A Leader for Latino Victory
Nathalie Rayes took charge of the nationwide Latino voting organization amid a year like no other, and put up records for turnout.
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Nathalie Rayes, the CEO and President of The Latino Victory Project, did not always know she would end up the leader of a major political organization, but she always knew she wanted to be a changemaker.
Rayes grew up in a small town in Venezuela and learned the values of working diligently towards a goal and serving one’s community from her father, a local business owner.
“My dad was a man that was very generous and kind and loved by the town people. And early on, he taught me the importance of work and work ethic and the importance of giving back to the community that he cares for tremendously,” Rayes told AL DÍA.
Rayes immigrated to the U.S. at the age of nine, settling into a very different environment in Los Angeles, California.
She quickly learned that this journey in a new country would prove to be difficult at first, as she did not yet speak English, but accepted she will have to work a little harder than her peers.
A year after moving to the states, Rayes lost her father, and her mother became a single parent to five children at the age of 37. The combination of immigrating at an early age, losing her father and watching her mother take on this incredible responsibility shaped Rayes into the person and leader she is today.
She always wanted to do good things and make a positive impact on her community, and reflected on the sacrifices and success of her parents to inspire her to move forward in her educational and professional careers.
“My parents sacrificed everything to migrate to the United States. My dad had a high school education, and my mother had a 10th grade education. I needed to make sure I did well for them and for me and for my community,” Rayes said.
She landed in politics almost by accident; it wasn’t her original trajectory. Rayes initially thought of becoming a lawyer to embark on her endeavor towards positive change by serving those who don’t have a voice.
She completed her bachelor’s degree at UCLA in sociology and then planned to study for the LSAT and go to law school. In the meantime, she found a job through a UCLA phone service known as Job Track.
Rayes ended up taking a job as a director in the Field Department in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, assisting with local issues such as waste management, fixing potholes, surveilling crime and more.
It was her first introduction into the field of politics, and she worked for a lawyer who himself is now the city attorney for Los Angeles.
This lawyer told Rayes she didn’t have to pursue law in order to change the world, and that there was the opportunity to go into politics instead. Rayes took the advice and ran with it, receiving her master’s in public policy from UCLA and staying on the path of government.
Rayes rose to the helm at Latino Victory in 2020, a year with no shortage of challenges for the Latino community, but one that made the population stand out as a powerful voting bloc.
During the 2020 presidential election, 16.6 million Latinos cast their vote, representing a 30.9% increase from 2016. A large reason for the massive turnout was thanks to efforts made by Latino Victory.
“So this was the single largest four year increase in the Latino vote ever, and this is documented by UCLA and others. We are so proud. And yet, we’re not going to rest, like there’s still not work to be done. But, of course, that victory had a major influence in making sure that Latinos came out to vote,” Rayes said.
Rayes said Latino Victory’s theory of change is that “when Latinos are on the ballot, Latinos come out of vote.” The organization endorsed a record number of Latino candidates in the past election cycle, an increase of 86% at local, state and federal levels.
Every level is important.
“It’s not only the city council members of the school board, but it’s also Congress members and county supervisors, you name it. We have to make sure that we are representing every level,” she said.
Rayes also called the 2020 election a surreal experience because it changed the way that the country runs elections, how we invest in them, and how we show up to participate in them.
Latino Victory had to shift all its regular outreach efforts to a new, digital world and sometimes, bring its community along with the change.
“We couldn’t knock on doors or have public events. We had to pivot to online events, to phone banking and raising funds through virtual spaces, and reaching voters where they were, which was at home. It was a very interesting time to lead the organization,” Rayes said.
Rayes also said she and her team members had to be more creative in their strategies and in talking to voters. They learned that people really do want to engage on policy issues that matter to them, like the economy, climate change, and education.
“Our candidates really talked and ensured that they were meeting our constituents, by elevating the issues that are relevant. It was a difficult year, but through creativity and talking to voters, I think we were successful in ensuring that we did engage on policy issues that matter to make sure they came out to vote,’’ Rayes said.
Rayes believes that the future for Latinos in politics is extremely bright. She said that the evidence of this can already be seen, when looking at the Latino cabinet members of the current Biden administration, such as Miguel Cardona, Xavier Becerra and Alejandro Mayorkas.
“We are 18% to 20% of the population, but we only have 1% of political power in this country. That’s why we’re seeing a change where we’re electing people at the local, state and federal level to prominence. And so I think that we’re flexing our political muscle, and will continue to, ensuring that we have the right representation at all levels of this government,”Rayes said.
Rayes encourages fellow Latinos to continue getting involved in politics as much as they can, whether that looks like participating in phone banking, volunteering at rallies or raising funds for an elected official. And if the passion and the resources are there, Rayes would love to see more Latinos run for office.
She wants people to know that there are many different ways of “showing up.”
Getting involved can also mean posting on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to amplify the candidates of their choice and help them out.
“So I think that getting involved is critically important, you know, is not only involved, but running grassroots. We want to see young people running and ensuring that they have a proper seat at the table,” she said.
Latino Victory’s board is made up of mostly women now, and Rayes is proud to be a part of breaking these glass ceilings for Latinas.
“We have to be that engine of change, ensuring that we’re supporting each other to carry each other to the next level. We are being very intentional. We are building that next generation of Latina leaders for our community and for the next generation,” she said.
If Rayes were to give advice to the next person who will follow in her footsteps, she would want them to take more risks.
“I think that although people may see me as somebody who took risks from government to the private sector and then now a nonprofit; but I feel like I could have taken more risks. So I would say: be more of a risk-taker, and let nothing hold you back.”