The 2022 midterm elections are a critical chance to elect leaders who will fight for our climate, air, land, water, and communities. And young voters feel the stakes of this fight in a unique way.

Erika Guardado Lara, 19 years old, is a student at Metro State University who lives in Aurora. She is part of Protégete’s Youth Promotores program and is a peer mentor with Journey through Our Heritage.

She shares why she’s voting this November—and why you should, too.

Conservation Colorado: What does the ability to vote mean to you? 

Erika Guardado Lara: The ability to vote is a big privilege because my family migrated from El Salvador and Mexico and came into a whole new culture, where they had to assimilate and learn new ways to live in the United States, to give my siblings and I an education. That really pushed me not to take it for granted as a first generation voter in this country. It saddens me that some of my family members feel they can’t have a voice in the system because they can’t vote. It makes me want to learn more about voting and how my vote can make a difference with my community. I want to find ways I can help my family and friends who cannot vote to be able to use their voice so they can make a difference within their communities by either sharing the importance of voting or getting involved in civic engagement.

What are the biggest challenges or barriers you’ve faced in navigating elections and voting?

I feel like the biggest challenge is the lack of knowledge of how to vote and where to find information about what’s on the ballot. It’s a continuous cycle in our Latinx community because many of our parents were born in other countries where they didn’t have a voice, or where the government was against them. And if you’ve seen the government in one way your whole life, you expect the same treatment. So my generation wasn’t provided with resources to learn about voting. And I feel like the education system is failing a lot of students of color in not providing that in the curriculum. So when they grow up and turn 18 years old and get that ballot in the mailbox, they’re just like, what the heck is this? Another way the education system is failing students of color is through the school to prison pipeline, which can eventually lead students to lose voting rights before the age of 18.

Another thing that affects the Latinx community is the language barrier. Especially back when I was young, there was not a lot of information available in Spanish, so how were my parents supposed to teach me about voting? Growing up, I struggled with this too, because sometimes it feels like you have to speak perfect English and have a big vocabulary to be able to participate and vote.

What are some of the issues you’re most concerned about that you will be thinking about when you vote?

I want to vote for better immigration policies, because the system is very corrupt, and the Latinx community is really affected by that. Many families are working hard, paying taxes, doing as much as they can and have no path to citizenship even though they have been living here for years. My mom is always talking about how she wants to visit El Salvador again, but if she leaves this country she can never come back. We’ve seen many family members pass away and have had to attend funerals through Facebook live. My mom doesn’t even get to mourn properly. With voting, I want to find a way to bring my voice into this and do something about it.

What gives you hope for our future?

It seems like just when our government takes steps forward, we then go backwards. It sometimes makes you want to lose hope. But when you start working within the community and hearing peoples’ stories about how they’re fighting the system, you have hope again. Sometimes we tend to stay within our own little world and care only about the issues that are affecting us, but we don’t realize how our actions affect the people around us and how we can damage other oppressed communities. So if we just support each other and each others’ struggles, we can become united and stronger. We are the voice of this country and we have the power to create change and fight against social injustice.

What motivates you to vote, and why should others vote, too? 

I could have just stayed ignorant and thought, “Oh, what’s the point of voting? I’ve been discriminated against my whole life, and the government doesn’t care about us.” But with voting and civic engagement, what matters is how the people come together and fight for social justice. There have been many events throughout history where people of color fight back and change policy to respect their human rights. Being the oldest out of 6 kids, has made me realize how I want my siblings to look up to me as a role model and learn through me the importance of voting and being a part of civic engagement. 

If I shut down and think voting doesn’t matter, I’m letting down the younger generations. It starts with me being able to break the cycle and say, “We have a voice in this country. We’re just not getting the resources that we deserve.”