Ballot Boxes Without Hispanic Votes
From El Diario
May 25, 2004

By Eva Sanchis

"We need to give Spanish classes to the candidates, and not let them romance us with a merengue or a mariachi," complained Maria Elena Salinas, in her immaculate suit, and her best television smile.

But this time, she was not talking to the cameras, rather to the hundreds of Latino voters, who met recently for a political forum at John Jay University in Manhattan.

The audience felt unanimously enthralled by the presence of the well known journalist; but also because, as one participant explained, the Puerto Rican Myrna Font, 62 years old: "We are fed up with politicians that only look for us during campaigns."

Like Font, many political analysts consider that the lack of knowledge about the Hispanic community and the broken promises end up provoking disinterest on the part of Hispanic voters.

These were two of the aspects discussed by a forum organized by NALEO, Univisión, and the newspapers, "La Opinión", of Los Angeles, and El Diario/La Prensa.

In the debate, Salinaz explained that her interest in educating the Latino voters began two decades ago when she worked as a commentator for Channel 34 of Univision in Los Angeles: "Therefore I realized that while the Mexican-American community was very large, we did not have political representation and it was because the people were not motivated to vote."

Since then the number of Hispanics has tripled, making it the largest minority in the country.

Nevertheless, while more than 40 million Latinos live in the United States, the political power has not grown with the same force. Only 6 of the 13 million Hispanic citizens exercised their right to vote in the elections of 2000. "The form in which initiatives were presented was so complicated, that the voters lose their interest in voting," said Salinas.

Maria Perez, a Dominican who has helped with Hispanic voters in her electoral college in Manhattan for 7 years, agrees with the journalist. "Many ask me which is the best candidate. And I, although I am a democrat, tell you that I can't decide for them, what their vote is," she explained. The son of Perez, Jose - an unemployed computer engineer - adds that many Latinos don't realize the power they could have. "Only if we vote and pay our taxes will they listen to us," he insists.

During this decade, different organizations of New York have tried to increase the political participation of Latino voters. Among those is the Community Service Society, which has to date registered 150,000 new voters.

Latino leaders like Manuel Mirabal, current president of the lobby of Washington National Puerto Rican Coalition, have changed the fight in the streets for the fight for the ballot box.

"The Latino lobbyists in Washington are insignificant compared to those of the large industries. Our real power is in voting," he assured. Mirabel believes in the possibilities of an immense political force.

In 2020 there will be 50 million Latinos, and in 2010, they will be 14 percent of the electorate. "Remember that together we can make a difference," she urged before abandoning the forum to Denisse Oller, another journalist from Univision, conscious that in politics, a good slogan is everything.

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Translated from Spanish by Charlotte Triggs.

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