ENRIQUEZ: The Myth of the Latino Vote

I genuinely look forward to the debates, the speeches at the DNC and the RNC and voter outreach programs that generate mountains of press. But nothing makes me grimace more than the discussion of the “Latino vote.” Because I wish it was that simple. Really, it’s a myth.

Even at Yale — in La Casa Cultural, Yale’s Latino cultural house — we are splintered into numerous cultural groups: all sensitive to our countries of origin and our traditions. The Latino population includes at least 19 different cultural groups; uniting groups across these disparate interests is a serious challenge to organizers within La Casa.

There isn’t a solid voting bloc here that can be won in its entirety through a speech by Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, at the Democratic National Convention. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio cannot win every Latino vote through his own version of the DREAM Act, a bill to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented students.

I’ve watched socially conservative preachers turn out their congregations for Democratic candidates because the party made targeted outreach efforts to these communities and addressed their concerns. Senator Rubio and other political figures appeal to voters’ social concerns and immigration interest groups in Florida. Campaigns translate their ads into Spanish and hire volunteers to answer calls in Spanish and Portuguese. The election cycle is working hard to gain our attention in every venue they can.

For some of us, immigration is the main issue on the political table. Many of the students I work alongside at Yale feel a little safer because over the summer the Obama administration offered them the deferred action program, protecting them from immediate deportation. A few of them are now protected by this status and are now reaching out to other students at Yale and in New Haven who can benefit from this government program.

This bill only applies to a very small subsection of the population. For many of us, this means our families are still concerned about our uncles, neighbors or friends whose fates are less certain. We feel there is still a lot to be done.

We live under the knowledge that the Obama administration has deported more people in the last four years than the Bush administration in eight. We watch Obama speak in carefully selected sites, like Miami Dade County, a site with a well-known majority Latino population.

For years, immigration activists have demanded that President Obama follow through on his promises to our community. Through this election cycle, he has simply repeated these unfulfilled promises and his wish to keep families together.

Many of my friends in La Casa are second- or third-generation immigrants. They primarily focus on aiding their own communities here in the United States. They see disparities in education and affordable healthcare as the most pressing issues in this election. They see their taxes increasing locally, and they have a hard time saving enough money to support their families. All of these issues come up in different spaces, at different times in our communities, and we don’t always agree on the solutions.

I am a first-generation immigrant and for every day I’ve been at Yale, immigration has been the issue at the front of my mind. My time and my focus has been torn between my community in Mexico and everything I left behind there, and my community here in the United States.

But ultimately all of us are voting for candidates who address our concerns — all we ask for is follow-through.

In the same way that some members of my community will vote for the Republican ticket because they identify with the social principles they stand for, others will vote for Democrats because they hope Obama will increase access to jobs for minority communities. For the Latino community to continue turning out at the polls, our politicians can no longer throw out empty buzzwords and unrealized policies.

Diana Enriquez is a senior in Saybrook College. Contact her at diana.enriquez@yale.edu .

Comments

  • BR2013

    Great piece Diana! It’s frustrating how American politicians oversimplify what is a group of complex identities that developed over centuries. It’s been great seeing your pieces over the last few weeks. Even along one group it’s not a simple question of monolithic binaries–the Cuban-American Undergraduate Student Association has members from both sides of the aisle.

  • tripkirkpatrick

    Part of the problem here is that people like stories, and they like stories they know (and that reinforce their own positions) better than unfamiliar stories and/or ones that destabilize their positions. How does a large and diverse constituency (which is not even a singular entity, as you point out) create new stories with enough power and presence to unseat the old stories or at least to unseat them in enough minds that the old stories become the marginal ones?