Monday, November 3, 2008

El Mentado Voto Latino

Fernando Romero

Every four years they come. Like vultures almost. It’s a cyclical visit. It’s weird. Seems they only come during presidential elections. Every four years, Latino voters are courted como la niña bonita de la fiesta con la cual todos quieren bailar. Both senators, Barack Obama and John McCain, tell Latino voters what they want to hear. That they care about Latino issues. They talked about their knowledge of Latin American socio-political issues. They’ve held debates for the Spanish media and even spoke to us in Spanish. Never before in the history of the United States has the Latino vote been more sought after.

In a close presidential race, such as this one, it is very likely Latino voters will decide the outcome of the election. It is estimated that over 9 million Latinos will cast their vote on Tuesday, Nov 4. Less than one in ten voters this Election Day will be of Latino descent, but Latino voters are important because they are concentrated in swing states that can decide the outcome of the election.

It makes sense for politicians to reach out to Latinos. Some perceive it as a good sign of the times and of the political muscle Latinos can now flex. Others see it as pandering by politicians trying to secure a burgeoning demographic. While others see it as patronizing, even.

Latinos are coming of political age, and probably face a dilemma. But which is better, being pandered to, or ignored?

The word “pander” is appropriate because it seems candidates are providing some form of gratification for Latinos’ political desires. Both candidates have made promises of making Latino issues, particularly immigration reform, a top priority as presidents. If you’re asking if whether this is pandering, the answer would be yes. Both have made immigration a top concern on their agenda when speaking mainly to Latino caucuses such as the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, the League of United Latin American Citizens and The National Council of La Raza.

But, to pander has a negative connotation and the concept seems highlighted when it refers to Latinos, the largest and fastest-growing minority in the nation. This electorate is familiar with politicians making promises they don’t always keep. Chances are we will see both McCain and Obama favor border security before immigration reform. Both have already favored a measure of building a wall along the US-Mexico border. Now they turn around and say they favor just immigration reform in front of Latino audiences; seems like pandering to me. So Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain, please don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

Patronizing? Yes. The way in which Obama will utter simple phrases in Spanish like “!Sí se puede!” the emblematic rallying cry of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Or “libertad,” like he did during a speech about Cuba. Uttering a handful of words in Spanish to simply garnish votes comes off as patronizing and will not necessarily get the Latino vote nor the goodwill of 550 million people who live in Latin America.

Patronizing the way in which McCain ran an ad in some the swing states trying to emphasize the contributions Latinos have made to this country. In the ad which ran in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, McCain refers to the military service of Latinos of past and present wars.

John McCain: “My friends, I want you the next time you’re down in Washington, D.C., to go to the Vietnam War Memorial and look at the names engraved in black granite. You’ll find a whole lot of Hispanic names. When you go to Iraq or Afghanistan today, you’re going to see a whole lot of people who are of Hispanic background. You’re even going to meet some of the few thousand that are still green card holders who are not even citizens of this country, who love this country so much that they’re willing to risk their lives in its service in order to accelerate their path to citizenship and enjoy the bountiful, blessed nation.”

To say that it is good that Latinos are willing to risk their lives and die in Iraq and Afghanistan is patronizing to the families of Latinos who have lost a son or daughter in these international conflicts.

Okay, a little bit of background history. The 2000 presidential election was decided in Florida by some 537 Cuban-Americans who voted for George W. Bush. In 2004, it was decided by 67 thousand Latinos in New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada who voted for Bush and not John Kerry. That year, Bush garnished 40 percent of the Latino vote in the swing states, just enough to give him the presidency. That is the lesson; Latinos are deciding elections.

More and more Latinos are becoming a part of the social fabric of this country. More and more are voting. Political parties are trying to lure the Latino vote because in a way Latinos are poised to be an integral part of the future of this country. Latinos are currently 15 percent of the population totaling roughly 46 million. According to projections by the US Census, Latinos will go from 46 million to 125 million in 2050, almost a third of the population. It makes sense that politicians are reaching out so emphatically to Latino voters.

The question is, do the candidates actually care about the issues that afflict the Latino community? Or, is it an episodic care which comes every four years? Every four years es lo mismo. La verdad, yo no se por que la hacen de tanto pedo, si solo nos van a dar atole con el dedo. Yo por eso me quejo y me quejo. No me lo creo todo. Aquí es donde vivo y yo ya no soy un pendejo. As a significant electorate, Latinos need to make the winning candidate accountable for promises made on the campaign trail. Todos unidos tenemos que pedir un cambio. As voters, we need to make our voices heard and assume political power. Many of us still live in la pobreza. Este país se sostiene en la espalda y se mantiene gracias al sudor de nuestra gente.

While not much has changed in regards to the way politicians will continue to pander for the Latino vote, one thing that has changed is the fact that Latinos are now deciding elections and will one day decide the path this country takes. That’s a good change.¶

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