I’m Voting for the First Time This Year After Immigrating to the US



  • Carolina Peña-Alarcón is a program manager at EcoMadres, part of Moms Clean Air Force.
  • She says Latinos bear a disproportionate impact of climate change.
  • This is Peña-Alarcón’s story, as told to Kelly Burch.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Carolina Peña-Alarcón. It has been edited for length and clarity.

No matter where you are in the country, you’re likely hearing a lot about the upcoming midterm elections. There are so many issues at play right now, but for me, one is particularly close to my heart: sustainability and climate change. 

I was already working to register more voters, especially Latinos. But I wasn’t expecting to be able to vote in this election. I was a green-card holder, but not yet a citizen. Then my citizenship was approved and I had my oath ceremony at the end of September.

Suddenly, this is not just a campaign I was working on. It will be my story, too. 

I became interested in climate change after immigrating

Back in 2001, I immigrated to the United States with my mom and brother. I had already completed college in my native Bolivia, and I was excited to see what opportunities were available in the US. I dreamed of getting my master’s degree in finance.

Instead, I started working in the department of sustainable development at the Organization of American States, or OAS, which promotes cooperation among countries in North and South America. As I learned more about the impact of climate change, particularly on Latin American and Caribbean countries, a passion ignited inside of me. Rather than studying finance, I got my master’s degree in environmental and energy management. 

At the same time, I was promoted within OAS. I moved to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. It was stunningly beautiful until Hurricane Thomas hit in 2010. The area where I lived was without electricity and water only briefly. But I saw firsthand the impact of climate change on the locals. Not only did it take longer to get their utilities back, but they had longer commutes after bridges and roads collapsed. 

I knew then that as global citizens, we have a moral responsibility to act to stop climate change. 

Latinos are particularly impacted

Climate change has a huge impact on Latin American and Caribbean countries. And as I settled into life in the US, I realized that climate change disproportionately impacts Latinos here, too. The Environmental Protection Agency has found that American Latinos are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to be affected by rising seas, extreme heat, and hurricanes. 

Some American Latinos have immigrated here to escape the climate crisis in their home countries. Now, they face some of the same challenges in their new homeland. 

Knowing that drove me to join EcoMadres, a community of parents and caregivers dedicated to protecting the Latino community from the impact of climate change. 

I’m not a mother, but I’m mothering through climate activism

Latino culture recognizes the importance of mothers, as well as people who care for others but don’t have biological children. That describes me. I was never able to have my own children, although I have godchildren and my partner’s children in my life. 

Through EcoMadres, I’m helping protect children and teach others how sustainability can become part of everyone’s lives. Together, small choices can make a significant difference. 

Like a mother, I also encourage people. Many of us feel frustrated with our leaders. People who are discouraged by the system might want to opt out of voting. But that’s the greatest power we have. We can’t leave that on the table because we’re overwhelmed by the way the system has failed us.

I’m eager to harness that power when I cast my first vote as an American citizen this November. 



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