Civics on the Move: The Politics of Latinx Civic Integration

Published date01 January 2023
AuthorChristian O. Paiz,Lisa García Bedolla,Kris D. Gutiérrez
Date01 January 2023
Subject MatterCivic Empowerment of Underrepresented Communities
192 ANNALS, AAPSS, 705, January 2023
DOI: 10.1177/00027162231190530
Civics on the
Move: The
Politics of
Latinx Civic
Throughout the U.S., Latinx communities represent a
growing and critical segment of local, regional, and
national electorates, but they are underrepresented at
the polls. Their political disengagement stems from
their historical sociopolitical marginalization and a lack
of investment in their political integration. To foster
more civic engagement among Latinx students, we
propose recognizing their communities’ past and pre-
sent “lived civics,” which are the actions that address
community concerns but are often forgotten or not
considered as political. The conception of lived civics
that we propose provides a road map for fostering
Latinx agency and political efficacy, and our “civics on
the move” framework aims to strengthen democratic
institutions, ensuring that they represent the needs of
this critical segment of the U.S. population.
Keywords: Latinx politics and history; lived civics;
emancipatory pedagogies
Whenever men and women straighten their
backs up, they are going somewhere, because a
man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.
—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., April 3, 1968
Christian O. Paiz is an associate professor in ethnic
studies at the University of California, Berkeley. His
book, The Strikers of Coachella: A Rank-and-File
History of the UFW Movement, follows the lives of
Filipino and Mexican farmworkers in the United Farm
Worker movement.
Lisa García Bedolla is the University of California,
Berkeley’s, vice provost for graduate studies and dean
of the Graduate Division and a professor in the School
of Education. She uses social science to reveal the
causes of educational and political inequalities in the
United States. She has published six books, including
Mobilizing Inclusion: Transforming the Electorate
through Get-Out-the-Vote Campaigns.
Kris D. Gutiérrez is associate dean of the School of
Education, University of California, Berkeley. She is
also Carol Liu Professor of Education and brings exper-
tise in the learning sciences, literacy, educational pol-
icy, and qualitative and design-based approaches to
inquiry. Gutiérrez is a coauthor of Learning and
Expanding with Activity Theory.
Every electoral cycle, political pundits lament the state of Latinx political engage-
ment by accusing Latinx communities of apathy, disinterest, and outright lazi-
ness, as if, to use Dr. Martin Luther King’s quote above, Latinx communities,
with backs still bent, have nowhere to go. But what if the definition of civic
engagement was broader, encompassing more than just voting behavior, and
including any collective activity Latinx community members engage in to solve a
community problem? What would Latinx political engagement look like then?
And what does this viewpoint imply for U.S. civics education, Latinx students,
and the future of our democratic institutions? In this article, we argue that a
more capacious and critical account of civics in the United States will help us
recognize the rich array of past and present Latinx civic participation and help us
empower our students to address pressing civic issues.
Building on the “lived civics” scholarship (Cohen, Kahne, and Marshall 2018;
Santiago, de los Ríos, and Gutiérrez 2021), we understand Latinx lived civics as
encompassing all actions that sustain Latinx life and address community con-
cerns, values, and goals. This expansive definition of civics includes everyday
forms of community sustenance and empowerment, such as transnational mon-
etary remittances, cultural and linguistic affirmations and celebrations, reli-
gious associations, and various mutual aid networks. Lived civics is thus not
limited only to civic behaviors more traditionally associated with political cam-
paigns. Instead, it is a collection of informal and formal practices that have
direct and indirect political significance to Latinx communities and to broader
social structures inside and outside the U.S. We understand Latinx lived civics
as more expansive, and still inclusive of, the behaviors that political pundits
often associate with civic engagement. Latinx communities, we argue, can lev-
erage existing forms of community empowerment to effect political change in
the U.S. One contemporary example comes from Latinx students, especially
young women, who turn coming-of-age celebrations (quinceañeras) into family-
and community-based voter registration drives. The celebration itself requires
significant community participation, mutuality, and solidarity, and thus it repre-
sents a form of lived civics among participating community members. As Latinx
students are teaching us, it can also facilitate more political behaviors as it moves
into new spaces, such as the celebration’s network entering electoral realms by
way of newly registered voters.
A Latinx lived civics framework, in other words, attends to how people live
culturally across a range of settings and how people build civics repertoires as
they “move” across a range of practices and concerns. With this broader defini-
tion of civics, we identify a thriving Latinx civics in both the past and present, and
we stress its value for Latinx communities in articulating and achieving political
demands in the present and in the future. We also identify the historical and
contemporary role of social and political inequality in shaping U.S. civic partici-
pation and recognize that Latinx communities’ everyday forms of political
engagement are, in part, a response to these social and political inequalities.
Making visible this shared collective organization and history and using it to
engage students in the movement building already happening in their

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