I am Latina: Hear my Vote Roar

Tuesday, cannot come fast enough. As Vice President Biden joked on the David Letterman Show last week, we all want this election cycle over with.  The United States has one of the longest election cycles among democratic countries.  Now, with Superstorm Sandy delivering the all-too infamous long-expected October Surprise, the election took a bit of a backseat in the media coverage (at least in the Northeast media market).  But with Tuesday looming, it is time to again put a spotlight on the election.  Do not get me wrong, Sandy and its aftermath is still very much a focus (and should be).  I, for one, am still displaced.   But I am also a political junkie, as well as a firm believer in voting as not only a right but as something every citizen should do, AND I am also a Latina.  The media has been focused on the significance of the Latino voter and the impact of the Latino vote on the upcoming election, and this time, as a Latina, I feel like my vote matters more.


In the past year, we have heard much about the “Latino Vote” in the United States (the cover of Time Magazine a few months back) and lately we have debated whether it is a great big Latino Bluff.   Latinos, as a group, had one of the largest increases the past decade in terms of US population growth.   Latinos are no longer solely in “Traditional” Hispanic areas such as New York, California, Florida, Illinois. They are now also the largest growing segments in parts of the Deep South and Midwest. Ten of the 12 states that had the largest percentage Hispanic growth were in the Deep South.  These are areas that I have been referring to as “Emerging” Latino areas.   These emerging Hispanic population areas are also areas that are playing larger and larger parts in the political debate and electoral landscape.


Let us take a moment to consider the numbers. Overall, Hispanics are now over 16.4% of the US population and rapidly growing.  A common misperception is that the growth is due to immigration (“illegal immigration” if you take Fox News seriously), but the growth is due in large part to births.  Among all Hispanics, the percentage of foreign born fell from 40% in 2000 to 37% in 2010.  Meanwhile the percentage with U.S. citizenship increased from 71% in 2000 to 74% in 2010.  This means that the segment of eligible Latino voters in the US is growing, and seems poised to continue growing.  The number of eligible Latino voters has reached a record 23.7 million this year (Pew Hispanic Center); an enormous 22% increase in the Latino voting landscape  since the 2008 presidential election. Latinos now make up 11% of the nation’s eligible voters, but we know that number will get larger as Latinos are increasingly integrated into the social structure, economy, and cultural life of America.  Some states in the Deep South (South Carolina, Georgia and possibly North Carolina) stand to gain House seats based partly on population increases due to burgeoning Latino populations.  Ironic that political influence will increase for areas that are traditional bastions of anti-Latino sentiment, largely based on rapidly increasing Latino populations.  Latinos must be present in the voting booth to make their increasing population count… Data from the four states that record voter registration by ethnicity (Alabama, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina) show that Latino registration has increased since last presidential election.  Latinos are clearly a substantial ingredient in the American melting pot, but having an important voice requires speaking up.


There has also been internal migration of Latinos across the United States that changes the political discourse at the local level. For example, many Hispanics who have had long standing presences in states like New York and New Jersey are moving to places like Colorado, North Carolina and Florida.  Florida does have a longstanding Hispanic population, primarily represented politically by Cubans.  However, now there is a substantial migration of Puerto Ricans to Florida (particularly to the Orlando region).  And, let me tell you something Puerto Ricans and Cubans VOTE!  Puerto Ricans and Cuban Americans have legal statuses not enjoyed by immigrants from other Latin American countries. This makes immigration a minor issue for them.  Their chief concerns center on Florida’s struggling economy.   According to an October 2010 report by the Pew Hispanic Center, nationally Hispanics rank education, jobs, and health care as their top three issues of concern. Immigration ranks as the fourth most important issue for all Latinos


There is a longstanding tradition of voting in Hispanic communities.  Interestingly, this past week, Argentina lowered its voting age to 16.  In their last national election (2011), Argentina had 79% voter turnout.  In Brazil, in 2010, they had an 81% voter turnout.  In Bolivia, in 2009, they had a 94% voter turnout.  In Nicaragua, it was 79%. In Panama, you see one of the lowest voter turnouts at 70%.  That is still higher than when Obama ran in 2008 and motivated an increased voter turnout.  Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico vote at some of the highest rates in the Western Hemisphere.


I believe that the Latino Vote is not just a bogeyman used to play on manufactured fears about immigration or  false praise played to give us false sense of power.  Tradition is on our side.  I predict Latinos will come out to vote and it will be a key margin in the states of Colorado, Ohio, Florida, Nevada and perhaps North Carolina and Virginia.  Colorado has the 8th largest Hispanic population nationwide .  In Colorado, Michael Bennet defeated Ken Buck by a slim two-point margin. Senator Bennet won, in large part, by winning 81% of the Hispanic vote, while Buck won 19%.  Colorado’s Hispanic population is 20.65% of the state’s total population (2010 U.S. Census). Since the Census numbers were released, the Hispanic Colorado population has been noted at 20.9% and Hispanic voters are 13% of all eligible voters in the state (Pew Hispanic Center, 2010).

The state of North Carolina saw an 111% increase in Latino population growth during the past decade.  In Ohio, Latinos make up only 3.2 percent of the population. But they still could influence the results if the polls are right that this is a fairly tight race-the must win swing state for the current election.


In terms of voter turnout, the Center for Immigration Studies projects that 52.7% of eligible Hispanics will vote in the 2012 election. This is still below that of 66.1% for non-Hispanic whites and 65.2% for non-Hispanic blacks in 2008.  But again, do note that the Hispanic/Latino population is a very young  population.  Approximately 90% of Latinos under 18 are U.S. citizens, and so every year, more will be eligible to vote and more will be casting ballots.


My son was born the day Obama announced he was selecting Joe Biden as his VP running mate.  In 2008, when I went to cast my ballot, I took my son in with me.  When Obama won later that night, my son – just four months old- was “watching” the news coverage with us.  I won’t say who I voted for. But when the overall race was called for Obama, I turned to my son and said “Obama won. One day you can be president too. But you must vote in every election like your mommy, because that is what your grandma taught me”.  Latinos must inculcate the importance of good citizenship in their children, particularly because of the stigma of immigration.  Latino should not be associated with “illegal”. It should be associated with “American”, and more importantly “voter”.

1 reply »

  1. I want to to thank you for this very good read!! I certainly loved every little bit of it. I have got you bookmarked to check out new things you post…


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