By Arnoldo Torres*
In 2014 election turnout was the lowest in the US overall in 70 years, back to 1942 when many Americans were fighting in World War II! In 2014 only 36.4% of eligible voting population in this country thought it was important to vote or made time to vote. States with high concentrations of Latino voters New York, California, and Nevada had major decreases in voting of more than 23% from 2010. In Texas only 28.5% of eligible voters turned out.
In 2012, a Presidential election year, Latinos cast a record number of votes—11.2 million. However, what so many “Latino leaders” failed to inform you that 12.1 million Latinos that were eligible to vote DID NOT vote. Unbelievable!
Despite these poor numbers many “Latino leaders” continue to boast of how important and powerful Latinos are in US politics. Take for example the boasting of Mr. Javier Palomarez, the President and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce who stated the other day “Never again will a president be elected without courting the Hispanic vote…He’s (Trump) going to find out that we’re the gatekeepers to the White House.”
Those false advertising comments have been made for the last 30 years in this nation if not longer. In fact, the LULAC National President in 1983 made the statement that “…the hands that picked cotton yesterday will pick the President tomorrow.”
So what type of “courting” are Presidential candidates doing of Latino voters? Do they get to know us well, establish a respectful dialogue, ask us for our ideas, or simply tell us that they will legalize all of the parents who are not legally in the U.S. when they know they cannot deliver on such a promise like President Obama? Do they court us telling us over and over again that the only issue of importance to us is immigration when we are beset by so many challenges?
Yet, the Latino community continues to be mired in socio-economic stagnation. Another generation of Latino students continues to attend poor preforming public schools that most teachers, administrators and local boards of education refuse to reform bad policies, practices and lack of accountability of the public’s money. A typical Latino worker earns 72 cents and a Latina earns 55 cents of what a non-Latino white worker earns. The median income of Latino households is one-tenth that of non-Latino white households.
The truth is that Presidential candidates in both parties have never invested any real time understanding the diversity that exists amongst Latinos, they have not lived similar lives to ours and if they have they have forgotten. So Latinos once again have the choice of choosing the least offensive candidate from the Republican and Democrat Party. What a choice?
Firstly, in this election Latinos in Queens must respect ourselves! We have what all smart candidates want—our vote. This is a very powerful position of leverage to have in this society that we have not used effectively.
Second, we must recognize that if we really had the respect of the political parties, and served as the gatekeeper of the White House, why would so many of us live in poverty, have our children attend poor performing schools, suffer housing discrimination, live in areas with the dirtiest air, and do the jobs many others usually run away from? We have enabled politicos to treat us in this manner!
Thirdly, Latinos in Queens must come together to develop a common, shared vision of what they want for their communities. We must set high standards for the candidates that want our vote and they must be ready to tell you specifically how and what they will be doing to accomplish the tasks you will assign, or they say they will do on your behalf.
Fourthly, measure how all candidates approach you. Will they eat the well-known dishes of your culture? Will they say a few words in Spanish? Will they say they have travelled to your country of origin and love the people? Will they depend on another Latino/a to introduce them and say that you should support them? Or will they come to you with all humility asking for a conversation, a dialogue to begin understanding your lives and aspirations? Will they seek a partnership with you?
These are things we have seldom thought about when it comes to politics. These are things we have seldom done with political candidates. We have failed to recognize that in a democracy we are truly equal to everyone else because our votes counts as much as everyone else. If we can become that well-informed voter, we do become a community that will be respected beyond a vote. We will initiate our dreams and collective future, helping this nation in a better direction than it has been going for the last three decades. Yes, we do have that power if we stop allowing ourselves to be courted so cheaply!
Arnoldo Torres is a well know political analyst and consultant on Latino policy issues in the U.S.