they are excited, make sure they have access, because voter suppression is real.
PS: It absolutely is.
EL: And we have to make sure that everyone has the information that they need in order to — once we get over the enthusiasm and motivation gap — turn out. And that's nonpartisan: that's everybody. Everybody needs to have a voice, and everybody needs to turn out. It goes beyond any [one] candidate: this is about our system of democracy in the world.
PS: In an op-ed for Time, you and Stacy Smith wrote that the work of challenging "false and damaging narratives about Latinos" in the media is a work in progress. You emceed this year's Democratic National Convention, and I couldn't help but think, this is what that work looks like. And in your career, you've become a bastion of representation in showing Latinos like us as flesh-and-blood people who run the gamut of emotions and aren't only confined to stereotypes. What does it mean to you, to represent Latinos to so many people?
"Representation matters because it not only educates communities about us: it educates our community about ourselves!"
EL: You know, this is why I started my production company. Representation matters because it not only educates communities about us: it educates our community about ourselves! If we constantly see negative portrayals of ourselves in media, then we start to believe that that's all we can be. So I started my production company — directing, and producing, and writing — because I wanted to tell stories of the heroes of our community and show the success stories: the inspirational stories.
There was a study that came out by Stacy Smith at USC Annenberg Institute that said there is an erasure of Latinos happening. It's not a lack of representation: you are literally erasing us from media when we don't show up in front of and behind the camera. And so, that's a problem, because we need representation across all industries: we need it in government, we need it in corporations, we need it in business, we need it in communities, we need it on our school boards, we need it in our workplaces — and we need it in media.