When discussing issues important to Latinos in New York one topic that often gets overlooked is “redistricting.” Redistricting is the process in which census data is used to redraw the lines and physical boundaries of electoral districts within a state. The way in which these lines are redrawn affects districts and what elected officials will represent us at all levels of government.
Unfortunately this is a highly politicized, and polarizing topic and some elected leaders prefer to keep the community “in the dark” about this subject. For some of our politicians the process is used as an incumbent protection program designed to keep them in office rather than to change these lines to increase Latino representation. As a result the people that are hurt by these backroom deals by elected officials are Latinos.
Moreover, some of these opportunists use a corrupt practice called “gerrymandering” – attempting to get a political advantage by creating boundaries that favor incumbents or that keep emerging ethnic groups out of power. So that in many cases despite the growing number of Latinos where we may be able to create two Latino districts they will divide the boundaries of a district in half to protect an incumbent or their own position. As a result Latinos, the group with the fewest representatives in elected office in proportion to its numbers in the population are maneuvered out of power.
What some may consider a saving grace for Latinos is the redistricting process is covered by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits discrimination in the drawing of political districts. But unfortunately the only districts covered under the Act are the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. Queens, which has the lowest number of Latino elected officials besides Staten Island and has an ever-growing Latino community, is not covered.
The only way for the Latino residents of Queens to gain political representation is to unite behind organizations like Latino Justice, the National Institute for Latino Policy (NILP) and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) in the fight for equality of political representation. We must hold educational forums to inform our community, sue in court, and visit the politicians in Albany and insist redistricting reflect the growing number of Latinos in New York State. Our community must learn that political power is earned through struggle not given!!!
By Roberto Perez and Howard Jordan.