At the age of 16, Priya Ramamoorthy, Kavya Ramamoorthy, Maanasa Nathan, and Smrithi Mahadevanare completed and presented research on Title IX (law which advocates for gender equality in educational programs) at the National History Day (NHD) competition. Latinitas interviewed these passionate chicas about their research concerning the NHD competition.
What are all your backgrounds – Indian-American? Sri Lankan – would love to share that.
We are first generation Americans with parents from south India. Our parents’ first language is Tamil.
Please, each of you, share your age, favorite volunteer service/community action you like to take, favorite Latino food you like to eat and most important value your parents instilled in you.
Maanasa- I am 16 years old. I don’t really have a preference on community service; I take all the opportunities I get to volunteer and give back to the community. My favorite Latino food is Enchiladas. The most important value my parents instilled in me would be to never forget who you are because the world is always going to be changing, and your personality, morals and values are what are going to define you forever. Basically follow your dreams, but don’t lose who you are in the process.
Smrithi - I am 16 years old. I am head of a non-profit organization called Racquet Readers, where we collect slightly used books from stores and distribute them around the South Austin community. Our goal is to promote literacy by organizing events and setting up libraries in community centers as well as hospitals. My favorite Latino food would have to be bean and cheese Nachos, with sour cream and pico de gallo on top. The most important value my mother has instilled in me is that success does not come easily. You have to work hard for everything, and put 100% of your effort into everything you do; only then can you be successful in life.
Priya - I am 16 years old. I love working with kids of all ages, and through Girl Scouts I volunteer every summer for our Service Unit’s Day Camp -my favorite part is helping out with arts and crafts. My parents have instilled in me the importance of reaching out to others and also the art of communication. I am naturally a shy person, but, through my parents pushing me towards volunteer opportunities that force me out of my bubble, I’ve noticed that I have started to overcome this challenge and be more outgoing. My favorite Latino food is authentic arroz con frijoles.
Kavya - I am 16 years old. Working with others is something that I enjoy. Some of my favorite volunteering experiences have come from working with students and teaching them about programming robots and attending a leadership camp last summer where I was able to work with and meet a variety of groups. My parents taught me to believe and have confidence in myself. When I open myself up to others and carry myself in a confident manner, I find that a world of opportunities open up. My favorite Latino food is churros with hot chocolate.
Explain how the four of you got from presenting on Title IX to Voter Registration?
“Our research on Title IX for the National History Day (NHD) competition, led us to recognize the importance of grass root organizations like the American Association of University Women (AAUW) for their great efforts in the 1970s and on-going active role in women’s rights today. When we were attending the NHD competition in Washington D.C., we were invited to visit the AAUW headquarters. During our meeting we learned the current initiative of AAUW was to increase women and minorities access to the ballot box. We also got the opportunity to participate in a Voting awareness promotion at the AAUW office. This got us thinking about the importance of voting, a fundamental right and the most powerful political instrument available to every citizen. The 2013 NHD competition enabled us to research voting rights in depth, and we were surprised that this basic tool was denied to many minorities until recently. And 2012 being an election year, got us thinking that we four would be eligible to vote in the next presidential election. Being women and minority voters, we realized that new barriers to voting could impact us as well. We have wanted, ever since, to get involved in helping minorities and the younger generation become registered voters and active participants in our democratic process,” said Manasa Nathan.
What’s happening today that discourages people of color from voting?
“The recent court case, Shelby County v. Holder, struck down important provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Justices ruled that the trigger formula (Section 4), which decides the states that fall under the pre-clearance measure (Section 5), was unconstitutional because it was outdated, in effect nullifying the clause that guarded against new voting barriers. Many states have taken advantage of this verdict and have passed new discriminatory laws that deter minorities ability to vote, like photo Voter ID laws and gerrymandering plans. Texas has just passed a stricter photo Voter ID law and is in the process of passing a new redistricting plan – a plan to redraw the boundaries for voting districts. The Voter ID law, according to Ari Breman from Nation Magazine, could disenfranchise up to 800,000 people due to the requirement of a government issued ID -an added cost for voters. Cutting early voting days has become a recent trend in some states. The long lines caused by this can deter people from voting. The ever evolving barriers to voting that pop up each day highlight how the fight for voting equality is not yet complete, and it is the task of the younger generations to step up now and take an effort in ensuring that everyone can fully exercise their right to vote,” said Smrithi Mahadevan.
In your opinion, is the attack on immigration related to fear of a new diverse voting population?
“The attack on immigration stems from various causes, economic concerns of a new immigration group in the workforce, party politics, etc. A fear of a diverse new voting population, in our opinion, is a significant factor in causing this attack. Voting is power. Many see a new immigrant group -based on ethnicity- as a single entity that will vote on certain party lines. For this reason, Texas, being a state with a heavy influx of minorities, is drawing the attention of both the Republicans and the Democrats,” said Priya Ramamoorthy.
What were things about voting rights you learned that shocked you? Good and bad.
“One vote is one voice. Access to the ballot box grants you the opportunity to raise your voice and be heard on local, state and national issues that affect your life. Citizen coalition groups continue to provide a national voice on minority issues influencing the outcomes of legislation. We must remain vigilant in protecting this basic right because one vote is one voice and that voice must be heard. However, new challenges to the voting arise every election cycle. We, in turn, should honor the legacy of those who fought to enfranchise minorities, by valuing and exercising the right to vote,” said Kavya Ramamoorthy.
You can read more about these topics, and view their NHD project, at:
http://76705925.nhd.weebly.com/ - Title IX: Empowerment Through education
http://18602803.nhd.weebly.com - The Voting Rights Act of 1965: One Vote, One Voice