Cesar Bautista weaved his way through an apartment complex in Hillsboro Village, clutching an iPhone for directions in one hand and, in the other, a bundle of papers listing voters born in other countries.
Bautista, 26, is one of about a dozen canvassers who are planning to knock on the doors of some 4,000 voters before the Nov. 4 election. He’s an undocumented immigrant born in Mexico City whose parents brought him to Tennessee when he was in fourth grade. Now, he’s a full-time canvass coordinator for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, and he’s pounding the pavement to generate voting enthusiasm among registered voters who also happen to be migrants.
“We can remind them and push them to vote,” Bautista said. “When their votes have been recorded, then all the future candidates will see the immigrants who voted at the midterms and they’ll say, ‘I wanna know how I can win their vote.'”
With election voting underway and turnout disappointing officials, Bautista is figuring that bringing enough immigrant voters to the polls could make a difference. It’s a personal issue to him, since his immigration status prevents him from participating.
“I am not eligible to vote, but I want to give this information to all the immigrants in Nashville so that way they can vote on behalf of other immigrants who can’t vote yet,” Bautista said.
And Bautista has had some practice mastering the art of door knocking. He’s been doing door-to-door campaigns for years. Notably, he canvassed for Fabian Bedne, who became Metro Council’s first Hispanic member.
This particular effort, though, is not geared toward a single group. About half of the voters TIRRC is targeting are Hispanic, but many are from other places like parts of Europe, Kurdistan and Southeast Asia.
TIRRC’s Stephanie Teatro says Nashville’s fast-growing migrant population presents an electoral opportunity.
“It is our vision that immigrant communities in Nashville are fully engaged and represented in the civic life of our city, and that elected officials are more accountable to this growing voting bloc,” she said.
Similarly, Bautista says immigrants can pull their weight together to push for issues that unite them, like an easier pathway to citizenship.
His father works in construction and his mother is a maintenance worker. Bautista, meanwhile, has always been drawn to politics. One day, he says, he’d like to be a part of it. Yet admittedly, much of his urgent attention is being trained on getting legal status.
“I will like to run for office one day,” he said. “That’s my goal.”