The world would most definitely be a better place if all celebrities were like Rosario Dawson. Ever since the actress got her big break playing Ruby in the controversial Larry Clark-helmed film, Kids, she's been finding ways to give back to her community. From the Lower East Side Girls Club to VDay (a global movement to end violence against women) to Voto Latino, Dawson is not afraid to get her hands a little dirty and get involved, and her interests reach far and wide. Although Dawson’s non-profit organization Voto Latino was founded in 2004 in response to the news that Latinos were officially the largest "minority" group in the country, yet we’re not being represented at the voting booths, the effort has expanded to include environmental and educational initiatives. The organization’s latest initiative is a big push for Latino involvement in the 2010 US Census. We talked to the actress about what motivates her to advocate around issues affecting the Latino community.
"I’m proud to be a citizen of the United States of America and I want to give back in every way I can," she says of her passion to get involved. "I was raised community-based. I grew up in a spot in the lower east side where it was really obvious how poverty and low-down neighborhoods can affect people—not being able to have access to education and how that just sets people up for life to have less and less of choices."
Education is also of utmost importance to the Voto Latino mission and to Dawson, who knows first-hand what it means to miss out on school. The actress, who broke into the industry in high school, never had a chance to go to college. "I started working at 15, I graduated high school and I made the choice to not go to college because I thought: I could take a shot at this career, and possibly pay for my brother to go to school and maybe I can go to school later. But if I go to school right now, I could lose this opportunity that I had to be in this industry which could be very lucrative for my family." Although Dawson may have forgone a formal college education, she makes sure to learn about the issues she is passionate about and may even head back to school later on in life. "I have a lot of great teachers around the world and I feel really blessed,” she says. “But I have family members who started college in their 40's and 50's so maybe I'll do that when Hollywood stops giving me roles!"
Currently, Dawson is focusing on a campaign to encourage Latinos to participate in the 2010 US Census. Although some Latino leaders had encouraged our community to boycott the census, Dawson says, "I would be very weary of anyone telling you not to fill out a census. It’s imperative to do so and most likely they’re saying that because they don’t want districts to be redrawn and certain politicians to loose their seat—and unfortunately, that includes Latinos. People are afraid of change in a lot of ways. They don’t know what’s coming around the corner, they like how things are right now."
As far as Voto Latino is concerned, Dawson isn't interested in taking sides. "All that Voto Latino is trying to do is give folks as much clear information as possible to empower themselves. It’s unbelievable the overwhelming response that’s there’s been. It’s there, it’s ready, it's seething. People, young people especially, want change, serious change."
To learn more about the 2010 US Census and why you should stand up and be counted visit: votolatino.com/becounted