Latinos, immigration and workers' rights advocates and their supporters protest against Donald Trump and other Republican presidential hopefuls, outside a debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley on September 16, 2015. (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Nothing has come easily to Gustavo Bedolla. And when you walk into his hair salon in downtown San Jose, it's clear he has worked hard to develop "Bedolla" into a thriving business.
Every patron gets his undivided attention, whether it's for stripping the blue dye out of an 8-year-old girl's hair or advising a woman on why it's best to stop being a serial shampoo consumer. And the man can take a mop of wet hair and make it look like a volcano.
"The higher the hair, the closer to God," joked 32-year-old Bedolla.
Bedolla's easy laugh belies a life filled with struggle after coming to San Jose from Michoacan, Mexico, when he was 15. He stopped going to school the minute he got here and started working as a cook in a retirement home before moving on to become a home construction worker and a painter.
"I had to focus on work. I wanted to go to school, but unfortunately it was work because my family needed the money," said Bedolla.
Eventually he went to San Jose City College to learn English and to beauty school to become a hair stylist.
But Bedolla said his proudest accomplishment will be voting for the first time in this year's presidential election after becoming a U.S. citizen in 2015.
He won't be one of the more than 2 million Latinos in California who are eligible to vote but don't bother to register. According to Pew Hispanic Research Center, millennials -- those 35 and younger like Bedolla -- make up almost half of Latino eligible voters. And Bedolla wants to help stop Republican front-runner Donald Trump, who created an international controversy after calling Mexican immigrants rapists and drug runners.
Bedolla calls Trump's remarks about Mexican immigrants highly insulting -- but also motivating.
"These Americans [who support him] don't have any idea what it's like to struggle and come to this country for a better opportunity," said Bedolla. "It's not only emotionally shocking but it's very hurtful because we leave everything -- not that we want to but because we have to. We have nothing there."
That's why Bedolla is somewhat frustrated with his 55-year-old father, who won't be able to vote because he has not become a U.S. citizen. Like many older longtime permanent residents from Mexico, Bedolla's father is afraid he can't pass the citizenship test.
"He doesn't speak the [English] language, so for him it's really difficult," Bedolla said. "You have to memorize 100 questions for the citizenship test but you only get asked 10. He cannot read and write the language."
But U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offers English-language exemptions for people who are 50 or older and have lived as a permanent resident in the United States for 20 years.
It's too late for Bedolla's father to vote in the 2016 presidential election because of the lengthy process to become a citizen. But around the state there's a major push by activists and campaigns to mobilize, educate and register the millions of other Latino voters who are citizens but don't vote.
"Not since Proposition 187 has the Latino population been so directly attacked by a political system, political in this case a candidate," said Rolando Bonilla, a political strategist for Voler Strategic Advisors.
Proposition 187 was a 1994 California ballot measure aimed at preventing undocumented immigrants from using public education, health care and other services. After the election there was a two-year surge in Latino voter registration. But then the registration uptick stalled, said Mike Madrid, a Republican consultant who specializes in Latino voting trends.
"A lot of that growth is not as significant as we would like, keeping in mind Latinos are the largest ethnic plurality in California but also have the lowest rate of participation of any major ethnic group in the state as well," said Madrid.
Many Latinos who don't vote live below the federal poverty line. Bonilla said to motivate them, campaigns need to break through the mind-set that there's nothing in it for them.
"That thinking of, 'Look, I've got to work, I've got the two or three jobs, I don't necessarily see the direct impact to me. As long as I keep my head down, do the work, I can feed my kids, pay the mortgage, I'm OK,' " said Bonilla.
Latino voter registration is increasing in California but it's too early to tell if this year's presidential campaign will be the tipping point for Latino political activism. Political consultants said campaigns need to focus on local issues -- a speed bump on voters' busy streets or charter schools -- that potential Latino voters can connect with because those issues affect their everyday lives.
For the last 20 years, most conventional wisdom has been that Latino issues tend to involve immigration reform, farmworkers or driver's licenses for the undocumented, said Madrid.
"The vast majority of Latinos in California are not even undocumented," said Madrid. "Those are not the issues that cause concern over the dinner table at night."
Ignoring local issues while acting as if immigration and driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants are the only issues that matter to Latinos amounts to what some in the community call "His-pandering" -- pandering to Hispanic voters.
Bonilla said campaigns need to do a much better job of walking Latino voters through what's in it for them if they vote, or they won't register or vote. Slick mail pieces for the masses, he said, will accomplish nothing.
"It's totally OK to want to do something for personal benefit," said Bonilla. "We want to understand what Latino voters want and we still haven't had that conversation yet."
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who's considering a run for governor in 2018, believes investments need to be made to increase Latino voting and political involvement. He said it costs money to register and educate voters.
"Those citizens need to be targeted to a greater degree," said Villaraigosa. "What we tend to do during elections is focus on the people who vote all the time. I had a historic election [mayor's race] and one of the highest turnout rates and it was only 35 percent. That's pathetic."
The Spanish-language network Univision is trying to help by rolling out a nonpartisan social media campaign and traditional public service announcements on how to register.
Maria Leticia Gomez -- a longtime news anchor for Univision's Bay area station KDTV -- emigrated from Argentina and said she connects with viewers on the importance of voting.
"Broadcasters in Spanish language are part of the family of the viewers. They consider us part of their family because we have a shared experience," said Gomez.
Like all networks, Trump has been a main point of coverage on Univision this election season. Bonilla said that coverage should be effective, coupled with the network driving the idea of registering Latinos to vote "to have a say."
"At the end of the day, it's my 84-year-old grandmother watching Univision who is going to make the decision who that next president is going to be or not," said Bonilla. "And if we forget that and we're not having those granular conversations and connections with the electorate, that's often the time candidates get in trouble."