Ivy Cargile is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at California State University, Bakersfield. Her research focus is in American political behavior. She researches elite and voter behavior with an emphasis on the Latino community. She is interested in how Latino voters are influenced across various domains, such as candidate evaluations, public opinion about issues important to the community, and the context in which political learning occurs.
South Kern Sol sat down with Cargile to talk about a number of topics, including voter behavior, institutional racism and gender equality.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What are some of challenges impacting vulnerable communities in Kern? How can we address these challenges?
A: I think there is a lot of need here. I think there needs to be a way to figure out how to get more money flowing through governmental coffers for purposes of things like being able to hire better teachers. Part of the reason I suspect that getting teachers of color is a challenge is because the pay is so low. We like to say, “Cost of living is so much lower in Kern County,” but that’s not true. Buying a home is a bit cheaper, but renting isn’t cheaper. When you think about groceries, when you think about car payments, when you think about car insurance, and all the other bills, it begins to seem comparable to Los Angeles. So if you’re going to offer a person getting out of college with a credential a salary of $45,000, they know they can go somewhere else. We need to figure out how to make these positions competitive because our students need to see people who look like them and can relate to them particularly in the formative years so that they can go on and be successful. But, for that to happen I think there needs to be a very concerted effort by the school board and the school superintendent to really invest in teachers and not necessarily just administration.
Q: You have been exploring voter behaviors within the Latino community. What are some of the most prominent things you are learning that might encourage voter engagement?
A: That every vote really does counts. There was an article in the Fresno Bee about how David Valadao lost the California 21st congressional district. TJ Cox was able to mobilize the Latina, Latino and Latinx vote. The district has always been predominantly Latino. TJ Cox was able to successfully communicate with voters, and they came out and supported TJ Cox. There’s this myth of the Latino community being the sleeping giant. They’re not asleep. They are there, and they are a giant.
Q: At the age of 18 you can become a registered voter, but do people register to vote at that age?
A: Many times they don’t. One they don’t understand how the system works, and that’s the sad part. Education in the United States doesn’t offer good civic governmental education in the high school system. If you go to college, hopefully you do take a political science class, but in some schools, they’re trying to cut political science and that’s problematic. When you don’t understand how all of that works, why should you register to vote? Its’ just a matter of mobilization of all ethnicities.
Q: Did voter turnout surprise you during the last election? What do you think happened?
A: Yes, it was very surprising. They’re actually equating the turnout to a baby presidential election because it was so high for a midterms. I think there were a lot of different things that caused the turnout to be what it was. Many candidates came out and said, “You know what, I don’t care if the party doesn’t want me to run. I’m going to run.” Look at Presley in Chicago or Alexandria in New York. They did it to spite the party. I think it was funny that Election Day is in November, and come December, some places we still didn’t know the outcome. That’s unheard of. The midterms even for local elections took on a national flavor. A lot of people were mobilized because they are angry at the Trump Administration. I think a lot of the women that ran for office are women that maybe are a part of the resistance and are just really angry at Trump. But other women I know have said that they ran because Clinton inspired them, and they’re still upset that she lost and the way that she lost.
Q: Now let’s change gears a bit. Can you please tell us about institutional racism?
A: One way to think about it is, yes, we do have legislation in place like the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. We know technically discrimination isn’t allowed in education, in access to higher education, to access to small business loans, in access to loans for first time home purchasing or for anything but the reality is it happens. Systems are built to benefit some individuals and actually ends up harming others. When we look at the k-12 system, some school districts don’t have the same recourses when it comes to money, AP classes offered and more. It tends to be the schools where you have majority of students of color where the resources just aren’t as vibrant there. I think that in terms of how institutionalized racism works is just the way that the systems are built. They disproportionately and negatively affect one or two or three groups then benefit other groups. The country has tried to rectify that with programs of affirmative action. That has always been challenged because white Americans claim that reverse racism is happening and that the seat should go to the person that is the most qualified.
Q: Do you see institutional racism play out in Kern County? How can we work to dismantle these systems of oppression?
A: From what I have heard from students is it’s different in every neighborhood. You definitely know where the people with money and wealth live, and you know where the poor working class individuals live. It tends to be the case where the working class live in Kern County tend to be the areas that are predominantly black, Latino and maybe a couple of Asian communities. We need to pay attention to local elections, and we need to elect people who are going to work to change that because we can’t really change that because we’re not at the negotiating table.
We’re not the ones making the decisions with the developers and the people that build the house and the people that build the business parks and the strip malls. That’s what the county supervisor does. That’s what the mayor does and what the city council members do. So what we need to do is we need to elect people who will engage in business of keeping Kern County well and keeping Bakersfield well.
Q: What can our community do to support gender equality?
A: First, it has to be acknowledged that gender equality does not actually exist. Then real and honest conversations need to happen where we can identify all of the different and various structures that work to perpetuate inequality. This will be tough because people tend not to like their positions of power challenged or pointed out as systems that make situations unequal for others. Conversations have to happen no matter how uncomfortable they may be.
Q: What keeps you going?
A: Fear of getting to the end of my life thinking, “What if?” and “If only I had.”